Former President Barack Obama puts out guidelines to 'get to work' amid George Floyd protests

The former president wrote about how to use this moment to make "real change."

June 1, 2020, 3:28 PM

Former President Barack Obama published a piece on Medium on Monday addressing the protests nationwide following the death of George Floyd -- and, specifically, how he thinks people can move forward to "sustain momentum to bring about real change."

"Ultimately, it’s going to be up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times," he wrote. "But I believe there are some basic lessons to draw from past efforts that are worth remembering."

His message overall stressed the importance of voting and participating in politics, particularly at the local level, where decisions on ground-level criminal justice and police practices are formed.

The "bottom line," he wrote, is that "if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform."

The nation's first and only African American president began by acknowledging that "the waves of protests across the country represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States," noting that most people demonstrating have been "peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring." He also noted that "police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood" that the protesters "deserve our respect and support."

He also addressed the violence that has broken out at protests in several cities, although the exact root of that violence has been disputed, especially as it differs between locations.

In his post, Obama requested people "not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it."

From there, Obama addressed the importance of participating in politics and voting in every election, saying that "the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels."

He said reform agendas will vary from place to place but should be tailored to each community and that it's up to organizers to educate themselves of what strategies work best.

"The more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away," he wrote.

Obama concluded his letter by acknowledging the pain in America, amid protests and a pandemic.

"I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting -- that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life," he wrote. "But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful."

He said the next moment in American history can be "a real turning point" if "we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action."

The post also linked up to a toolkit developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, based on a task force on policing Obama formed while at White House, and also to resources at the Obama Foundation, he said, "to help young activists sustain the momentum by channeling their energy into concrete action."

Later Monday, Obama summarized the essay in a series of tweets, saying in part: "Ultimately, it’s going to be up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times."

This is the second time the former president has written something on the nation's unrest in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.

"This shouldn't be 'normal' in 2020 America," Obama wrote in a statement posted to Twitter Friday. "It can't be 'normal.' If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better."

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has taken a different approach, facing some criticism for failing to address and unify the nation as protests grew over the weekend.

Hours before Obama issued a statement Friday, Trump tweeted about the protests in Minneapolis, saying that "thugs are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd" and, referencing the military, that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." The tweet was flagged by Twitter as "glorifying violence."

Trump on Sunday blamed "ANTIFA" for the protests turning violent and said he would label it as a terrorist organization, although his authority to deem a domestic group a terror organization remains unclear.

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