Hope in strange times

Barack Obama

Hope in strange times

By Adeline DeYoung

On July 17, President Barack Obama delivered the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa. In his speech, President Obama reminded us of where we come from, where we are going, and how we’re going to get there.

“Given the strange and uncertain times that we are in—and they are strange, and they are uncertain—with each day’s news cycles bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines, I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective.”

President Obama started his timeline 100 years back, with the birth of Nelson Mandela in a world plagued with segregation, exploitation, and inequality. Obama talked through the progress made since then: the rise of democracy, middle-class economies, globalization, and technology; increased equality for women and people of color, as well as better educated societies. Yet, while some of the world enjoyed this progress, “entire neighborhoods, entire cities, entire regions, entire nations have been bypassed.”

Where our world stands today is miles and miles ahead of where we stood even decades ago. The progress that has been made is undeniable and worth celebrating. But, as he stated, “if we cannot deny the very real strides that our world has made since that moment when Madiba (Mandela) took those steps out of confinement, we also have to recognize all the ways that the international order has fallen short of its promise.” We are far from extinguishing inequality. Across the globe, people are still oppressed for their gender, their faith, the color of their skin, and who they love. While technological advances have allowed humanity to achieve the impossible, rising emissions are threatening life around the world.

So where do we go from here? As Obama pointed out, “environmental challenges are not going to go away on their own… the only way to effectively address problems like climate change or mass migration or pandemic disease will be to develop systems for more international cooperation, not less.”

In a polarized country and a world that seems more divided each day, CCL and President Obama have the same idea of how to get where we need to be. Persistence, working together, and unfailing optimism.

When we look at how far we are from where we want to be in terms of equality and environmental health, it may seem daunting. It may seem impossible. However, there is nothing to do in the face of this other than to keep going. As President Obama states, “I believe we have no choice but to move forward; that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell.”

What must be understood about moving forward, though, is that we cannot do it alone. “To make democracy work, Madiba shows us that we also have to keep teaching our children, and ourselves—and this is really hard—to engage with people not only who look different but who hold different views.” To create lasting change, it must come from both sides. It must take root in discussion and debate and common ground. CCL believes this, and President Obama believes this. Our democracy was built on compromise. “That’s how America’s founders intended our system to work—that through the testing of ideas and the application of reason and proof, it would be possible to arrive at a basis for common ground.”

Even more important than persistence and working together is the hope that guides us to do so. “It is tempting to give in to cynicism: to believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back; that the pendulum has swung permanently.” But giving in and giving up will never bring our society forward.

Whenever in doubt or despair, we must always take heed of Nelson Mandela’s wisdom: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”

President Obama echoed that sentiment, saying, “Love comes more naturally to the human heart. Let’s remember that truth. Let’s see it as our North Star, let’s be joyful in our struggle to make that truth manifest here on earth so that in 100 years from now, future generations will look back and say, ‘They kept the march going. That’s why we live under new banners of freedom.’”

To watch President Obama’s entire lecture, click here. To read the entire transcript, click here.

Adeline DeYoung is CCL’s Legislative Assistant and has been with the organization since 2015. She graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Political Science and BA in Sustainability from San Diego State University. Adeline is currently working on her Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University.


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