On Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. This day will mark a historic transition of power that heralds great change in the coming months.
Even before Trump takes the oath of office, President Obama’s legacy is being chiseled away. Congress is already working on repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet in his farewell address in Chicago on January 10th, Mr. Obama left a different, intangible legacy in the minds of his listeners.
Mr. Obama’s speech included thanks, a warning, a call for unity, and a message of hope. He outlined threats to “the state of our democracy”: the feeling that there is not economic opportunity for all, the continued divisiveness of race, closed-mindedness and insular views, and that we take our democracy for granted. He warned that in the aftermath of this schismatic election, vitriolic and rancorous speech poses a threat to the integrity of our democracy. Mr. Obama spoke about some of the parts of the government and the democratic process that irk citizens, such as the lack of transparency in Washington and the inefficiency of Congress. He validated these concerns but called upon us as citizens, who hold “the most important office in a democracy”, to take action. He stressed the point that if we want change, we must take action ourselves because it does not happen on its own. Mr. Obama invoked the words of George Washington in reminding us of our role in this nation: to be “anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy”. Our task as citizens is to protect and uphold what we deem to be right, and that cannot be done without using our voices.
I remember the first time I went to a polling place–it was a local election, and I was five years old. My mother handed me the InkaVote pen and showed me what spaces I should bubble in for her. When we had finished, the poll worker gave me an “I Voted” sticker. For the remainder of the day, I wore the sticker on my shirt as we ran errands. In the grocery store, I observed other adults wearing their stickers, just like me. I knew that this sticker was important; it meant that the wearers had participated in something greater than themselves, and that they had made their voices heard. I could not wait until I was old enough to vote for myself. It was invigorating and I wanted to be a part of it.
To vote is to make our voices heard in a democracy. However as Mr. Obama said in his address, democracy demands our attention “not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.” This is the message that Mr. Obama leaves with the next generation. As a teenager, I fear that many of my peers have lost faith in our democratic system as a result of this election. I fear that this disenchantment will turn into political apathy. But I truly believe in our capability to create positive change in our world. We all have a voice to add to the political discussion, and it is crucial that the next generation knows this.
President Obama’s farewell address was a call to action. We as a people must believe in our ability to create change. If we are unhappy with our political leaders, we can run for office or let them know why we are unhappy. So as Mr. Obama stated in the final lines of his address in recollection of his 2008 campaign slogan, we must must have faith that “yes, we can”.
Thank you Barack and Michelle Obama. You have led our country with dignity, class, and poise. I am inexpressibly grateful for the example you set in the White House for our country and the world.
View President Obama’s complete farewell address here.