|(credit: Chicago Tribune)|
The protest was not, however, part of the nationwide, Democratic Party-approved #Resistance rallies against President Trump. It was a bona fide grassroots uprising against former President Barack Obama and his refusal to promise that the poor, elderly and disabled won't lose their (barely) affordable housing when his $500 million shrine opens on previously publicly-owned parkland a few short years from now.
Activists in the Jackson Park Watch community group finally had a chance to confront him directly this week during his final push for approval of the Obama Center. They again asked him why he won't sign a contract which guarantees that they won't be pushed out of their neighborhoods either during construction or after the opening of the project, which will include a luxury hotel and a professional world-class golf course. (Such written agreements are standard when a major construction project, such as the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, threatens to displace existing residents and local jobs. The written agreements then can become the basis of lawsuits when the developers fail to follow through on their promises.)
Obama's contemptuous answer when residents asked him to sign on the dotted line? Don't complain about what hasn't happened to you yet, especially when he can eventually attract celebrities like Jay-Z and Chance the Rapper to the premises. It's not like their depressing neighborhood is booming all on its own. And anyway, what could possibly be more important than economic development?
As reported by the Chicago Tribune,
"A lot of times, people get nervous about gentrification and understandably so," he said. "It is not my experience ... that the big problem on the South Side has been too much development, too much economic activity, too many people being displaced because all these folks from Lincoln Park are filling in to the South Side. That's not what's happening.Nothing wins the hearts and minds of potential displaced persons like being sarcastically told by some fabulously rich property developer that since they live in a run-down trashy place anyway, they have nothing to complain about. Nothing makes poor people feel better and more included than also having their worries flippantly compared to those of a privileged, set-for-life heiress.
"We have such a long way to go before you will start seeing the prospect of gentrification,” he said. “(My daughter) Malia's kids might have to worry about that. Right now, we've got to worry about broken curbs and trash and boarded-up buildings. That's what we really need to work on."
While most of the $500 million cost of the Obama Center will be borne by private donors, the public will be on the hook for an estimated $175 million upgrade of surrounding infrastructure and roadways. Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Chaffey said a new underpass will also be needed to allow for construction of the 18-hole golf course, to be designed by Tiger Woods.
Ever the neoliberal scold talking from both sides of his mouth simultaneously, Obama soothed,
“Sometimes there’s a feeling of stuff being done to us and not for us.The first step in gaslighting people into accepting something counter to their own interests is to diagnose them with an emotional problem; they have "feelings" rather than rational thoughts. The next step is to insist that the rich and the poor have the same core interests; in this particular case, Obama's personal glorification at their expense is couched in concern for generations yet to be born who will eventually flock to his Center like pilgrims flock to Rome, Lourdes, the Statue of Liberty, and Mecca. The final gaslighting step is to cast protesters as self-centered ingrates incapable of imagining a future Utopia in their own blighted back yard. You can't satisfy all the people all the time, so why even bother? As reported by Politico, Obama even groused that if he promised the South Side activists that they'll be taken care of, he'd be bombarded by too many "organizations" nitpicking him over boring things, such as lost jobs and public spaces and rising rents and and unaffordable property taxes. Their anxieties are absolutely nothing compared to the mythical hordes who will come to Chicago to be awed and inspired by a brutalistic monument to Obama's eternal greatness.
Sometimes there’s a feeling of suspicion and concern and trepidation. That means you’re worried,” he said.
But he emphasized that the project can’t satisfy all constituents and said his team is eager to get moving into the construction phase.
“Twenty years from now, I want young people from across the South Side … to look at this center and say, ‘This is a sign that I count. This is a sign I can change the world,’” he said. “That is more important than any legacy I can ever have.”
And as for the priced-out poor people in the neighborhood? Who needs a house when the Obama Center's more important purpose is to "send a message" that their lives really, really do matter to him? It's not an improved reality that should count. It's the "sign" and the symbols that should keep people hopeful and happy and resilient as they struggle to survive in a neoliberal landscape where the almighty "Market" has all but replaced policies for the greater social good.
Despite his lame weasel-wording, all indications are that Obama will get his way in Chicago. There's the support of his good pal the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, of course. And despite mild criticism of the almost paranoid secrecy surrounding the project and its glowing but unrealistic promises of future jobs and riches, the Tribune is editorializing in enthusiastic favor. Curbed Chicago even cynically gushes that the Obama Center will help future (as opposed to pesky current) community organizers to acquire more effective organizing skills:
Still missing Obama, liberals? This is the same right-wing "eat your peas" rhetoric employed during his austerity push after losing his Congressional super-majority in the 2010 mid-terms. Unlike the widespread media panning of Trump's ignorant cruelty, though, Obama is still almost universally praised for being "measured," "heartfelt," and "thoughtful" even as he unleashes the relentless forces of sadistic neoliberalism against a historically oppressed population.The center wants to support those who have organizing experience and also those who want to get involved but don’t know how. Programs on everything from coding to athletics to the college application process are planned as well. Obama even mentioned bringing in Chance or Jay-Z to the recording studio to work with young artists.Many of the anxieties felt by South Side residents were touched on throughout his speech. He validated these feelings but ultimately downplayed some concerns, reminding everyone that his intention is to create something that benefits the community and that he’s not profiting from this.Whether or not you trust Obama’s abilities or intentions, his pitch for the center was heartfelt and clearly argued. He was asking for the people’s trust, and cited the politician that inspired him to come to Chicago in the first place.“Here’s the thing. You can never make folks 100 percent happy. We want to be open and we want to listen. We are going to be ‘fairer than fair,’ to quote Harold Washington, in how we approach the design of this Presidential Center.”
The shaming and the blaming of the poor, the elderly and the disabled will continue, no matter what faction of the Uniparty is in power. When South Siders complain and express their perfectly rational fears, they're told that they're letting Obama down. "Were the developer anyone other than Obama, whose deep roots on the South Side made it the only real choice for his presidential center," scolds the Tribune's Dahleen Glanton, "it is likely that he would have packed up his drawing board and gone elsewhere."
Such a patient man, parachuting down to the South Side for a minute to make his final, reasonable, irresistible offer. Any normal Trumpian greedster would have taken his marbles and his tax breaks and gone home by now. But not the long-suffering and intrepid and talented Mr. Obama.
|Nevertheless, He Persisted|