CHICAGO — Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were back in Chicago on Friday to head up this year’s Democracy Forum at McCormack Place.

The discussion takes place on the 15th anniversary of Obama’s first presidential election.

No longer in the White House, the 44th President of the United States continues to look for other ways to make an impact. The forum is an effort, in part, to foster new leadership, especially among young people — and strengthen democracy. 

Friday’s event comes at a precarious moment in history as authoritarian leaders around the world seek to destroy democracy. In the US, polarized political parties refuse to compromise, most would agree, paralyzed by dysfunction and negativity. 

Despite the fear and uncertainty, Obama argues there’s still a case for hope.

“It is hard to feel hopeful. The images of families mourning, of bodies being pulled from rubble, force a moral reckoning on all of us,” Obama said. “But I stand here convinced that it is within our make this world better. That’s what this democracy forum is all about.”

Among other things, the 62-year-old former President shared his concern about economic inclusion while speaking directly to future leaders.

“Those of you who are idealistic and progressive and are upset about inequality, you can’t ignore growth,” Obama said. “You can’t ignore making the economy work.”

Reflecting on the current landscape, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson spoke of the former President’s path endured and the roads ahead.

“It was here where a young Barack Obama found a passion for activism and community organizing,” Johnson said. “It was here where he launched his political career that would eventually shape our nation for the better. It is also here, through this forum today, where that history will intersect with our future progress.”

“We’re here because we believe that humanity can bridge our differences and make better choices,” Obama said. “That we can see each other and listen to each other.”

Obama pointed to the four pillars to strengthen democracy:

  • Detoxifying our discourse
  • Developing models for more sustainable and inclusive systems of capitalism
  • Revitalizing our institutions to boost participation
  • Building Democratic culture.