On January 10, 2017, President Obama said goodbye to the nation and The White House when he gave his farewell address in front of millions. It was only fitting for him to give his address in Chicago, the town that started his career as a community organizer and in the state of Illinois in which he started his political career. In his speech, he talked about progress, unity and democracy. Here are a few highlights.
Our Democracy is Being Tested
“There have been moments throughout our history that threatened our solidarity. And the beginning of this century has been one of those times.”
With growing inequality, shifts in demographics and the plight of terrorism, it’s been hard to remember that our country is about democracy -- where everyone has a voice and deserves a fair chance. This quote seems to highlight how divisive our country is recently on many topics and issues, and it’s great that Obama brought this to our attention.
Progress is Hard
Because our country has become so divided, progress has been uneven. “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.”
See below for a list of issues that have progressed in our country during Obama’s tenure.
But Our Country Pulled Through
In his speech, Obama outlined the progress our country has made as a whole in the past eight years. Our country’s progress has definitely been tested, especially since some issues received backlash. No matter how much backlash the issues received or how some steps forward resulted in steps back, our country has pulled through the toughness of it all.
If Obama had told us eight years ago that America would…
So, what’s the major theme of Obama’s address? It’s all about unity and progress. In his final remarks, Obama encouraged us to come together to overcome challenges to believe.
“Yes, we can. Yes, we did.”
With election day right around the corner, it’s important that those who are registered to vote go to the polls and do their part. You may think that your vote doesn't matter, but you’d be surprised. Voting is a significant right that allows you to impact the future of our country. But if you’re still not convinced, here are five reasons that you should get out there and vote:
1) There is more than just the president on the ballot
What a President can or cannot do when elected depends largely on who controls the senate of or the House. If you think that you are in a definitive red or blue state, it’s still important that you vote because you can make a difference in the Congress. The competitive Senate and House races are not always in the presidential swing states. There are also a number of referenda on the ballot. And don’t forget local elections. When you vote in local elections, you vote for the issues that most directly affect you.
2) The margin of victory can be important.
If you live in a state that is neither competitive for the presidential election or on the congressional level, you should still vote. Even if a candidate who you don’t support is going to win by a landslide, you can decrease their margin of victory. This encourages the candidate to promote more moderate policies so that they don’t jeopardize their re-election. Conversely, if you are sure that your candidate will win, the candidate’s margin of victory can only advance the candidate’s agenda in office.
3) Many Americans struggled to win the right to vote.
While many Americans take their right to vote for granted, it wasn’t long ago that women and people of color were fighting for their right to vote. Women gained suffrage in 1919, and since this era, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans have all faced obstacles with regard to voting rights. There are currently a number of accessibility issues which lead people with disabilities to have difficulty voting. When people of color go to the polls, there is a marked difference. In fact, Brookings Institute said that Obama’s 2012 victory was largely due to the high turnout of people of color at the polls.
4) Those who vote get benefits.
Elected officials award more public resources to people to show up to the polls. According to a 2012 study conducted by economists at Dartmouth and Yale, Southern state governments started to transfer more funding to counties with large black populations after the 1965 Voting Rights Act gave African-Americans the franchise. Additionally, a 1962 Supreme Court ruling required states to draw state legislature and congressional debates that reflect the population distribution and equally represent all state residents. This led to an increase in state funds to counties that were previously underrepresented, according to a 2000 Yale-MIT study.
5) The higher the turnout, the more representative our democracy is.
Almost three-quarters to the American population supports raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but Congress will not act on this. One of the reasons for this is that a number of Americans who support these policies don’t bother voting. The groups most likely to support these policies, such as low-income people, young people and people of color, turn out in low numbers for midterm elections. If everyone gets out and votes, the vote will be more representative of the people who live in this country and all of our beliefs.
Voting can make a difference, not only with regard to who the president is, but what the president is allowed to do, as well as how your local government is run. Make sure you vote today so that you can make an impact on your country.
Recently, there has been some concern over whether millennials will go to the polls come Election Day. In 2012, only 50 percent of millennials who were eligible to vote went to the polls. When asked if they would vote in the 2016 election, only 47 percent of millennials said they would definitely vote. Thirteen percent of millennials said they definitely would not vote, with a number of responses falling within some of the more middle ground answers such as “will probably vote,”, “fifty-fifty” or “will probably not vote.” This begs the question, why aren’t millennials voting?
As we inch closer to Election Day, you’re no doubt going to be hearing more hot takes and opinions about why your vote doesn’t matter. While it can be a healthy discussion to be a part of, there are a couple reasons why the Vote isn’t dead. Keep these two things in mind before you refuse to head to the polls.
When you get in line at your local polling station, you aren’t just casting a ballot for president. Depending on where you live, you may be voting for state or local office. The latter is especially crucial, because what your City Council, comptroller, and municipal executives have a huge impact on the daily affairs of where you live. Like it or not, the Chief Executive has no real bearing on the efficiency of your town’s sanitation, public transit, or housing. The oval office may be calling the shots on an (inter)national level, but if you want to feel change, then voting for local offices may have more of an effect you’re looking for.
But OK, let’s talk about presidents for a moment— the nominees are quite literally the talk of the town. Whether you’re a hardcore Trump or Hillary supporter, there is no denying that the two nominees are uncharacteristically unpopular this election cycle. Taken at face value, that statement isn’t remarkable. Of course, a red voter doesn’t generally vote blue, and vice versa. I’m speaking of an unpopularity to be found within party lines. From the announcement of his campaign, GOP leaders have been jumping ship and refusing to endorse Trump. For the democrats, discontent isn’t coming from party leaders, but from constituents. Many former Bernie Sanders’s supporters are vocally anti-Clinton, and despite calls from leadership to rally around the elected candidate, they refuse. Voters from both sides are considering the leading third-party candidates: Jill Stein (Green) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian). We’ve seen in the past how an active third-party run can disrupt an election (Bush versus Gore), and with potentially four candidates in the mix, the numbers game could get more interesting.
Voting for your candidate of choice in this instance could matter more that you think.
Carlos Sierra: “Severely” Independent. Country before Party. Former John McCain aide. Former Buddy Roemer National Campaign Manager. Anti-Sheriff Arpaio Committee Campaign Manager. President of Sierra Public Affairs and Partner of Renegade Public Affairs. Former CNN and POLITICO contributor. Co-Founder of The Reform Project. El Paso, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona.