You may have heard that the Obamas held a star-studded farewell party at the White House last Friday night. What you might not have heard is that the President has also been holding a series of short meetings in the Oval Office with friends and supporters. The former Mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak, was one of the people who received such an invitation. He wrote about his experiences on Facebook.
Rybak starts off by talking about his despair at seeing the viewing stand being built for the Trump inauguration…remembering the pride he felt eight years ago in our new president, Barack Obama. But the despair dissipated as he was welcomed into the Oval Office.
I went through security into the White House because the President invited me in to come by for a few minutes before he left office. I turned the corner to the Oval Office to see him looking more energized than he has in months, and with that huge smile on this face that has lifted so many of us so many times…
He put his arm on my shoulder and looked at me intensely, saying, “We aren’t done yet.”
I wish I could have bottled the look in his eyes so all the people I know, and don’t, who feel dishearten now, who are so fearful of what comes next, and who feel a sense of loss, know he is absolutely not, under any circumstances, going to stop fighting for what we believe in.
“I’m going to take a little vacation,” he said, “get a little sun, but then we are right back at it. ”
He told me about the work he will be doing on youth and families, on getting more people engaged in voting, on protecting liberties. Then he said the words that meant the most to me: “The best is yet to come.”
I believe Barack Obama was the greatest President of my lifetime, but as I heard him talk, I remembered he is about more than political office. At so many times—his amazing speech about race in the first campaign, his powerful words after Sandy Hook, his second inaugural when laid out the imperative of attacking climate change—he has moved us beyond politics to elevate our values. This is his great opportunity now; just as America faces a crisis of values, a great debate about who we really are at our core, he will be speaking not as just a politician, but as a moral leader. In many ways we need that even more today than great politicians.
You may be saying, “But Nancy, I thought you were the one who just wrote that we shouldn’t put it all on Obama.” You’d be right. And that wasn’t Rybak’s point. Let’s pick up his story at the party later that evening.
Later that night Megan and I went to a farewell party at the White House. I talked to Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan who has gone back to Chicago to work on youth violence prevention, to former Attorney General Eric Holder who is organizing opposition to unfair redistricting around the country, former White House political director and Ambassador Patrick Gaspard who is working on citizen engagement with George Soros, Gabby Giffords is fighting the gun violence that robbed her and so many others of so much, activist actors like Alfre Woodard who has been through waves of social movements saying she’s now ready for the next phase.
Obama has been a President but Obama is also a movement that isn’t done on Jan 20.
Back in 2007, when I was working with activists around the country in the Draft Obama campaign, I wrote a blog on a national website saying: “Barack Obama is a great man but this is not about him. It’s about setting off a movement.” The next day he called my office, said that’s the way he saw it, that he was community organizer who wanted to light the spark, and he recruited me to volunteer for what was then a long-shot campaign.
I still feel that way, and it’s clear he does, too.
There have been those who criticized President Obama for not organizing a movement while he was in the White House. It has always been my contention that he already had a full-time job to do…being President of the United States. Suggesting that he could have done both at the same time is not only a misunderstanding of the role of POTUS, but of the work that is required to organize and lead a movement.
For years now I’ve thought that one of the most fascinating descriptions of Barack Obama came from his wife Michelle.
Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He’s a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.
In eleven days, that exploration will be over. Then we get to find out what he means when he says, “The best is yet to come.”
P.S. If you’d like to read Rybak’s post in its entirety and don’t have a Facebook account, you can find it here.