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Citizenship

11 Times President Obama Spoke to Global Citizens in His Farewell Address

By Joe McCarthy|

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Barack Obama delivered his final speech as US president on Tuesday night. He returned to Chicago where he got his start as an organizer to reflect upon his roots and think about the future. True to his style, Obama assured the audience that he was more optimistic today than he was when he entered office, despite all the potential reasons for apprehension. 

“Yes, we can,” he said at the end of the evening, echoing his first presidential campaign eight years ago. “Yes, we did. Yes, we can.” 

Read More: President Obama Just Delivered a Stunning Tribute to Michelle, Malia, and Sasha

As always, he wore the mantle of a unifier, frequently reminding people to imagine what it would be like to inhabit someone else’s life. 

“If our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation,” he said, “then each one of us needs to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said, 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'”

Throughout the speech, whether Obama was identifying threats to American democracy — inequality, racial division, political confirmation bias, and zero sum politics — or tallying up his presidential achievements, issues core to the idea of global citizenship were threaded throughout. 

Here are 11 Global Citizen values from the speech:


Help Refugees

“I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees or work for peace and, above all, to look out for each other.”

Read More: This 6-Year-Old Boy Asked Obama to 'Please Bring Omran to Our Home’


Respect Immigrants

“If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.”

Read More: Obama Has Nearly Cut Yearly Deportations of Illegal Immigrants in Half Since 2009


Protect Human Rights Around the World

“We cannot withdraw from big global fights to expand democracy and human rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights.”

Read More: 7 of the Most Important Protests of 2016


Do Something About Climate Change

“Without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects. More environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.”

Read More: 'Before the Flood': 9 Things We Learned From Leonardo DiCaprio's Climate Change Film


Fight Inequality

"If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."

Read More: 12 Female Activists You Didn’t Know Are Changing the World


Create Economic Opportunity

“Our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity. And the good news is that today the economy is growing again. Wages, incomes, home values and retirement accounts are all rising again. Poverty is falling again.”

Read More: Obama's Farewell Letter to America: 'We Have Laid a New Foundation'


Be an Active Citizen

”If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then 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.”

Read More: We're All Global Citizens, Not Just the Elite


 Oppose Nationalist Aggression

“For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.”

“So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid.”

Read More: 7 Words That Made 2016 So Very 2016


Protect the Right to Vote

“When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote.”

Read More: What Democracy and Voting Rights Look Like Around the World


Be Tolerant and Compassionate

Praising his daughters as examples: “You are smart and you are beautiful. But more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion.”

Read More: President Obama Just Delivered a Stunning Tribute to Michelle, Malia, and Sasha


Embrace Change

“Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace, you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward.”

Read More: Michelle Obama’s Final Speech: 'I Hope I've Made You Proud'

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