While President Donald Trump on Tuesday delivered his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, lawmakers and activists opposed to Trump’s agenda voiced an “alternative view and vision for the country.”
“We’re clearly in a moment here—American women are fed up with the inequity we deal with solely based on the gender we were assigned at birth,” said Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement and senior director at Girls for Gender Equity. She was one of several prominent women who spoke at the “State of OUR Union” event on Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., held at the same time as the president’s speech.
“This is not just about us ‘finding our voices,'” Burke said. “We have been raising our voices, talking about issues that plague us in our communities for decades. The real difference now is our renewed commitment to working collectively across industries and across issues.”
The State of OUR Union was hosted by women activists who included Burke, Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Mónica Ramirez of the National Farmworker Women’s Alliance. Dozens of organizations were involved in the event, which was intended to address the country’s gender inequality and “crisis of leadership.”
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Since Trump’s inauguration, woman-led movements have been galvanized by the administration’s policies that disproportionately benefit corporate interests, undermine voting rights, restrict access to reproductive health care, and target marginalized communities.
More than a dozen congressional Democrats boycotted the president’s speech, citing such reasons as opposition to the president’s policy agenda, opposition to his disparaging and racist comments, and protest of an “unfit president.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who opted to attend the State of OUR Union event instead of the president’s address, wrote that she would not “dignify a president” who has used the White House to further divide the country.
“His path is dangerous. His path is destructive. His path cannot be normalized. I will not normalize it,” Jayapal wrote in a press release. “This is a time for crystal clarity and courage. We cannot send mixed messages—to him or to the millions of people he demeans. That is why I will not attend the official State of the Union, and instead will join activists from across the country, women of color and others in holding our own State of OUR Union, where we resist this racism and put forward our own progressive vision for our beloved country.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who spoke at the alternative event, said she skipped the State of the Union because of Trump’s “disregard for democratic institutions, and his dishonor of the office of the president.”
Trump in his speech called for lawmakers to “set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people.” But he did not present any significant new policy ideas or proposals, as has been typical in past presidents’ State of the Union speeches.
Absent from Trump’s speech were issues such as climate change, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights. The president also did not acknowledge the #MeToo movement.
Cecile Richards, who announced last week that she plans to step down as president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said at Tuesday’s event that “women have beaten the odds” by protecting access to reproductive healthcare in the past year.
“The administration wants to divide us,” Richards said. “By race, by gender, by religion, by class, by immigration status, but I am proud to say that the state of our union is strong and getting stronger every day—that is the union of women together everywhere.”