While President Trump reportedly has “nothing to say” to a nation protesting the death of George Floyd and other black victims of police brutality, former President Barack Obama penned an essay Monday about “how to make this moment a real turning point to bring about real change.”
I wrote out some thoughts on how to make this moment a real turning point to bring about real change––and pulled together some resources to help young activists sustain the momentum by channeling their energy into concrete action. https://t.co/jEczrOeFdv
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 1, 2020
In the essay, which he posted to Medium, Obama lays out three “basic lessons” the new generation of activists can draw from the past.
The first is to not resort to violence. Obama acknowledges that the protests “represent a genuine and legitimate frustration” over the nation’s failure to reform policing practices and the criminal justice system, but notes that the small portion of protesters inciting violence are putting innocent people at risk and bringing ruin to vulnerable neighborhoods. “If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves,” Obama writes.
The former president then notes that Americans shouldn’t have to choose between protest and politics, and that he “couldn’t disagree more” with the idea that only direct action can cure the criminal justice system of racial bias and that voting in new elected officials is futile. Particularly, Obama stresses the importance of state and local elections. “Eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices,” he writes, “and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.”
Lastly, Obama writes that activists need to make specific demands, which will make it harder for officials to “pay lip service” to the cause. He notes that every community has different needs, but cites a policing-practices tool kit developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Tailoring reforms for each community will require local activists and organizations to do their research and educate fellow citizens in their community on what strategies work best,” he writes.
Obama concludes with the same message that he laid out in his 2008 president campaign: that he is 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,” he writes. “Let’s get to work.”
The essay follows a statement Obama released on Friday addressing the death of Floyd.
My statement on the death of George Floyd: pic.twitter.com/Hg1k9JHT6R
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 29, 2020
“It falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a “new normal” in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts,” he wrote.