Barry Soetoro/Barack Obama, Man and Boy - by His Friends
by January 20, Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 10:01:54 PM EDT
I hate to sound like the choir, but the more I learn of Barack, the more I like him. The Guardian has a wonderful set of interviews with friends, family members, and associates that knew Barry Soetoro / Barack Obama in Jakarta, Hawaii, LA, and Chicago.
As the intro says:
Schoolfriends remember his love for comic books, basketball and teasing the girls. A former boss recalls him as a young man running a community project in Chicago. A fellow senator remembers being beaten by him at poker. Gifted student, quiet persuader, charismatic speaker, loyal friend... We speak to the people who knew Barack Obama best, revealing an intimate, often touching, portrait of a man on the brink of greatness
Obama as we knew him... man and boy
Indonesia 1969: Rully Dasaad
After Barack's parents split up, he moved with his mother and Indonesian stepfather to Jakarta, aged seven, where he befriended classmate Dasaad - now a commercial photographer - at Basuki Primary School.
Hawaii 1975: Tony Peterson
Barack moved back to Honolulu, Hawaii in 1971, aged 10, and lived with his grandparents. At Punahou High School, he met Peterson, who now works for the United Methodist Church in Tennessee.
Los Angeles 1980: Margot Mifflin
University friend of Obama at Occidental College, LA. Now a journalism professor.
Chicago 1980s: Auma Obama
Obama's Kenyan half-sister, who first met Barack in the Eighties. Now works in children's services in Reading, UK.
Chicago 1985: Gerald Kellman
Employed Obama as a community organiser at the Calumet Community Religious Conference, Chicago, 1985-88.
Jakarta 1980s: Julia Surakusuma
Close friend of Obama's mother, Jakarta, Indonesia, 1981 to 1995 . Sociologist and feminist writer.
Harvard 1989: Larry Tribe
University professor of constitutional law, who taught Obama, and for whom Obama worked as a research assistant.
Illinois 1996: Senator Terry Link
A friend of Obama since they played poker and golf together at the Capitol, Springfield, Illinois in the 1990s.
London 2008: David Lammy
British MP and Minister of State for Higher Education; friend of Obama's since 2005.
Selected excerpts after the jump but you'll be happier going to the Guardian & reading the whole thing: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/oct /26/barackobama-uselections2008
Rully Dasaad (Indonesia)
I remember one time he had a birthday and I went to his house with some classmates. Barry's house was down a mud track; to play football there, you had to put plastic bags on your feet. Near his house was a small canal - at that time it wasn't polluted - and they had small salamanders in it. Barry had chickens in his home field. It was totally normal for Jakarta in those days.
Me, Barry and Yanto used to play together every lunch break for two years and he was very loyal to our gang. If I said: 'Don't play with that boy, play with us', he'd do it. We'd try to finish our lunch as fast as we could and then we'd go to the fields and play: running, hide and seek, marbles and tak gebok, an Indonesian game of tag where you try to hit your fellow boys with a ball. One time, there was a naughty young boy who missed Barry with the ball so he took a small stone from the playing field and threw it and hit Barry's head, which started bleeding. I remember Barry just went quiet - his mum had taught him not to fight. He was one of those kids you could tell was brought up with a lot of love and affection and so he was never angry or nasty.
- snip -
Somebody said in 2006: 'Look at Time magazine - your old friend is running for President.' I didn't recognise him. He was much slimmer. Then I saw a picture where he was laughing and I recognised him from the smile and the teeth.
Later on there were allegations that the school was a madrassa, and foreign journalists began hanging around. But the small mosque at the school today was added on in 2001. There was no mosque at the time and it wasn't even a particularly religious school.
It's very sad if a great nation like America wants to persecute Obama just because he was born from a Muslim dad and had a Muslim stepfather. I'm sure one of the reasons for the flexibility he has today is his experiences in Indonesia. At the school, there were half-Chinese and half-Dutch Indonesians, Javanese people, Ambonese, and there were Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Catholics. Barry is used to a mix.
Tony Peterson (Hawaii)
We talked about race but not, I thought, out of a deep sense of pain. The revolutionary anger started to die down in the Seventies. We weren't dealing with the harsh barriers, more with the rate of change, the progress we were making. Black culture was popular across the race spectrum. Jesse Jackson was a big public figure, everyone loved Stevie Wonder, the most popular sports star was Julius 'Doctor J' Ervin, the basketball genius. So we were talking about things like: would the girls date us black guys and would we see a black President in our lifetime? The answer to the first was yes and on the second our take was: there'll be progress, but we won't see it happen.
Decades later, I was in a bookstore in Boulder, Colorado, visiting my brother Keith and he picks this book Dreams From My Father out of the remainder bin and said: 'Look who wrote this.' It was Barry's memoir. Where he talks about his Punahou years, I was surprised by the agony he was feeling. But I'd been black all my life in a way that Barry sort of hadn't. People looked at him and saw a black man, but his own identity was that he was raised by and living with his white mother and these white grandparents. And maybe because of his white half, white people were willing to let their racist side out in front of him. So he had a lot to wrestle with, especially as a teenager. He was questioning things and following them towards agony and resolution.
Margot Mifflin (LA)
I was also at the rally where he gave his first speech, an anti-apartheid rally at Occidental. He was hunched over the mike, it was too low for him. He was nervous and he was rushing a little. I recall him saying something like: 'Occidental should spend less time investing in South Africa and more time on multicultural education.' That was impressive because you think of multiculturalism as a Nineties phenomenon, and here he was in the early Eighties, thinking about the need for that in an educational sense.
It didn't occur to anyone this guy could become President. He certainly didn't go around saying anything that audacious or ambitious. He was a nose-to-the-grindstone, quiet worker, not the kind who would run around tooting his own horn, even though he was probably getting messages from his professors that he had serious talent. I think he was figuring out who he would be and when he left Occidental he took the steps to become that person. It's like Shakespeare's line: 'Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.' He was the guy who achieved greatness and it clearly took a lot of hard work to do that.
Auma Obama (Half Sister)
Barack visited Kenya for the first time. I picked him up in my Beetle. He did not have any of these hang-ups, you know: 'Oh there are mosquitoes.' He came and just was. It made it so easy. We spent a lot of time discussing and explaining things.
I don't know if it was strange for Barack to come here. The thing is it wasn't strange for the family. Nobody but me had met Barry but everybody knew him from our father. We don't dramatise family in Kenya and people weren't fazed by him at all, although they did find some things interesting. For my grandmother, it was his accent and the fact that he could not speak Luo.
And all the kids would come and compare their skin colour to Barack's. People had many questions for him and Barack definitely had many questions for them. There was never a moment of silence or embarrassed awkwardness.
It wasn't all nice. Sometimes, he wanted to see relatives I didn't really get along with and he'd be like: 'It's my right and I need to see them and I'm not going alone and you're coming with me'.
To take a break, we went to the coast. Coming back (from Mombasa to Nairobi) we travelled by bus. The driver was going so fast and I was so, so scared. Barack took it all in his stride. I, the Kenyan who should have been used to it, was furious at the driver. But Barack was just like: 'OK, this is the adventure that it is.' He came with this big baggage of tolerance and relaxedness and the ability to just absorb.
Gerald Kellman (Chicago Community Organizer)
was offering him $10,000 a year and two grand for a car and I remember thinking: someone who was smart enough to do it should have been smart enough not to do it. The salary was ridiculous, the status low, the prospects bad and he had to move to Chicago. The way I convinced him was to talk about the Calumetians' lives and he wanted to see what he could do to help them. Barack is often motivated by a desire to learn, and he was hungry for hands-on experience.
Chicago's South Side contains the largest black community in the States. Barack's job was to go into the community and interview individuals to find out what the problems were and then teach them the public skills to get change and that if they were to get anywhere the community needed to work together. Barack had to give people confidence and he did it brilliantly because he listened. He's a remarkably quick learner and not at all snobbish about whether he learns from people of high or low status.
- snip -
I think a lot of his orientation was formed in his time as an organiser. Local politicians and clergy felt our group was a potential threat and Barack had to decide when to compromise and when not to, when to be confrontational and when to be collaborative and those parts of his character were shaped during his organising career.
He was resilient and good at turning things around. Always, when things were going badly, Barack would stay up most of the night, trying to figure things out. And by the next day he'd be meeting people and we'd be trying an alternative strategy.
Julia Surakusuma (Friend of Barack's mother - Jakarta)
Both Barry and his sister, Maya, are the living incarnation of what is best about their mother. Often, it's really painful for me to watch him on television because I can see his mother in him.
Ann was very smart and, in many ways, a pioneer. She was really brave, even revolutionary, to have married entirely outside her culture. She was a rebel in a way, but not confrontational. They are the same qualities you see in Barry. The fact that he wants to work for the community, that was his mum. The people's person side of him, that was his mum.
Ann and Barry have 'fire', but in the case of Ann, it was tempered by her earthy, motherly nature, whereas with Barry, he's more 'air' and expresses his passion more through his intellect. I met him two or three times when he came to visit his mum in Jakarta when he was in his early twenties. I remember him coming into the living room and sitting on the arm of the sofa. I remember so well his smile and his personality. He was charismatic even then.
Larry Tribe (Harvard)
Typically in a place as competitive as Harvard or Yale, one student will make a comment and another student will try and one-up him by saying something cleverer or wittier. But Barack would never put anyone else down. If a student expressed a view he didn't agree with, he nevertheless saw the value in it and built on it.
He found points of communality and gave people the sense that he could see where they were coming from, and what their core beliefs were, and why they were worthy of respect. It was really a precursor to the way he engages in dialogue across ideological and partisan divisions.
In his second year, he became the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review [one of the leading law journals in the world]. It was a position which represented the judgment of his peers about his intellectual acumen and his leadership capacities. He emerged with the enthusiastic backing of other students. In no sense was this some kind of affirmative action; he was chosen as the best person people could find.
Senator Terry Link (Springfied, Ill)
As Republicans controlled the House it was a monumental task to get legislation passed. Barack could forge relations with others very well. He was very even-keeled, even when bullied on the Senate floor. It frustrated him, but he always kept his cool. His demeanour was: 'I'm going to explain this, I'm not going to get into a fist fight about this.'
One of his biggest preoccupations was healthcare and he worked very hard with the Republicans to say: 'This is something advantageous to your party as well.' When we took a majority in 2002, he became chairman of public health, but he kept his relationships with the Republicans; the last thing he was going to do was say: 'I'm in charge and I forget you guys.' The old chairman of public health used to have meetings in City Hall, but Barack would take the meetings out and about to the people.
David Lammy (British MP)
Like all inquisitive, curious and interesting politicians, he is someone who can scan the horizons of many different issues and can find politics in cultural situations - the sadness of death, the experience of living in a developing country and what that means, or economic hardship in rural middle America. He is someone who has a strong emotional intelligence as well as a strong cognitive intelligence.The very qualities that we've seen and admired over the past two years are qualities that these people have seen in him for the past forty. That's remarkable consistency for anyone.