Tonight, President Barack Obama bid farewell to the country he's served for eight years during a nationally televised speech at McCormick Place on the South Side of Chicago. Traffic snarled on the Kennedy Expressway and Lakeshore Drive as the presidential motorcade made one of its final trips from O'Hare, transporting the president to Hyde Park where he dined at the Valois Restaurant before his speech. Those who were lucky enough to obtain free tickets to the event flooded into the convention center, which was lit in red, white and blue. Elsewhere in the city, bars and restaurants momentarily went quiet as TVs were switched on and crowds of viewers gathered.
For some, Obama's farewell speech offered a moment for reflection and an all-too-brief respite from weeks of political turmoil. A skilled orator, Obama summed up his presidency in a matter of minutes and offered some thoughts on the role of democracy as our country enters its next chapter. We managed to wipe away our tears and gather some of our favorite moments from Obama's final presidential speech in Chicago.
Obama looked back fondly on his formative years in Chicago
Though he was born in Hawaii, Obama became interested in politics while living in his adopted home of Chicago, where he also met his wife Michelle. Early in his speech, he acknowledged the lessons he learned while working as a community organizer, "This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it."
Obama took stock of his achievements
The ability to bring about change was a central theme of Obama's first campaign, and he took a moment during his farewell speech to demonstrate the ways in which he has reshaped the nation. His list of achievements was lengthy, including marriage equality, increased access to health insurance, job creation, a restoration of relations with Cuba and apprehension of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Acknowledging the motivations behind his policies, Obama stated, "we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow."
Obama accentuated the participatory nature of democracy
After espousing the dangers of economic inequality, discrimination and partisanship, Obama warned of the even greater threat of political apathy. "Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted," Obama stated, urging all citizens to take an interest in the decisions being made in their communities, states and the nation at large. He also may have inspired a few people to hit the campaign trail when he said, "If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself."
Obama advocated for in-person, not online, dialogues with others
In a world where political discourse has increasingly moved to social networks, Obama asked Americans to get outside of their comfort zones. "We become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions," he said, acknowledging how media segmentation has made it simple to find people who agree with your view and easier to dismiss the beliefs of others. He made a plea for personal interactions with individuals with opposing viewpoints, saying "If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life."
Obama acknowledged the transformative power of the next generation
While Obama is observing the peaceful transition of power to his successor, he made a point of acknowledging the growing influence of a new generation of Americans. "This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country," Obama said, placing his faith in the young people who will shape the future of the United States. "You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands."
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