Barack Obama Youth Town Hall London April 23 2016 President Barack Obama at the Youth Town Hall meeting in London, April 23, 2016
Photo © Michael Burland

Obama to young people: you can change the world
by Michael Burland


Barack Obama Youth Town Hall London April 23 2016 President Obama answers questions from youth leaders at Town Hall meeting in London, April 23, 2016
Photo © Michael Burland

The US president told an audience of young people at a Town Hall meeting on the last day of his visit to London, that they are the future of the world.

He started by telling the audience of 500 A-level and UK-US exchange students and members of the US Embassy's Young Leaders UK program that his main reason for being here was to wish Her Majesty a happy birthday, and to meet George "who was adorable!" He then talked about the US-UK Special Relationship, joking that "We've had our quarrels – there was that whole tea incident, and the British burned my house down, but we made up, and ultimately ended up spilling blood together on the battlefield, side by side against fascism and against tyranny, for freedom and for democracy, and from the ashes of war we led the charge to create the institutions and initiatives that sustained a prosperous peace: NATO, Bretton Woods, the Marshall Plan, the EU." These initiatives led to an unprecedented period of peace in a continent that had suffered war for 1,000 years, he explained, the only mention of the EU following his recent controversial interventions into the UK referendum debate.

The President said that the young people in his audience live in a time of breathtaking change and uncertainty but implored them reject isolationism and to take a longer view of history and their part in it. He quoted John F Kennedy: "Our problems are man-made therefore they can be solved by man." He added that if you could choose one moment in history in which to be born, and you didn't know whether you were going to be a man or a woman, what nationality, ethnicity, class or religion, or who your parents were, and you wanted a fulfilling life, "You'd choose right now. The world, for all of its travails and challenges, has never been healthier, better educated, wealthier, more tolerant, less violent or more attentive the rights of all people than it is today." It was a cause not for complacency but for optimism. And that despite living in "a time of change, from 9/11, 7/7... and during an age of information and Twitter where thereís a steady stream of bad news" the young were able to continue that path if they "Reject pessimism and cynicism. Know that progress is possible... Progress is not inevitable, it requires struggle, perseverance, discipline and faith."

Obama urged the audience not to to interact only with people who agreed with their beliefs but to interact with people of different political beliefs and learn how to compromise. When their activism is taken notice of by people in power, they should get in the room and work for change, sometimes accepting "half a loaf" of progress rather than refusing to compromise.

During the question and answer session, when asked about his legacy, Obama said he was proud of his healthcare reforms, the deal stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon, mitigating the Ebola crisis, and also of his government's response to the financial meltdown of 2008: "Saving the world from great depression – that was quite good."

Maria Munir, a young British-Pakistani Muslim woman, broke down in tears after 'coming out' to the President as non-binary, someone who is not exclusively male of or female. Obama also answered questions from a young woman from Northern Ireland and from a Sikh Londoner who spoke about racial profiling at airports and Sikhs being mistaken for Muslims.

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