For my write-up today on Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, I’ll talk about the issue of success in social activism, while also drawing on some of my favorite passages in my latest reading.
In my latest reading, Obama has a conversation with his half-sister, who tells him about their father in Kenya. Kenya was having a lot of problems: tribalism, government jobs going to people who were unqualified, and Kenyan politicians purchasing a bunch of land and businesses rather than redistributing them to the people. Barack’s father spoke up, and he was essentially blacklisted from working in the government. He degenerated after that point.
Obama as a community organizer was trying to make things better in Chicago as he worked with others. And, in areas, he succeeded, for there were neighborhood crime-watches and tutoring programs. But there was one time when it looked like he was going to be successful, but he ultimately was not. This was when he and others were lobbying local officials to investigate apartments to see if they had asbestos, and to get rid of the asbestos. Obama and his team succeeded in getting the officials to investigate the asbestos. But, because the federal government only appropriated so much money, the residents of the apartments had to choose between asbestos removal and new plumbing and roofing that they needed.
There were inspiring stories about the community’s anti-asbestos stand, though: A woman named Sadie, whom Obama didn’t think would make a good spokesperson because she was rather mousy, ended up doing a good job and getting things done; Obama says that one of the officials with whom they interacted reminded him of his grandfather, who was broken down by life; etc.
But, in terms of concrete results, the crusade failed—-and yet, as Obama notes, it was successful in that the community came together to seek change.
Is change possible? In areas, perhaps so. At least one should try.