Former president Barack Obama stressed the importance of voting to University of Illinois students on September 7th at Foellinger Auditorium. Obama also received an award for ethics in government while he was at the U of I.
“The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference,” Obama said.
Only 5% of students were lucky enough to win a ticket in the lottery and hear Obama’s words in person.
Foellinger Auditorium filled up at least an hour before Obama began his speech. People were walking around and talking, filling the air with excited chatter. About fifteen minutes before Obama’s speech the auditorium quieted down and people waited in nervous anticipation. Outside, students gathered to try to catch a glimpse of Obama walking into the auditorium. When Obama entered, the crowd erupted in cheers and almost everyone pulled out their phone to capture the moment Obama walked onto the stage.
Obama focused on one major point during his speech: young people need to vote. He stressed the point that the upcoming November elections were the most important ones in his life.
“You need to vote because your democracy depends on it,” Obama said.
Obama then talked about how progress is achieved by countless acts of quiet heroism by ordinary people. However, Obama noted that each time we take two steps forward, we take one step back because each time we get closer to ideals the status quo pushes back. The powerful and the privileged in our society want to keep us divided and angry.
Using the topic of the powerful and privileged, Obama condemned Trump and the Republican party. He said that Trump was a symptom, not a cause of recent problems and he is capitalizing on resentment that has been felt by people and politicians for years.
Obama discussed how over the past few decades, politics of resentment and paranoia have taken over the Republican party. They have taken away voting rights, rejected science, accepted conspiracy theories, given tax cuts to the rich, and made the United States the only nation on Earth to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. All they care about is protecting their power even it hurts the country. Obama noted that this is not conservative or normal. It is radical and the Republicans are unwilling to protect the backbone of our democracy. Obama then mentioned the anonymous editorial to the New York Times by saying that people should not have to work behind the president’s back because that is not how our democracy works.
In two months we have the chance to restore sanity in politics but only if everyone votes Obama noted. Obama said that the democrats are running on good new ideas such as putting a price on carbon pollution. Obama urged people to be concerned about and want to see honesty and decency in the government even if they don’t support the democratic party. He said that people should not have to be Democratic or Republican to believe in freedom of press or equality.
Obama then discussed what we need to do moving forward. He said that the United States needs a working government and civic institutions. We need to restore our faith in democracy and bring people together.
Obama ended his speech by saying that we have to focus on making things better, not perfect. One election will not fix everything but it’s a start.
“Better is always worth fighting for,” said Obama.
Obama’s speech was followed by rounds of applause. He left through the back of the stage and was greeted by more U of I students eager to catch a glimpse of the former president. His speech was also livestreamed for the community to watch.