Former President Barack Obama has announced that his first post-presidential project will be helping the next generation get active in politics.
Mr Obama made the announcement at a panel hosted by the University of Chicago – his first public event since Donald Trump become President.
“There’s a reason why I’m always optimistic, even when things aren’t necessarily going the way I want, and that is because of young people like this,” Mr Obama said, gesturing to the young adults who joined him on the panel.
The former President said he considered working on numerous issues after leaving office, but chose to invest in the leadership of the next generation. He argued that too few Americans participate in politics currently, claiming US elections see the “lowest voting rates of any developed democracy”.
Mr Obama attributed that disinterest to various issues, from the polarisation of political parties to the dominance of special interests. He realised, he said on Monday, that “the only folks who are going to be able to solve that are young people.”
The 55-year-old acknowledged some issues that come with working with young people, including their increasing dependence on smart phones. Mr Obama said that he felt modern technology had brought about a more polarised media, and thus a more divided society.
“If this generation is getting all their information through their phones, you don’t have to confront people who have different opinions, or different experiences,” he said.
Despite this, Mr Obama said he was committed to creating new pathways for young people to get involved in politics. Monday’s panel, in which he talked with students from universities around Chicago, appeared to be one of the first steps in that plan.
The day before, the former President spoke at a roundtable discussion with young men from the Chicago Create Real Economic Destiny programme, a job skills program for at-risk youth. The location of both events was symbolic, as Mr Obama credits his past as a south side Chicago community organiser with inspiring his run for office.
“The lessons that I learned here as an organisation stayed with me, and effectively gave me the foundation for my subsequent political career,” Mr Obama said on Monday.
He even gave attendees tips for organising in their own communities, urging them to “put down the clipboard and get to know [your community] a little”. Friends have reported that Mr Obama privately faults Hillary Clinton for her lack of in-person campaigning during the 2016 election.
Student on panel says he was in 8th grade during Obama's first election.— CSPAN (@cspan) April 24, 2017
Former President Obama: "Can I just say…I’m old." pic.twitter.com/tRvvcCx9Fx
Mr Obama has kept a low profile since the election, declining to comment publicly on his successor, Mr Trump. At his last press conference in January, Mr Obama said he would not be speaking out unless Mr Trump did something that threatened America’s “core values”.
The former president even alluded to his disappearing act on Monday, joking, "So what's been going on?" as he settled into his chair.
Later, however, Mr Obama gave some advice that may have hit home for downtrodden members of the Democratic Party.
“If you’re going to try something hard, there are going to be times when you screw up and you don’t succeed” Mr Obama told his young co-panellists. “And I think that the most important thing – and this is a little bit of a cliche, but sometimes cliches are true – is to learn from these failures, and have a sense of resilience.”