Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Two: Chicago, Chapter Twelve. Overcoming The Culture Of Defeatism.
It looked like Barack’s hard work in the Altgeld area was beginning to pay off. He had managed to overcome the cynicism and dispirited attitude of the local residents that nothing was ever going to change. This feeling of hopelessness had prevented the locals from supporting his rallies or showing up at his meetings.
However when people found out that Altgeld Gardens management was going to remove the asbestos in the management areas the residents became alarmed about the possibility of it also being in their their living areas. This problem became a catalyst for his organizing efforts and the people went to the Chicago Housing Authority and demanded that their living areas be inspected and if asbestos was present it be removed. At first they were stone walled by the Authority however sufficient people became involved that it got media attention.
Also Barack’s success in getting a jobs center established in the Altgeld gave heart to the people. Now their belief’s changed. Before they did not believe change was possible and Barack showed them if they acted together and asserted their right to safe, clean and functioning housing, it was possible to achieve change.
The necessary environmental surveys were done. Their consolidated demand for the maintenance that had been back logged for years was taken seriously. The politicians and CHA went to the Federal Government and received a grant as a result of the community’s demands and activism.
Unwed mothers gained hope that they could change their lives. Those who had dropped out of school went back to get their diploma’s or studied to take the high school equivalency test.
The aura of defeatism that had prevailed before, that there was nothing they could do to change conditions, began to lift and the spirit of the whole community began to change. The local Protestant churches announced the time and place of meetings and people showed up and were enthusiastic and aggressive about supporting petitions for better community services.
Their initial successes were cause for celebration and a real community spirit begin to form,.
Then the news came down that the Federal government would provide funds for the backlog of outstanding maintenance requests or asbestos removal but they didn’t have funds for both.
This disheartened some of his best community leaders and they decided to drop out of the activities that demanded change. One leader Bernadette and her husband decided to stop participating saying nothing is ever going to change here and the best we can do is move away as soon as possible. The communities feeling of powerlessness began to prevail. It appeared overcoming the culture of hopelessness and defeatism would take more than a few brief successes.