Lawyer, teacher, philanthropist, and author Barack Obama doesn’t need another career. But he’s entering politics to get back to his true passion – community organization
When Barack Obama returned to Chicago in 1991 after three brilliant years at Harvard Law School, he didn’t like what he saw. The former community activist, then 30, had come fresh from a term as president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, a position he was the first African-American to hold. Now he was ready to continue his battle to organize Chicago’s black neighborhoods. But the state of the city muted his exuberance.
“Upon my return to Chicago,” he would write in the epilogue to his recently published memoir, Dreams From My Father, “I would find the signs of decay accelerated throughout the South Side — the neighborhoods shabbier, the children edgier and less restrained, more middle-class families heading out to the suburbs, the jails bursting with glowering youth, my brothers without prospects…..”
Reading to young kids during 1995 IL State Senate campaign – Photo: Marc PoKempner
Today, after three years of law practice and civic activism, Obama has decided to dive into electoral politics. He is running for the Illinois Senate ….. Obama got all sorts of advice. Some of it perplexed him; most of it annoyed him. One African-American elected official suggested that Obama change his name, which he’d inherited from his late Kenyan father. Another told him to put a picture of his light-bronze, boyish face on all his campaign materials, “so people don’t see your name and think you’re some big dark guy.”
“Now all of this may be good political advice,” Obama said, “but it’s all so superficial …. Even those who are on the same page as me on the issues never seem to want to talk about them. Politics is regarded as little more than a career.”
Barack Obama in 1995 in his office at the University of Chicago Law School. On the wall is a portrait of the late Mayor Harold Washington. Photo: Marc PoKempner
Obama doesn’t need another career. As a civil rights lawyer, teacher, philanthropist, and author, he already has no trouble working 12-hour days. He says he is drawn to politics, despite its superficialities, as a means to advance his real passion and calling: community organization.
….. While no political opposition to Obama has arisen yet, many have expressed doubts about the practicality of his ambitions …. “Three major doubts have been raised,” he said. The first is whether in today’s political environment – with its emphasis on media and money – a grass-roots movement can even be created. Will people still answer the call of participatory politics?….
…. In 1992 Obama took time off to direct Project Vote, the most successful grass-roots voter-registration campaign in recent city history. Credited with helping elect Carol Moseley-Braun to the U.S. Senate, the registration drive, aimed primarily at African-Americans, added an estimated 125,000 voters to the voter rolls – even more than were registered during Harold Washington’s mayoral campaigns. “It’s a power thing,” said the brochures and radio commercials.
Campaigning for the Illinois State Senate in 1995, a race he easily won - Photo: Marc PoKempner
Obama’s work on the south side has won him the friendship and respect of many activists. One of them, Johnnie Owens, left the citywide advocacy group Friends of the Parks to join Obama at the Developing Communities Project. He later replaced Obama as its executive director.
“What I liked about Barack immediately is that he brought a certain level of sophistication and intelligence to community work,” Owens says. “He had a reasonable, focused approach that I hadn’t seen much of. A lot of organizers you meet these days are these self-anointed leaders with this strange, way-out approach and unrealistic, eccentric way of pursuing things from the very beginning. Not Barack. He’s not about calling attention to himself. He’s concerned with the work. It’s as if it’s his mission in life, his calling, to work for social justice.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m one of the most cynical people you want to see, always looking for somebody’s angle or personal interest,” Owens added.
“I’ve lived in Chicago all my life. I’ve known some of the most ruthless and biggest bullshitters out there, but I see nothing but integrity in this guy.”….
Rolihlahla Mandela, the son of a Thembu tribal chief, was born in Mvezo, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape on 18 July 1918. He was the first of his family to go to school. It was there he received the name Nelson – it was customary for school children to be given English names. In 1941, he fled to Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage. He met Walter Sisulu who helped him get work at law firm Witkin Sidelsky. Mr Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944.
Mr Mandela qualified as a lawyer and in 1952 set up the country’s first black law firm with Oliver Tambo.
Fearing a ban by the apartheid government, the ANC asked Mr Mandela to make plans to ensure the party could work underground.
He was arrested in 1956 and charged with treason along with 155 others. The trial lasted four-and-a-half-years, and ended with his being acquitted. In 1958, he married his second wife, Winnie Madikizela.
After police killed 69 protesters in Sharpeville in March 1960, the government feared retaliation, so it declared a state of emergency and then banned the ANC. The organisation formed a military wing, led by Mr Mandela.
In 1962, Mr Mandela was arrested and tried for leaving the country illegally. In 1963, while in prison, he was charged with sabotage. He and seven others were sentenced to life in 1964 and jailed on Robben Island.
Dire Straits and Eric Clapton at Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday tribute
The international community started to tighten sanctions which had been first imposed on the apartheid regime in 1967. By 1990, the pressure led to President FW de Klerk lifting the ban on the ANC.
On 11 February 1990, Mr Mandela was freed after 27 years in prison. Crowds cheered as he and his wife Winnie left the prison grounds. The next year, Mr Mandela was elected ANC president at the party’s first national conference. Talks began on forming a new, multi-racial democracy.
On December 6-8, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings is hosting its 10th annual Saban Forum, titled “Power Shifts: U.S.-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East.” This year’s event features remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, all of which are being webcast.
The 2013 Forum is examining the political changes taking place across the Middle East, including the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran; and the deepening Syrian civil war and resulting humanitarian crisis. Forum speakers and participants discuss the implications of these events on U.S. interests in the region, U.S.-Israel relations and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Tomorrow: The President and First Lady will attend the Kennedy Center Honors
Alex MacGillis: Those Media Hysterics Who Said Obama’s Presidency Was Dead Were Wrong. Again.
It’s been a pretty good week for the Obama administration. The bungled healthcare.gov Web site emerged vastly improved following an intensive fix-it push, allowing some 25,000 to sign up per day, as many as signed up in all of October. Paul Ryan and Patty Murray inched toward a modest budget agreement. This morning came a remarkably solid jobs report, showing 203,000 new positions created in November, the unemployment rate falling to 7 percent for the first time in five years, and the labor force participation rate ticking back upward. Meanwhile, the administration’s push for a historic nuclear settlement with Iran continued apace.
…. it seems safe to say that the Obama presidency is not, in fact, over and done with. What, you say, was there any question of that? Well, yes, there was – less than a month ago…..
…. with whiplash force, came the obituaries for the Obama presidency. The Washington press corps has been reduced to the state of the tennis-watching kittens in this video, with the generic congressional ballot surveys playing the part of the ball flitting back and forth.
Jonathan Cohn: The Obamacare Error Rate Has Fallen Dramatically Some perspective on the latest ACA freak-out
These days it seems like everybody following Obamacare is talking about the 834s. Those are the personal data files that healthcare.gov sends insurance companies, in order to notify them of new enrollees. The data has been prone to errors and that’s a real problem. …
But the 834 problem is fixable and, according to multiple sources in the public and private sectors, it is being fixed. In fact, one administration official tells The New Republic that preliminary estimates, just now becoming available, suggest the error rate has fallen from one in four during October to one in ten now….
Just five days into the relaunch of the new and improved HealthCare.gov, it’s probably too soon to say if the website is working properly in terms of technology. The initial numbers look good. Although important back-end problems remain, the site has handled close to a million users some days, and more people signed up Tuesday than in all of October. But we don’t need the stats to know the website is working in at least one important way: politically.
Here’s how you can tell:
1) Republicans have mostly stopped attacking the website….
PoliticusUSA: A Nasty Anti-Obama Column Draws a Contributor’s Angry Response
This Newsday commentary by Lane Filler appeared in my local paper Thursday. I sent the author an email…
I just read your 12/5/13 column in my local paper under the rubric of “Media are too easy on the emperor.” … you claim that the ‘mainstream’ reporters on health care restructuring “seem to have taken a dive for their beloved.”
Surely you jest if you propose that President Barack Obama is being given a pass on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)….
…. Allow me to do the research that apparently you eschewed. In the last year alone, there have been nearly 50 SHJ AP stories about ACA that could be considered anti-Obama. There has been an endless stream of ACA attacks from right-wing columnists carried by the paper. Fully 95% of editorial cartoons have been anti-ACA and anti-Obama….
As for your description of Obama as emperor or king, what is the origin of this insult? …. maybe [he is] a little too ‘uppity’ for your taste. Could that be the problem, Lane?
…. if Obama is king, Lane Filler is the Court Jester, heartily juggling propagandized “facts” for the entertainment of HIS corporate buddies.
Charles Pierce: Conservatives can own Ronald Reagan and be welcome to him, but you don’t get Nelson Mandela.
It is possible, if we all think really hard, we can use the days between Nelson Mandela’s death and his journey to his final resting place deep in the hills of his boyhood to make quite plain to young people who may have joined us late what a thoroughgoing moral disaster was the Reagan Administration (1980-88)….
… now, of course, with the death of Mandela, there are a lot of proper retrospectives concerning how enthusiastically the Reagan Administration supported the white-supremacist government of South Africa, and how morally obtuse (at best) that administration was to the reality of apartheid….
It’s too late now to seek absolution at the bier of Nelson Mandela, who is dead and can’t speak for himself … You opposed Mandela when it really counted for the same reason you cheered on murderers in this hemisphere. Ronald Reagan was a dim hack who did horrible damage to almost everything he touched. You can own him and be welcome to him, but you don’t get Nelson Mandela.
ThinkProgress: The Right Wing’s Campaign To Discredit And Undermine Mandela, In One Timeline
The world is celebrating Nelson Mandela as a selfless visionary who led his country out of the grips of apartheid into democracy and freedom. But some of the very people lavishing praise on South Africa’s first black president worked tirelessly to undermine his cause and portray the African National Congress he lead as pawns of the Soviet Union.
In fact, American conservatives have long been willing to overlook South Africa’s racist apartheid government in service of fighting communism abroad. Below is a short history, and some explanation, of how conservatives approached Mandela with the hostility they did…