With just ten days left in his second term as president, Barack Obama returns to Chicago Tuesday to deliver one final speech as commander in chief at 9 p.m.
Obama planned to reflect on his origins as a community organizer on the South Side who witnessed "the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss."
He argues change is only possible "when ordinary people get involved" and join forces to demand progress.
Eight years later, "I still believe that," Obama said in an excerpt of his speech released by the White House.
It's a fitting bookend to what he started in Chicago. It was in this city that he taught constitutional law, registered voters, ran for office and started a family. More than 20 years after a young Obama first arrived in Chicago, it was here in Grant Park that he stepped onstage to deliver his victory speech as America’s first black president.
"For Michelle and me, Chicago is where it all started," Obama wrote in a Facebook post just hours before he was set to arrive in the city. "It’s the city that showed us the power and fundamental goodness of the American people."
Thousands of those everyday people waited in line for hours in freezing temperatures to get their hands on tickets to witness the final chapter of his term in person at McCormick Place – a traditional farewell address that presidents have delivered for hundreds of years, taking time to highlight their achievements, perhaps even issue a warning, and reflect on what has changed since they assumed office.
Calls for change became a rallying cry that carried him into office, and ironically ushered in the successor he so vigorously campaigned against, President-elect Donald Trump.
Change was an integral theme of not only his administration, but in his own life as well.
He’s the first to crack a joke about his hair lightening over the past eight years, or to reflect on how quickly his daughters, who we met as young children begging their father for a puppy, have grown into women before his very eyes. But as the Obama family has evolved over his time in office, so too, of course, has the world – and in particular, the city he calls home.
Obama will be addressing a very different Chicago on Tuesday than he left in 2008, one that is far bloodier than the city that lifted its son to the White House. Chicago saw at least 762 homicides and more than 4,331 shooting victims in 2016 – the highest number in not only his eight years in office, but the most in two decades, according to police.
“What is it about Chicago that has caused an increase in homicides that we’re just not seeing in most other big cities across the country?” he mused to NBC5’s Carol Marin in a one-on-one interview last week. “It appears to be a combination of factors, the nature of gang structures or lack of structure in Chicago, the way police are allocated, in some cases the need for more police, the ease of accessibility of guns, pockets of poverty that are highly segregated,” he added.
And as he speaks Tuesday, the Justice Department is preparing to release a report on the Chicago Police Department following a year-long probe launched after dashcam video of the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was released, sparking public outcry and calls for Obama’s former White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel to resign his post as Chicago’s mayor.
Reflecting once again on the city’s spike in violence, Obama said, “I don’t think that there’s one reason and I don’t think there’s a silver bullet answer to it, but I do think it will be incumbent on all of us to really work on this.”
Chicagoans, and the nation, can expect more of that rhetoric – less of a victory lap, and more of a call-to-action as his successor prepares to take office.
As he did in his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, throughout his term, and again in the days following the 2016 presidential election, Obama will likely deliver a plea for unity on Tuesday.
“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes,” he said in the 2004 speech that propelled him into the national spotlight. “Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.”
And the morning after the 2016 election, he asked the public to “remember that we're actually all on one team.”
“We’re not Democrats first, we're not Republicans first, we are Americans first. We're patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country,” he added.
As Republicans move forward with plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, his chief legislative accomplishment, it’s unclear what specific policies will remain of Obama’s legacy. But over the years, he has made his hope in America’s promise well known – a hope he will likely reiterate for the final time in Chicago.
"I'll be thinking back to being a young community organizer, pretty much fresh out of school, and feeling as if my faith in America's ability to bring about change in our democracy has been vindicated," Obama said in a White House video previewing his speech.
“The two things I take away from this office are number one, that change can happen, and the system to will respond to ordinary people coming together to try to move the country in a better direction,” he added. “And the second thing I’ll take away from this experience is the fundamental goodness of the American people, all of whom are pouring their heart and soul into making their communities work better, supporting their families and moving this country forward, keeping it safe. It gives you a lot of confidence about our prospects for the future.”
The tenth anniversary of Obama’s Springfield speech announcing his candidacy will arrive exactly one month from tonight’s farewell – a moment of reflection that will likely leave many wondering what the next four, eight and ten years may bring.
Courtesy of our news partner at NBC Miami