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President Obama: 'Change Happens When Ordinary People Get Involved'

  • Associated Press

President Barack Obama speaks at McCormick Place in Chicago, giving his presidential farewell address, Jan. 10, 2017.

President Barack Obama plans to reaffirm in his farewell address his belief that change only happens when "ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it."

"I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours," Obama said.

Obama plans to say that after eight years in the White House he still believes in the power of change. The outgoing president plans to tell supporters in the city that launched his political career that change is the "beating heart of our American idea -- our bold experiment in self-government."

Obama will note the founding fathers gave Americans the freedom to "chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil and imagination."

Obama,in opening his farewell address in his hometown of Chicago, thanked thousands of supporters and reaffirmed his belief in the power of change.

A shop has a sign in the window reading thank you to U.S. President Barack Obama, who was making a stop nearby on his way to deliver his farewell address in Chicago, Ill., Jan. 10, 2017.

A shop has a sign in the window reading thank you to U.S. President Barack Obama, who was making a stop nearby on his way to deliver his farewell address in Chicago, Ill., Jan. 10, 2017.

Obama hearkened back to the message of his first campaign for president in 2008.

At one point, he was interrupted by chants of "Four more years!"

Obama answered, laughing: "I can't do that."

In the aftermath of Republican Donald Trump's election as the next president, Obama is acknowledging that the nation's progress has been "uneven." He says that for "every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back."

But the president says the country strives for "forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some."

Obama said that in 10 days the world will witness the peaceful transfer of power to a new president, drawing some jeers ahead of Trump's presidency.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his farewell address in Chicago, Ill., Jan. 10, 2017.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his farewell address in Chicago, Ill., Jan. 10, 2017.

He said hopes that he would usher in a post-racial America "was never realistic."

Obama, who is 55 years old, said in his farewell address that he's lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 30 years ago. But he says he also knows "we're not where we need to be."

He said every economic issue can't be framed as a struggle between hardworking middle-class whites and undeserving minorities, and says forsaking the children of immigrants will diminish the prospects of American children.

Obama said hearts must change. He quotes the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, who said that to understand a person, it helps to "climb into his skin and walk around in it."

From left, Vice President Joe Biden, Jill Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and Malia Obama listen to President Barack Obama deliver his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago, Jan. 10, 2017.

From left, Vice President Joe Biden, Jill Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and Malia Obama listen to President Barack Obama deliver his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago, Jan. 10, 2017.

He acknowledged that "stark inequality" is corrosive to the nation's democratic principles, a nod to the economic uncertainty that helped Republican Donald Trump win the White House last November.

Obama said in his final speech as president that too many families in inner cities and rural counties have been left behind. He says many are convinced that the "game is fixed against them" and government only serves powerful interests.

The president called that a "recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics."

He said he had committed to Trump that his administration would "ensure the smoothest possible transition" just as his predecessor, President George W. Bush, did for him.

The outgoing president said, "It's up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.

President Barack Obama waves as he arrives to speaks at McCormick Place in Chicago, giving his presidential farewell address, Jan. 10, 2017.

President Barack Obama waves as he arrives to speaks at McCormick Place in Chicago, giving his presidential farewell address, Jan. 10, 2017.

He said the nation's politics need to reflect "the decency" of the American people.

In ending, Obama said that the United States faces a stern test of its democracy, in a speech that was as much as farewell address as a call to arms.

He called on supporters to pick up the torch and forge a new "social compact."

"Democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity," he said. "For all our outward differences, we are all in this together," he said. "We rise or fall as one."

President Barack Obama wipes his tears as he speaks at McCormick Place in Chicago, giving his presidential farewell address, Jan. 10, 2017.

President Barack Obama wipes his tears as he speaks at McCormick Place in Chicago, giving his presidential farewell address, Jan. 10, 2017.

The address was delivered at McCormick Place, the lakefront convention center in Chicago, Obama’s adopted hometown. He delivered his speech near the same spot the night he won the presidential election in 2008.

First lady Michelle Obama and their older daughter, Malia, accompanied the president to Chicago, as did Auma Obama, a sister from Kenya.

Vice President Joe Biden, his wife, Jill Biden, and many current and former White House staff members and campaign workers will attend the speech as well.

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