The book is divided into three main sections: Origins, Chicago, and Kenya. Focus on the chapters in the Chicago section to answer this question. Obama has taken a job in the city to help organize members of the black community in order to improve their lives, especially in the housing projects. In the process, he learns that real change has to come from the residents themselves, and not from an outsider with a college degree. He meets with people in churches, schools, and specific neighborhoods in order to hear their biggest concerns and to find solutions. Not every initiative works, especially not at first. Not every meeting attracts a large group of participants. But he and his colleagues keep looking for ways to generate outreach, and they keep listening to people. A few pages into Chapter Twelve, we hear that change is coming around, little by little. And Obama is seen as one of the key movers in this arena:
As the organization’s stock had grown, so had my own. I began receiving invitations to sit on panels and conduct workshops; local politicians knew my name, even if they still couldn’t pronounce it. As far as our leadership was concerned, I could do little wrong. … The appreciation of those you worked with, concrete improvements in the neighborhood, things you could hang a price tag on. It should have been enough. And yet what Will had said was true. I wasn’t satisfied.
Soon afterward comes the Altgeld tenants’ interaction with the CHA, the Chicago Housing Authority. Obama helps a group of residents confront the CHA officials and demand that their apartments be tested for asbestos. This is a public health issue that cannot be ignored and that can generate both good and bad publicity, too. Soon the CHA announces that it is seeking several million dollars’ worth of funding for emergency cleanup in the complexes. Little victories like this one begin to add up. Remember: Obama wrote this book before 1995. He wouldn’t become an Illinois state Senator until 1997. These days mark just the beginning of his career.