Obama seeks to spark U.S. civic activism
with Chicago event
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[November 01, 2017]
By Chris Kenning
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former U.S. President
Barack Obama said on Tuesday that at a time of political divisiveness,
more civic activism was needed to solve community problems across the
Obama kicked off a two-day leadership conference in his hometown of
Chicago by saying it marked the start of a wider effort to promote civic
involvement, a cause that has emerged as a major emphasis of his
"Our goal here is not to create a political movement," Obama said. "What
we need to do is think about our civic culture. Because what's wrong
with our politics is partly a reflection of something wrong in our civic
culture," Obama said in remarks that did not mention U.S. President
Obama addressed 500 young leaders from 60 nations and 27 U.S. states at
the first Obama Foundation gathering. Speakers included Britain's Prince
Harry, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, former first lady
Michelle Obama, Chance the Rapper and others.
While Obama has sought to defend policies that Trump has sought to
dismantle - including the Affordable Care Act and deportation
protections for young immigrants - the former president since leaving
office has decided to focus on building a new generation of community
leaders, he said Tuesday.
He likened the gathering to a brainstorming session to help civic
leaders spark bottom-up change, a lesson he said he learned as a young
The conference was held on the South Side of Chicago, where the Obama
Foundation plans to build a presidential center near the neighborhoods
that gave rise to Obama's own community organizing and propelled him to
two terms in the White House.
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Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the first day of
the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Illinois,
U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
"I didn’t lead a movement. But I did learn was that ordinary people
in local communities can do extraordinary things when they are given
the chance," Obama said.
Earlier Tuesday, Michelle Obama and Prince Harry surprised students
at a high school near the planned presidential center.
Prince Harry spoke about a program he supports in Nottingham,
England to combat youth and gang violence. He said listening to
young organizers was key. "They have the solutions to some of the
world’s biggest problems," he said.
Other speakers highlighted issues such as rural poverty and economic
inequality and argued that community engagement can bridge
"Closing borders and erecting walls are not the answer to today's
global challenges," said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the
(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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