'The people are recognising their own power.'
All eyes were on President Donald Trump yesterday, as the politician took the podium for his first State of the Union address. As he updated the country and United States Congress on the economic and political health of America, many chose to protest his administration’s controversial decisions and lack of action on immigration, women’s rights and racial injustice. Here are just a few noteworthy ways people stood up against the President.
Inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, the Democratic Women’s Working Group spearheaded a silent protest by wearing all black to Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
Representative Lois Frankel told Racked, ‘We really felt that the only real statement we could make sitting as a block in the State of the Union was with the colour of our clothing.’
Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester also told Delaware Online, We’re standing in solidarity with #MeToo and the TIMES UP movement, but we’re also saying that this is a somber and important thing we have to face as a society.’
Their actions aligned them with actresses at the recent Golden Globe awards, who wore all black to protest systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and support its victims. Prominent figures of the movement also accompanied high profile actresses as their guests, such as #MeToo founder Tarana Burke alongside Michelle Williams, and democrats followed suit at the State of the Union. Fatima Goss Graves, the president of the National Women’s Law Center, sexual assault survivor Anny Gonzalez and #MeToo advocate Leah Griffin were in attendance.
President Donald Trump is himself at the heart of at least twenty sexual harassment allegations, including former Miss USA contestants such as Cassandra Searles and Temple Taggart as well as his ex-wife Ivana Trump who once described the assault as ‘rape’.
Recy Taylor Pins
Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus chose to wear small red pins honouring Recy Taylor, a civil rights hero who passed away in December last year, and her niece was also in attendance as a guest. Taylor, who was kidnapped and violently raped by six armed white men in 1944, fought all her life for justice and continued speaking out against the sexual abuse that black women faced in America. Her abusers were never punished for their crimes.
Recy was also recently referenced during Oprah’s recent Golden Globe speech, during which she said, ‘[Recy Taylor] lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.’
Hold the applause
President Trump recently took credit for the lowest recorded rate of black unemployment in America on Twitter during a fight with rapper Jay-Z, however many have pointed out that the rate had been in decline since the Obama administration’s 2011 term.
Trump doubled down on the statement in his State of the Union address and said, ‘African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.’
It didn’t escape notice that the members of the Congressional Black Caucus refused to clap, quickly drawing media attention and snowballing on the internet. A number of them also wore bright West African kente cloths, to protest a reported Donald Trump quote that African nations and Haiti were ‘shithole countries’ during a meeting about immigration policy.
Prior to the address, its chairman Representative Cedric Richmond said, ‘Words matter. President Trump’s racist rhetoric makes the country less safe for people of colour by encouraging and emboldening and pandering to those who wish to do harm to others based on the colour of their skin.’
The Trump administration is currently in the midst of a controversial battle against DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme which gives undocumented children the right to live and work in America. Attorney general Jeff Sessions said they would be ending the Obama-era programme on March 2018, ending support for nearly 800,000 recipients (also known as the ‘dreamers’).
Many democrats chose to bring dreamers to the State of the Union to face the President during his speech, including numerous teachers, students and other individuals who had benefited from the programme.
19 year old Gabriela Hernandez, a Maryland resident and DACA recipient who was in attendance, told Vox, ‘I know the [United States] Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t even know the Salvadorian national anthem. I know I’m not considered an American, even though I consider myself an American.’
Congress has yet to come to an alternative for DACA, throwing many into the lurch without a clear pathway to American citizenship. Democrats recently initiated a government shutdown over DACA, however it petered out without any significant outcome three days later.
The People’s State of the Union
In New York, an alternative State of the Union was held in opposition to the Trump administration. Called ‘The People’s State of the Union’, prominent politicians, activists and celebrities were in attendance and renewed their efforts to continue fighting for civil, immigration, women’s and environmental rights amongst other causes. It featured numerous speeches from the likes of Women’s March founder Paolo Mendoza through to event organiser Mark Ruffalo, amidst politically-tinged performances by artists such as Common.
New York mayor Bill deBlasio was in attendance and said, ‘You want to know the state of the union? The state of the union is the people are fired up. In this age, the people are recognising their own power.’