Being asked to be the guest to Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address (SOTU) by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a representative from my home state of Michigan, is like being asked to go to the worst movie, but with actor Idris Elba. The SOTU is one of the first major political events of the year. It is a time when politicos and activists listen intently as the President talks to the American people via a televised speech from Congress.
This year, I have an almost front-row seat.
I’ll be physically and emotionally in this bizarre situation where I will be standing next to Tlaib – one of the most fierce advocates for working families Congress has ever had – while listening to the single largest threat to any hope of equality our country is currently facing.
I have worked with Rep. Tlaib for years. She was a member of the Michigan legislature around the same time Mothering Justice was born in 2012.
Tlaib was our first mama legislator. Nursing her little one on the floor of the statehouse, introducing bill after bill on issues critical to our communities. We have worked together to move the issues of childcare, paid leave and income support forward from organizing communities to writing legislation. Tlaib going to Congress is the same as hundreds of organizers we’ve worked with over the years going too.
SOTU has the goal of doing two things. The first is setting a clear direction for the country while highlighting what the President has done using the power of the oval office. Second, it gives a directive to Congress. It’s billed as a nonpartisan event, yet it is overtly political, especially in an election year.
After two SOTU speeches from Trump, I am expecting the worst.
I’m expecting Trump to use fear as a central theme, fear of immigrants, people of color and the poor. It will be masked in vaguely worded statements such as, “We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens,” and “Tonight I’m asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country.” These are two lines from Trump’s speech last year.
His hope is that people won’t question a militarization of our southern border or the separation of children from their families who are left to defend themselves in court, because it is in the greater good of our country.
I’m also expecting to hear a lot of policies driven by corporate interest cloaked in the struggles of families. Trump said last year, “My administration has cut more regulations in a short period of time than any other administration during its entire tenure.” This is code for the administration working to unwind regulations that govern carbon emissions, fuel economy, water pollution, and payday lending.
The vision for our country should be driven by the needs of its people.
Families from coast to coast are struggling with providing for their needs and care. How do mamas and dads provide the resources their families need to thrive while providing care? Families and caregivers in particular want policy solutions to the question of affordable child care, paid leave, and income support.
These ideas are not only common sense, but they will put cents back in the pockets of the people that do the most for the economy. The myopic idea that when the CEO does well his workers will do well have caused a policy agenda that leaves everyone behind. The mom who is struggling with child care and prescription costs needs a bold agenda that sees the cornerstone role she plays in the stability of her family.
Americans are working more and getting paid less. Our schools, neighborhoods, communities, and families need a bold agenda. So as I sit and wait in vain for Trump’s speech that should be about what our people need (but won’t), we will continue planning and organizing for the government we deserve.