Why President Obama’s ‘Courage’ Award Is Cowardice


I voted for Barack Obama twice. In 2008, I had a Chris Matthews-level thrill up my leg watching him deliver his Grant Park acceptance speech.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” the newly elected president said.

Democrat, Republican, or marshmallow—the man had a real gift to lift spirits, hopes, and recapture the sentiment of a bygone America; one where people actually gave a damn about each other, where the false bumper sticker that anyone can make it in America could, again, become reality.

But the presidency has a way of showing who you really are. Of course, it’s easy for folks like me to bask behind their laptops and criticize a person who dealt with pressures and multi-faceted dilemmas we’ll probably never understand.

But, being that I reported from Standing Rock seven times during the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, I had an eyewitness seat to what courage is. And what it is not.

And President Obama is not a profile in courage. His display of inaction in the face of police terrorism against unarmed, peaceful Americans was cowardice.

Did he, ultimately, do the right thing and deny a final permit for DAPL. Yes, he did, which deserves credit (you probably don’t know what the hell I’m talking about since the corporate media ignored the entire story of North Dakota becoming a war zone as a crude oil pipeline was placed under the longest river in America, which serves 18 million people).

But that came after weeks of brutality: a public police department working alongside private mercenaries in service of a private oil company. Dogs unleashed by private mercenaries to bite unarmed water protectors—or what corporate media calls protestors. Police firing rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray at point blank range while water protectors “rioted”—aka as stood peacefully on a hill where their ancestors are buried and prayed. Police spraying freezing water in 26 degree weather at hundreds of unarmed people, causing mass hypothermia. Police breaking indigenous teenagers’ arms while “arresting” them—aka assaulting them. Police tossing grenades at unarmed American citizens, maiming a 21-year-old’s arm (who thankfully avoided full amputation, but barely has feeling in it). Police firing tear gas at point blank range, blinding an indigenous woman in one eye.

Despite deceitful North Dakota police and their allies in conservative—and corporate media—toeing the big oil/police line, all of this happened in AMERICA. The violence came nearly exclusively from people whose salaries are paid by those they brutalized. Trolls can troll—but I was there and witnessed it all.

And Barack Obama was in the White House, with full knowledge of what was happening.

“We’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans,” the former president said while all of this was going on.

It played out indeed—and thousands of people will never be the same; our country will never be the same.

Did President Obama do some good things? Absolutely. Did he enter office at a time when the entire country was on the precipice of disaster? Absolutely.

But, that’s the job he signed up for. And there’s no excuse for choosing to stay silent while fascism erupted in the country he lead—even while he was preoccupied with the threat of a Donald Trump presidency.

But, while the cocktail crowd gathered this weekend to bow at the Obama altar, lauding him for pushing forward a Republican healthcare plan, hundreds of police who committed crimes remain on the beat. Big oil executives-who hired private mercenaries to brutalize unarmed people—sail on their yachts. And hundreds of water protectors face bogus criminal charges against a fascist police force.

If that’s courage, I’d prefer being a coward.


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