The Daily Illini

Obama’s speech warns against voter apathy

Former President Obama begins his address to the University's attending students.

Former President Obama begins his address to the University's attending students.

Bercham Kamber

Bercham Kamber

Former President Obama begins his address to the University's attending students.

By Ellen Barczak, Columnist

I’ve never considered myself a lucky person. However, luck smiled upon me recently when I won the University’s version of a golden ticket: admission to see former President Barack Obama’s speech to accept the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government.

The atmosphere in Foellinger Auditorium was indescribable; the reverence and love so many hold in their hearts for this legendary leader was palpable. I may or may not have cried a little bit when he came onstage. The power of the moment was overwhelming.

However, I could not help but pause to consider the painful reality of the political climate in which we dwell today as this ethical giant of our nation spoke.

Those who read my columns know I generally write about happy, uncontroversial things; this is no accident. I don’t like to talk about politics or to even think about it much.

In high school, I was fiercely political; I read my weekly “TIME” magazine and watched PBS Newshour nightly. But it got old, and it made me anxious. I consequently distanced myself from the political world, becoming a far less-informed constituent.

Obama’s speech on Friday both comforted and chastised me (justifiably). He assured us that what is happening today is not, in fact, “normal;” it is particularly dangerous. He also advised, however, against becoming cynical and indifferent toward politics, for that is when our democracy becomes jeopardized.

How many of you have just about had it with politics these days like me? Probably quite a few. Important things, though, are often difficult, not only to discuss, but to engage in.

The main message the former president left us with was one we’ve all heard before: vote. It’s sleek and obvious. It’s how we make our voices heard. Simple, right?

Not simple. Voting requires more than just showing up at the poll place — it requires time to educate yourself on the candidates, to watch the news, to read the paper, to talk with your friends about it.

I know I need to be a better citizen, to take this right I’ve been given more seriously. I can tell you right now: I am deeply upset by the current workings of our government. I know I’m one of many who feel these things.

Something I found interesting from attending this speech was when audience members applauded. They did not applaud when the former president made radical remarks (of which, I assure you, there were none) or when any newfangled idea was delivered. They applauded, instead, for example, when he stated that Neo-Nazis are bad and that climate change is real.

This manifestation of our collective craving for basic truths we should (and can) all agree on struck me as profoundly disheartening. We seem to have arrived at such a place that we are often unsure of our collective, objective values. Such basic statements should be obvious, not music to one’s ears, so to speak.

Therefore, I believe Obama, whether you agree with his politics or not, is an undeniably kind, respectable, educated and, most importantly, reasonable individual. He is a man of virtue and compassion.

On the other hand, I believe President Donald Trump, whether you agree with his politics or not, is an undeniably unkind, crass, reckless, greedy and, most importantly, unreasonable individual. He is a man of vice and disdain.

So, in this upcoming midterm, I want some positive change out of this distinctly abnormal state in which we currently operate. I don’t care if the candidate is a democrat or a republican, a liberal or a conservative; I care if they display empathy for those they serve, if they are reasonable and if they are willing to compromise.

As Obama said, please vote. But make an informed vote. Make a vote that will provide our world with love over hate, with peace instead of anger. We’ll do it together.

Ellen is a sophomore in LAS.

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