President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with youth leaders at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago to discuss strategies for community organization and civic engagement in Chicago, Illinois
After I became then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s adviser/ director of scheduling in late 2004, [chief of staff ] Pete Rouse became my spiritual guide and mentor. Pete had worked on Capitol Hill for about 40 years, many of those as chief of staff to Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, and was known as the “101st senator” and “mayor of Capitol Hill.” There is no one more thoughtful in the way he gives advice. He returns every e-mail, makes every connection, and does it all while being a wheeler and dealer. When we got to the Senate, Possum drafted one of his famous “strategic plans”—lengthy, painfully thorough memos about how to get something done.
In this case, it was the strategic plan for Senator Obama’s first year, and it could be summed up as “workhorse, not show horse.” It included lots of time with constituents and in Illinois, and less time with D.C. insiders and celebrities. Obama was quite fine with that. Every decision we made had to stand up to the workhorse vs. show horse test. Obama had a political action committee called the Hope Fund that was right down the street from the Hart Senate Office Building. The Hope Fund ran initiatives for getting young adults from diverse backgrounds into community organizing and politics; it also managed Obama’s political engagements
I came of political age during an era of “family values.” I cast my first vote for president of the United States in 2004, the year so-called values voters helped pass laws banning same-sex marriage in 11 states. In the political language of the time, family values meant opposing gay marriage, opposing abortion, opposing stem cell research. Many politicians publicly position themselves as respectable public servants who put God and the traditional family first — especially after President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal in the late ’90s. But over the last seven years, we’ve witnessed a president who showed us what family values really look like, rather than tell us in campaign commercials. In President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, we’ve witnessed a consistent example of mutual love and respect that’s both practical and inspiring.
Both Barack and Michelle have worked hard to strengthen other American families with initiatives that focus on families and children. With Let’s Move!, Michelle Obama put herself and her dance moves out there to encourage parents to make good choices about family health and nutrition. With My Brother’s Keeper, a program launched in 2014, the president made efforts to encourage responsible fatherhood and close opportunity gaps faced by young men of color. And with Let Girls Learn, Michelle took the cause global, stressing that girls’ education is about more than gender equality: it’s essential to economic development. Again, the first couple is putting family values into action. We don’t hear much about family values anymore, but we have seen them on display during the Obama White House. I credit the Obamas and their actions for reminding us what family values really look like.
As a white person, I know many people use the #AllLivesMatter hashtag as a way to dismiss and dis-empower the deeply felt #BlackLivesMatter tag. It seems obvious on its face that using #BlackLivesMatter is a heart-cry response to what is going on at this very moment, not some subversive attempt to deny any other group their humanity. I also believe that some white people, especially at firs, used it in the sense of “We are all important. We support and include you”.
Now, that is naive. It is pie-in-the-sky, everything-will-be-okay-if-we-just-join-hands-and-sing naivety that does not acknowledge life as some people have to live it. There are sometimes good intentions. But we all know where good intentions lead us.
My point is this: even when you truly believe “AllLivesMatter” is a supportive thing to say, when the people you are trying to support tell you clearly, “No. It. Isn’t”, you have to listen. When they say “This is hurtful and dismissive”, you have to listen. When the people you are trying to support say, “This is how you support us: “BlackLivesMatter”, you have to listen. When your feelings are hurt because your support was not accepted the way you thought it would be, you have to LISTEN. You have to LISTEN and ACCEPT that they know their own lives better than you do, that their experiences are different and true. That no matter how much you wish it weren’t that way and no matter how much you want it to be different, you have to LISTEN and ACCEPT and APOLOGIZE and BE HUMBLE in the face of your ignorance.
I respect Bernie Sanders for marching for Civil Rights in the 50s and 60s. I’m sure he did it out of a deep belief in the cause. Since then he has served an almost all white community. It’s not enough for him and his supporters to look back 50 years and rest on those laurels. It’s not okay for him to determine the battle was won because he is not aware of it any more. And when you are tone deaf enough, and so far out of touch that you can say things like “Racism is over” and ” Black people need to stop voting their color”, you need to LISTEN when the people whose support you need say “No! Wait! It’s hurtful and wrong!”. And then you need to reassess and humble yourself and say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Tell me what I need to know and I’ll listen.” Sanders doesn’t seem to have the slightest ability to do that and that is what worries me in his candidacy. I don’t expect a perfect candidate, I don’t expect any of them to measure up to PBO (well Joe Biden if he runs!), but I do expect a candidate who can learn, respond to new information, and most of all treat EVERYONE with respect and dignity. I think racial injustice, legal injustice, and economic injustice are three self-reinforcing evils at the root of our society. Sanders is obsessed with one at the expense of the others. It’s not good enough. I will vote for him if he is the candidate, but it will make me very sad.
As a white person, I feel that the biggest role we can play is to listen, learn, and reflect that learning to other people, and allow everyone the dignity of their own experience.
The “All lives matter” thing has always seemed so passive-aggressively hostile to me. Of course “all lives matter”! Any true liberal is a liberal because we believe, as PBO has quoted many times that, “I am my brother’s keeper” and that we rise and fall together. PBO himself is an example of someone who truly cares about all of humanity, no matter the shade, sexual orientation or circumstances.
But those who say “All lives matter” in response to “Black lives matter” are clearly, in my mind and to my heart, retorting rather than responding. There is an inherent negation of “Black lives matter” by responding with “All lives matter” and, to me, whether those who use the “All lives matter” retort realize it consciously or not, they are being defensive. Why do you feel the need to get defensive if you are not subconsciously or secretly separating yourself out from your brothers and sisters of different shades? And for the politicians, such as HRC and BS (BS… perfect, huh?), using “All lives matter” when speaking before supporters is an obvious “Don’t worry, I’m one of you.” signal to those frightened or angered by “Black lives Matter”
To me, if all lives really did matter to these people, they would SEE what is so blatantly before them; they wouldn’t need it explained to them. If they truly felt value in all lives, they would understand the need for and reason for “Black lives Matter.”
Message: especially to some Bernie supporters
Dear White Politicians
You marching with MLK doesn't give you a leg up because
1. You should have
2. So did Black people.