Posted by: sawyerlaw | October 30, 2009

Restored 1991 Obama Article

[A scan of this 1991 article appears elsewhere online, but I wanted to transcribe it into searchable/Googleable text. There is virtually no analysis of it online. Referenced lecture delivered to an audience in Tarrytown, NY.]

Idealism and Action by Alysha Yagoda

Perhaps because the times are confusing and the future is unforeseeable, the students of the Upper School listened closely to Barack Obama. Mr. Obama, the fourth speaker in the Forbes Lecture Series, is a third-year student at Harvard Law and is the first African-American president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Mr. Obama grew up in Chicago and after completing undergraduate school, returned to take up what he called “organizational work”, which entailed working with the poor and attempting to create more low-income housing. After discovering that knowledge of America’s legal system would be an asset in this work, he matriculated at Harvard.

Drawing from his experiences as an organizer and as a student at Harvard, Mr. Obama suggested to his audience a plan to follow in the forthcoming years for facing the economic and social problems which challenge the country. He said the nineties generation should foster idealism, but should at the same time remember to bring responsibility to their fine aspirations, to back up words with deeds, “style” with “substance”.

To help his listeners understand the need for a new commitment to, and a new direction for, social change, Mr. Obama began his speech with a history of social movement in the sixties. He explained that the goals of that generation were focused on eliminating the social, political, and economic injustices (i.e., poverty, prejudice, the Vietnam War, etc., of the United States and the world); he explained that there were some successes, such as Head Start and the Peace Corps. He made the point, however, that the flower-children did not realize the difficulty of eradicating society’s ills. They expected the change to a better world to happen overnight. Mr. Obama felt that this mentality might have been the reason why the idealism and affirmative action of the sixties degenerated into a seventies full of the style of the sixties, but lacking the substance: a self-indulging decade.

Throughout his speech, Mr. Obama emphasized the fact that change is possible, even outlining plans he had formulated which could be used in defeating the poverty and crime of inner-city slums, in addition to other ideas about resolving racial tensions. The core of his ideas was that, as the nation comes out of the conservative, money-hungry, and cynical atmosphere of a socially conscious generation coupled with actions to fulfill idealistic goals, in order to succeed where the sixties did not.


  1. This seems a triumph of speech over substance and an inadequate grasp of what the sixties were all about and as a participant in it I speak from personal experience.

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