Former President Barack Obama sent a message on Monday to a nation struggling to breathe.
According to Obama, citizens looking for answers after George Floyd was killed in police custody last week in Minneapolis have reached out wondering where we go from here as a nation. He said that will be decided by a new generation of activists who understand what best suits the time they’re living in, but he offered a few suggestions in an essay for Medium.com.
“If we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics,” Obama wrote. “We have to do both.”
The 44th president penned his essay while the 45th president — who is not mentioned in Obama’s missive — grapples to control a deadly pandemic, a free-falling economy, record unemployment and impassioned police brutality protests stretching from coast to coast.
In his message, Obama, 58, credited rational protesters and police departments alike for recognizing the gravity of the situation and rising to the challenge.
“The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring,” he wrote. “They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation — something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood.”
Obama questioned the wisdom of a “minority” of protesters, who burned and looted in already under-serviced neighborhoods that will be even worse when the destruction is over. He also took issue with cynics who don’t believe their situation can be improved through the nation’s democratic process.
“I couldn’t disagree more,” he wrote.
Obama stressed the importance of showing up for the November elections to influence leadership at the top of federal government as well as voting on positions in local government, where court officials and those who influence local law enforcement are on the ballot. He also wrote that peaceful protests put pressure on public officials, which brings about change.
The former two-term commander-in-chief’s open letter included links to sites for citizens who want to get involved in their communities at the grassroots level.
“I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life,” he wrote in the letter’s penultimate paragraph. “But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.”
Obama signed off with one simple directive: “Let’s get to work.”
President Trump struck a more assertive tone Monday, posting a video of protesters along with the caption “Anarchists, we see you!” on Twitter.
He also tweeted his approval of a social media post from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton stating that if destructive protests persisted Monday night, the 101st Airborne Division should be brought in to see how “tough” the demonstrators can be.
Trump’s Monday posts included polling numbers that, according to him, indicate there’s a good chance he’ll beat Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, in the November election.
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