Plans were finally unveiled this week for Barack Obama’s Presidential Center in Chicago. This comes after a bit of controversy over the designs and months of back and fourth between the Obamas and architects over the cost, size and scope of the work.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune, their first designs were rejected for not being as ambitious as the Obamas wanted. The feedback from the former first couple was that the original designs were “too unflashy.” Obama then went on to say, “you could be sort of quiet but I think you’re a little too quiet” with the designs. The final designs, unveiled to city planners with the Obamas in attendance, along with friends and aides, show a tall temple-like structure, surrounded by lush roof-top gardens and open communal space.
As we are constantly reminded, even in post presidency, Barack Obama must not be remembered as just any other president (or even president-elect). Everything must be bigger, brighter and appear more audacious than any other, which might explain why construction on the monument is expected to cost almost three times more than that for any of his predecessors.
The structure will have a library and museum, but Obama is hoping to enlist his famous friends to make the Obama Jedi Temple into a South Side Chicago community campus and learning center. The idea is to train what they call the next generation of community leaders and participants in civic engagement. From the announcement at obama.org:
“The Center will include a state of the art museum, classrooms, labs, and outdoor spaces, and it will conduct programs that will give visitors not just memories, but real tools to create change in their own communities.”
After all, this is how Obama launched himself to national prominence and was the dominating theme of his presidency. As foreign relations crumbled around the world—in Russia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Egypt and Israel—Obama could always be counted on to offer an opinion on protest culture, police shootings and occupying things at home.
As the famous saying goes, you can take the 60’s radical out of the streets, but you can never take that out of the 60’s radical. Obama relished in appearing to effect social change in America, despite having very little to actually show for it besides massive layoffs at ESPN and smoldering buildings in cities run by his own party for decades. There is that other matter of electoral wipeouts over the course of his eight years that have directly led to Republican control of every branch of government. But it’s doubtful those are things to be highlighted within this modern-day pyramid of worship.
The Obamas plan to make sure their legacy continues by attempting to create a home for a permanent protest culture of civil disobedience: a sort of Alinksy University. This was also the goal with the creation of OFA (“Organizing for Action”), named for a section in the last chapter of Saul Alinksy’s 1971 novel, Rules for Radicals. That paragraph, titled The Way Ahead, lays out a perfect mission statement of what Obama’s campus learning center hopes to continue from his presidency:
ORGANIZING FOR ACTION will now and in the decade ahead center upon America’s white middle class. That is where the power is. When more than three-fourths of our people from both the point of view of economic and of their self-densification are middle class, it is obvious their action or inaction will determine the direction of change. Large parts of the middle class, the “silent majority,” must be activated; action and articulation are one, as are silent and surrender.
OFA was always meant to create a permanent activist class in America. It spearheaded efforts to occupy congressional offices, and lead protests that devolved into riots—under the guise of civic engagement. Obama picked up on that idea at the center’s unveiling, saying the goal of the new campus is to “train the next generation of leadership” so “they can take up the torch and lead the process of change in the future.”
The Obama center in Chicago gives them a base of operations for this plan, and to help make Alinsky’s dream a reality, the former president is turning to the people he’s closest to: celebrities. Obama hopes to enlist famous activist friends like Bruce Springsteen, Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg to teach courses on ̶p̶r̶o̶p̶a̶g̶a̶n̶d̶a̶ ̶civic engagement. The campus will also feature a recording studio.
But the Obamas will have to deal with the small problem of electoral politics. After eight years, the country decided it was time to move on from the protest mobs, blocking of highways and rioting in cities. And as the Democratic party struggles to find its soul, post Obama, there are signs that it will not be with the activist left—which would mean moving on from the OFA and its particular brand of street organizing. From a Politico report last week:
“[With] all due respect to President Obama, OFA was created as a shadow party because Obama operatives had no faith in state parties,” said Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb.
For their part, the Obamas have signaled they have no intention of veering from their philosophy that what the country most needs is an army of civic protest. But if recent history is any judge of success, the Obamas may have to share the stage on opening day of their Alinksy Academy, scheduled for 2021, with a newly re-elected President Trump, there to cut the ribbon.
And once again, they will only have themselves to blame for it.
The other Stephen Miller. I’ve recently converted over to an electric toothbrush to cut down on carbon pollution from coming out of my mouth.
Follow on twitter @redsteeze