Politics

Obamas set to oversee groundbreaking of presidential library next week

The Obamas, joined by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, will attend a small ceremony to mark the groundbreaking on the presidential library on Tuesday in the Jackson Park neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, an Obama spokeswoman said. The event will be livestreamed.

“Michelle and I could not be more excited to break ground on the Obama President Center in the community that we love,” Obama said in the video.

On Monday, the night before the official groundbreaking, Obama will invite alumni from his presidential campaigns and administration for a livestreamed conversation hosted by David Plouffe, Obama’s former campaign manager, and Valerie Jarrett, his longtime adviser.

“We have worked with people who care about this place as much as we do, harnessing the collective talent of the South Side and together we put the voices of this community at the heart of our project,” the former President said in the video. “The result is more than a look into the past, it is a vision for the future.”

The former first lady added: “This project has reminded us why the South Side and the people who live here are so special and it has reaffirmed what Barack and I always believed that the future here is as bright as it is anywhere.”

The Obama library has been a controversial project ever since it was announced in 2015, when the Barack Obama Foundation officially said Chicago’s South Side would be home to the project. He also considered his birthplace of Honolulu, Hawaii, for the library, but Chicago, the longtime favorite for the library, won out.

The project, however, has been slowed by lawsuits and some local complaints. In 2019, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that tried to prevent the library from being built in Jackson Park and said that construction should begin immediately. The lawsuit was brought by environmentalists who took issue with public land being used for a private project.
Obama selected Chicago because, as he put it in the 2015 video announcing his selection, it is the place where “all the strands of my life came together.” He noted that he began his career in the city as a community organizer, launched his political career there and, eventually, claimed victory in the 2008 presidential campaign. The city is also where the Obamas met.

“The people there, the community, the lessons that I learned — they’re all based right in this few square miles where we’ll now be able to give something back and bring the world back home after this incredible journey,” Obama said at the time.

The project will be more than just a museum and presidential library, however. The Obama Foundation will be headquartered from the site, as well as a public meeting space, an athletic center and a branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who has been involved in the Obama project from the outset, said part of the delay is because of “the amount of meticulousness that has gone into the architecture of the building and the grounds.”

“Their only real marching order was they didn’t want this to be a monument to themselves,” Brinkley said of the former first couple. “That idea is to have some optimism in American history while also paying great homage to grassroots activism and how change occurs from the bottom up.”

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