Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday personally thanked protesters in the streets across the nation following the death of George Floyd, and urged young African Americans to “feel hopeful even as you may feel angry” because he feels change is coming.
In a hopeful speech, Obama said that the significant events over the last months, including the protests over the killing of Floyd and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, represent “the kinds of epic changes … in our country that are as profound as anything I have seen in my lifetime.”
“I know enough about that history to say: There is something different here,” Obama said, referring back to the protests of the 1960s. “You look at those protest and that was a far more representative cross-section of America out on the streets, peacefully protesting, who felt moved to do something because of the injustices that they have seen. That didn’t exist back in the 1960s, that kind of broad collation.”
Obama, speaking after more than a week of protests, has gripped the nation, also urged protesters to know that hitting the streets is not enough, urging them to also show up to vote in November.
“I’ve been hearing a little bit of chatter… voting vs. protest. Politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action,” Obama said. “This is not an either-or. This is a both-and. To bring about real change, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented.”
Obama’s comments came during a virtual town hall Wednesday night hosted by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation.
An Obama aide said Obama planned to address the death of Floyd during the event, wanting to stress the importance of “ensuring that this moment becomes one for real change” and that the protests around the country lead to new policies.
Those comments mark Obama’s first time addressing Floyd’s death on camera, via the video-conferencing service Zoom. In recent days, he has addressed it on social media as well as a lengthy Medium post.
After those opening remarks, Obama will participate in a panel discussion, which the aide said is expected to center on changes to policing and other issues related to law enforcement.
“The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the loss of far too many Black lives to list, have left our nation anguished and outraged. While now is a time for grief and anger, it is also a time for resolve,” a press release for the event said.