‘Be Grateful for President Obama’

Lenny Kates’ message to Americans: Rally behind Barack Obama.

‘Be Grateful for President Obama’

Lenny Kates in Pittsfield’s Park Square.

“The amount of disrespect being shown to Barack Obama is beyond belief,” offers Lenny Kates, a retired social worker from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who is countering the negativity with a message of his own. Once a week, Kates spends his day in the middle of a busy traffic circle in the center of his hometown, holding a sign that reads: “Be Grateful for President Obama.” It’s a simple, poignant message, one designed to make people think twice about reflexively blaming the president for the myriad problems the country is facing.

According to the 69-year-old Kates, he conceived the message nine weeks ago after learning that a group of Tea Partiers were planning to hold a rally in Pittsfield on Tax Day. “I was thinking that the Tea Partiers were going to be out there not constructively criticizing but negatively criticizing and bullying Obama,” he says, beginning to explain his rationale. “I had been increasingly upset with people attacking him, and found myself thinking that Americans aren’t grateful for the effort he’s been putting forth. The word ‘grateful’ made sense to me. It’s an empathic, non-toxic word, but at the same time it reflects my worries about the country and my concern about the stress and strain the president may be under.”

True to his intentions, Kates unveiled his message on April 15, spending three hours standing adjacent to a small gathering of Tea Partiers. He recalls being anxious as to how he’d be received by the assembled protestors, one of whom displayed an ‘Obama as Hitler’ sign. “I got hardly any direct response,” begins Kates. “People [from the Tea Party] looked at me and rolled their eyes. And two individuals came over and asked if I was being ironic,” he says matter-of-factly.

In contrast, the motorists and pedestrians who passed often evinced favorable reactions, responding with a wave, thumbs up, or honk of their horn. “There were a few individuals who cursed at me or yelled ‘Obama sucks,’” he reports, the plus-minus ratio no doubt influenced by the fact that Pittsfield is located in one of the bluest counties in Massachusetts (and the country) based on voting records this past decade.

While the Tea Partiers haven’t been back, Kates has continued his one-man vigil, recently redoubling his efforts by standing outside Town Hall in nearby Great Barrington, Massachusetts. And despite the fact that a Tea Party served as his inspiration, Kates’ message is primarily aimed at liberals and centrists, who, he says, ought to be realistic about how much change Obama can deliver is just a year or two.

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