As Barack Obama ended his last visit to Los Angeles as president on Tuesday, dozens of people were eagerly waiting on the sidewalks, ready to say ‘goodbye’. In the street that led the president to the Santa Monica airport, where he took off, one resident was showing a customized surfboard that said: “Thank you Potus!” (acronym for President of the US).
Others were virtually clinking glasses of wine with him (it was about 12 p.m., but what the heck). Some others seized the occasion to walk their dog, like this lady who watched Obama take off from her office parking lot, with a friend. “And just like that, he’s gone!”, she said with a sigh. Even her pet seemed to care.
The scene looked like the mirror reflection of another one staged eight years ago. Barack Obama was then 47 years old, almost had no grey hair and had just been elected as the first president with black origins. People rushed into the avenues of the City of Angels to express their joy and impatience to start a new era, after two presidential mandates of George W. Bush. Some of them came from far away to be part of what was already seen as a historic day, in a widely Democratic city. It was then a way to say ‘hello’.
So, today’s brief passage on South Centinela Avenue, between Pico and Ocean Park, carried its load of emotion, pride, as well as a strange feeling of uncertainty about what will come afterwards.
In other parts of the city, there was also some disappointment. And not just at the traffic nightmare caused by the presidential motorcade. Before driving to the airport of Santa Monica, Obama was in another affluent neighborhood, Beverly Hills. During the two days he spent in L.A., he only hanged out with wealthy people. He was indeed here to collect money on behalf of Hillary Clinton, and there is no way around California, with its high-tech sector and Hollywood industry, to do that.
On Monday evening, he was the star of a $100.000 a ticket fundraising event at Jeffrey Katzenberg’s home, the former boss of DreamWorks Animation and one of the richest persons in Hollywood. The next morning, he did another fundraiser at ‘Glee’ creator Ryan Murphy’s place, for “only” about $33.400 a ticket. He also made an appearance in Hollywood at Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show.
Money-oriented, he didn’t show up in any other non-white part of the second biggest city of the country, for what may be his last visit. So I called a representative of the Black Lives Matter movement, to ask if it was considered normal or if it was disappointing coming from the first Black president. “Your question is not mutually exclusive, professor at Cal State and a major figure of Black Lives Matter Melina Abdullah told me. We expect it because that’s what presidents do, AND we’re disappointed because he seems to ignore the Black population”.
Melina Abdullah, who lives in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, a middle-class African-American neighborhood which is the home of many rappers, says that “people would like to see him more, but also to see him actually do something according to (their community) particular needs”. She remembers that almost exactly five years ago, Barack Obama made an unexpected stop in a restaurant in Mid-City. But “what do I care?” She asks. “I care more about the kind of investments that would allow more black people to open restaurants”, she continues, arguing that “symbolism is not enough”.