Politics

Obama in 2002: Wealthy embrace nonviolence because ‘they want to make sure folks don’t take their stuff’

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David Martosko
Executive Editor

In a video that surfaced on YouTube Wednesday morning, a young state Sen. Barack Obama is seen explaining from a church pulpit that the principle of nonviolent resistance for social change applies more readily to the wealthy than to Americans in lower social classes.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Obama says in the video, shot on Jan. 21, 2002 at the University of Chicago, “but rich people are all for nonviolence. Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve got what they want. They want to make sure folks don’t take their stuff.”

January 21 was Martin Luther King Jr. Day that year.

Watch:

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“The philosophy of nonviolence only makes sense if the powerful can be made to recognize themselves in the powerless,” Obama said. “It only makes sense if the powerless can be made to recognize themselves in the powerful.”

He also compared “what Enron executives did to their employees” to “what Bull Connor did to black folks.”

Enron was an energy company that went bankrupt in 2001 after rampant accounting fraud came to light, leaving 20,000 employees without jobs.

“When a company town sees its plant closing because some distant executives made some decision despite the wage concessions, despite the tax breaks, and they see their entire economy collapsing, they feel violence,” Obama said.

Obama’s views on racial issues have become fodder for a renewed national conversation since The Daily Caller published a video Tuesday night showing Obama, as a presidential candidate in 2007, talking to a Virginia audience in an unusual accent and lavishing praise on controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Federal government leaders, Obama said in that 2007 speech, “don’t care” about blacks in New Orleans facing a difficult rebuilding process after Hurricane Katrina. He also said the government was spending too much on suburbanites instead of on “our neighborhoods.”

The complete January 21, 2002 speech, posted on YouTube by a user calling himself “Morgen” and publicized Wednesday morning by conservative blogger Patrick Frey, also includes the future president’s views on school funding and the criminal justice system.

“Among African American males, one third to one fourth [are] caught up in the criminal justice system,” he noted, “so that the number of young men incarcerated exceeded the number enrolled in colleges and universities.” Obama called that situation a matter of “inequality up, trust in mutuality down.”

“It’s hard to imagine that the powerful in our society would tolerate the burgeoning prison industrial complex,” Obama claimed, “if they imagined that the black men and Latino men that are being imprisoned were something like their sons.”

On school funding, Obama said that the “education system … funded by [local] property taxes” is “fundamentally unjust. So you have folks up in Winnetka [Illinois], pupils who are getting five times as much money per student as students in the South Side of Chicago.”

Watch the complete speech:

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