Former President Obama Seeks to Build US Civic Engagement at Summit
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 nation.
Obama kicked off a two-day leadership summit in his hometown of Chicago by saying it marked the start of a wider effort to promote civic activism, a cause that has emerged as a major emphasis of his post-presidency.
“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 an address that did not mention U.S. President Donald Trump.
Obama addressed 500 young leaders from 60 nations and 27 U.S. states at the first Obama Foundation summit. They will hear from such speakers as Britain’s Prince Harry, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, 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 has, since leaving office, focused on building a new generation of community leaders.
His foundation is hosting training around the United States this fall to teach community leaders to organize to solve problems, foundation officials said.
The summit is being 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 activism and propelled him to two terms in the White House.
He said the summit would lay the foundation for a global platform to help young leaders spark bottom-up change in their own communities.
Earlier Tuesday, former first lady Michelle Obama and Prince Harry surprised students at Hyde Park Academy, a high school across from the planned presidential center, to discuss the issue.
Price Harry was slated to speak about a program he created in Nottingham, England, to combat youth and gang violence.
Other speakers highlighted issues such as rural poverty and economic inequality, and argued that community engagement could help bridge widening political divisions.
“Closing borders and erecting walls are not the answer to today’s global challenges,” said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament.