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Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Assistant Editor and Poetry Editor
Natasha Hakimi Zapata is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American Literature at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain. She also holds a Creative Writing M.F.A. from Boston University and both a…
Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Far from the soaring hope evident in his first inaugural address, Barack Obama's final speech as president of the United States was filled with cautions regarding partisanship, racism and growing inequality. Speaking from a convention hall in Chicago on Tuesday, the president said:

“The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there. ...

“Stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic principles … a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics ...

“Without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible ...

“After my election there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. ... hearts must change ... For blacks and other minorities it means tying our 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. For white Americans it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the 60s; that when minority groups voice discontent they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our founders promised.”

Obama did, however, first take the time to point out what he perceives as some of his more important achievements.

"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, 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 — if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

"But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. The answer to people’s hopes and, because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started."

And he added a call to arms, at a time in which much of the country is considering ways to mobilize.

“If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose … More often than not your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.”

But for many, the highlight of his near-hourlong speech was his tearful recognition of his wife Michelle's role as first lady and as his best friend.

“Michelle LeVaughn Robinson, girl of the south side [of Chicago], for the past 25 years, you’ve been not only my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend. You took on a role you didn’t ask for and you made it your own with grace and grit and style, and good humor. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. You’ve made me proud. You’ve made the country proud.”

Watch the full speech in the video above and read the transcript here.

— Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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