Obama campaign visits Chicago

By Vanessa Morton

With his first term in office nearing an end, President Barack Obama began his fight for re-election as he made his first campaign stop in his home city.

Long lines sprawled out of the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road, on Jan. 11, for a chance to hear the president speak about his plans and hopes for the future of the country.

But the president’s trip back home wasn’t filled with warm welcomes. While many Chicagoans were excited about Obama’s visit, he was also greeted by a large number of Occupy protesters.

Gathered from Occupy Chicago and UIC, they stood together outside of the building to voice their opposition toward the president’s recent signing of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012—a bill he signed into law on Dec. 31—and also continued their campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act, both of which raise questions relating to American citizens’ constitutional rights.

The NDAA states how the military is to be funded, but new provisions have been added. For the first time in American history, the piece of legislation will make it legal to indefinitely detain anyone suspected of being a terrorist, including American citizens, without a charge or call for trial.

“We feel that codifying [NDAA] into law is detrimental to the future of our country, and it goes against our Constitution,” said Micah Philbrook, member of the Occupy Chicago press relations committee. “[People] are supporting Obama for re-election, and the candidate they support basically signed away the Constitution’s First Amendment, doing away with habeas corpus, and I feel a lot of people support their Democratic or Republican candidate blindly, because they are a member of the party that they subscribe to.”

However, despite the president signing the NDAA into law, he has stated that even though he supports the bill as a whole, he also does not agree with everything in it.

“I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists,” Obama said in a written statement. “Moreover, I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.”

Edwin Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, characterized the NDAA as “always sort of a Christmas tree of legislation.”

“It is a piece of legislation that Congress passes each and every year in order to authorize the military fund, particular military projects and activities,” Yohnka said. “So, because it becomes sort of a must-pass bill, as they say, it is often a vehicle in which all kinds of measures, and sometimes politically motivated, sometimes otherwise motivated, kinds of legislation get attached to the proposal.”

Yohnka said the motivation toward the provisions isn’t easy to weed out. However, he said the desire to make changes comes from some parts of Congress and, as of now, members in the Republican Party.

“It’s [their] desire to appear as though they are ‘tough on terrorism’ and the vehicle to being ‘tough on terrorism’ is to oppose at any level, in any way ever, the notion of trying people who the United States has detained in civilian courts,” Yohnka said. “It’s one of those things that frustrates people about Congress and about how they behave. Rather than deal with issues in a thoughtful, considered deliberate way, everything becomes a game of politics and got you.”

Despite these concerns, the president’s enthusiasm toward the audience overpowered the campaigns against him. He focused on his well-known theme of change, and opened his speech by reminiscing about his previous campaign. He joked with the audience about the odds not being in his favor back in 2008.

“And it’s not because you thought it was going to be easy,” Obama said. “You know when you support a guy name Barack Hussein Obama for president of the United States, you’ve got to assume that the odds may not be in your favor. But what you understood was the campaign was not about me, it was about our common vision for America, [and] it wasn’t a cramped narrow vision of America where everyone is left to fend for themselves.”

In an effort to rally old and new supporters, he also brought up a number of issues the country currently faces and has faced during a decade of “neglect,” such as risky financial deals. He also listed all of the campaign promises he said his administration had fulfilled, such as passing health care reform, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and an end of the Iraq War by bringing the troops back to the states.

The president, at times, hit hard at the Republican Party. He took stabs at its efforts not to lead the country with the people in mind, but rather to unseat him from his presidency.

“The very core of what this country stands for is on the line,” Obama said. “The basic promise of no matter who you are, where you come from, this is a place that you can make it if you try. That’s at stake in this election.”

And despite the trials and tribulations he expressed during his speech, he reassured the crowd of 500 supporters that change is possible.

He admitted that throughout his term change wasn’t always possible, but urged the crowd to continue to work alongside him in an effort to help the country.

“We wont give up, not now,” Obama said. “You’ve got to send a message that we’re going to keep pushing and fighting for the change that we believe in. I’ve said before, I’m not a perfect man, I’m not a perfect president, but I promised you this, and I’ve kept this promise: I will always tell you what I believe. I will always tell you where I stand. I will wake up every single day thinking about how I can make this country better, and I will spend every ounce of energy that I have fighting for you.”