President Barack Obama gave a powerful farewell address on Tuesday (10 January) during which he called for an end to the divisiveness currently gripping the United States.
The speech came less than two weeks before the Democratic president hands over the office to Republican Donald Trump.
Obama, the first president in history to publicly support same-sex marriage, mentioned LGBTI gains and equality several times during his speech.
‘For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation,’ Obama said.
‘It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.’
In speaking of the progress during his two terms Obama said: ‘If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11…if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high.’
Obama spoke out against discrimination and called for the upholding of laws against discrimination in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system.
‘But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change,’ he said.
‘If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”’
He asked blacks and other minorities to tie their own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face: ‘The refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.’
Obama also spoke of America’s role in the world saying the US ‘cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem.
‘If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.’