Lamenting Two Different Chicago Rallies

We’re a long way from Obama’s 2007 Homecoming

The Obama’s at their Homecoming rally on 2/11/07 and an unidentified white supremacist Trump supporter on 3/11/16 — both events took place at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago || photos: Chicago Tribune

I think the only proper response to last night’s debacle in Chicago is lament.

Thousands upon thousands of Trump supporters clashed with thousands upon thousands of Trump protesters. Watching the footage from over 2000 miles away I felt a sense of anger and helplessness.

Back in February 2007 I was a pastor in the city of Chicago and attended Barack Obama’s homecoming rally with my wife. We were thrilled to see our city’s very own jump into the race with the promise of hope and change.

Those two words are cliché now — so often mocked, derided and incomplete in their promise.

The homecoming throng at UIC in 2007 || Getty Images (obvs!)

But we were there hopeful nonetheless, alongside thousands of folks representing all walks of life and political persuasion. We waited in line for a long while and rushed to the upper deck of the campus basketball arena, grabbing one of the last yard signs waiting for Barack and Michelle to come home from a whirlwind weekend in Iowa.

Did we expect Obama to win? I don’t really think so.

But we expected something deeper to take root in what felt like a positive moment in our shared lives.

“Every time change has come it’s not because a particular leader created all that change. What’s happened is a movement began. I want to help. I want to roll up my sleeves and make a change. I just want to be a part of creating a better America.” — Barack Obama, 2007

We went home that night, our hearts quickened and our hands ready to do what work we could.

I think we get the leaders we either deserve or need.

We deserve better than Donald Trump.

We need leaders — grand and small, national and local — to appeal to the better angels of our nature.

What we saw last night was cynical and dangerous.

Last night, Rachel Maddow said it best on MSNBC:

When you look at the way that Mr. Trump has been talking about the organic existence of both protesters against him and violence toward those protesters at his event, when you look at the way that he has encouraged it in an escalating way leading to this inevitable event tonight in Chicago, I think that it is impossible to say that this is an accident.

If I was in Chicago last night, I may likely have been in solidarity with those protesters. The racist dog-whistling, xenophobic and misogynistic taunts from Trump are unacceptable and need to be discarded. Standing to be counted and show a better way is a faithful response in such heartbreaking times.

It is because we find ourselves in fragile, heartbreaking times that we need to provide sensible, heart-lifting leadership — grand and small, national and local.

It gets tricky sometimes: the long whispered rumor of Obama’s post-racial, post-partisan America is far from reality. I often wonder if the movement is dead or if it has just begun?

Today, in the heart of Lent, I will sit and grieve these matters.

Thankfully, Sunday’s coming.

Adam Phillips is pastor of Christ Church: Portland (Ore.) — an open, active & inclusive community for God’s glory & neighbor’s good.