While Donald Trump presented his first State of the Union Speech on Tuesday, Jan. 26, the third-longest address given by any president in the modern day, several dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), as well as civil rights groups like the NAACP, chose to stay home to display their discontent.
Here in the Greater Washington Area, scores of citizens who stand in opposition to Trump’s agenda, as well as his words deemed by some as racist and exclusionary, viewed the president’s address from afar while participating in conversations that examined his words and message.
Nationally-known journalist Roland Martin served as the moderator for a panel discussion at Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest while Trump addressed members of Congress for an evening of frank conversation titled “The Real State of the Union” that drew a healthy crowd of dissenters including Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO.
“We know what a racist nationalist agenda and president look like — we’ve had them before,” Johnson said. “It’s clear from his tax giveaways to the wealthy and subsequent $13 million takeaway from health care to his failure to protect the vote and civil rights, that his agenda represents nothing but pain and suffering for communities of color, the poor, women and immigrants.”
“We know that what we do now on issues like protecting the vote and mobilizing for midterm elections will play a major role in what next year’s State of the Union will look like for us,” he said.
Martin said many Americans have been left out of Trump’s plans for prosperity.
“While Trump touts the stock market as an example of America prospering, all is not well with our Union,” he said. “Our discussion put a spotlight on a variety of issues that are vital to our community — many of which were overlooked in his address.”
Johnson joined other panelists that included: Melanie Campbell, president and CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable Public Policy Network; Dr. Greg Carr, professor of Africana Studies, Howard University; Kristen Clarke, president and executive director, National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Liz Copeland, president and Founder, Urban Conservative Project, Inc.; Joseline Garcia, president, United States Student Association; Tiffany Loftin, senior program specialist in community advocacy and partnership engagement, National Education Association; and Dr. William Spriggs, professor of Economics, Howard University.
The topics they discussed ranged from voter suppression, economics and jobs to judicial appointments, local elections and ballot initiatives.
Meanwhile, plenty of people used social media to post their thoughts on Trump’s speech.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) posted at least eight tweets on Twitter that ended with #SOTU.
“Should he decide to pursue an agenda that puts working families first — on economic issues, on infrastructure investments, on protecting our #Dreamers — @SenateDems stand ready to work with him. But if he refuses to change his ways, we will fight him tooth and nail.”
The CBC shared its message for Trump and inheritance.
“Much like the money he inherited from his father to start his business, @realDonaldTrump inherited the low Black unemployment rate from @BarackObama. #ThanksObama.”
Former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Maryland) directed her response in a more than 12-minute message from the Working Families Party’s Facebook page.
“We heard a promise from President Trump but don’t believe it,” said Edwards, a candidate for Prince George’s County executive. “We all have a role to play in ensuring our communities thrive, no matter what Trump throws at us.”
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland), who replaced Edwards when she ran for the Senate seat and lost to Van Hollen, released a statement after Trump’s speech.
“For the last year, President Trump has displayed no leadership, demonstrated an unwillingness to compromise, contested known facts, corroded the national discourse, emboldened violent extremist voices,” Brown said. “[Tuesday’s] speech does not change anything.”
Local Citizens Weigh in at Shiloh
Marcia Pollard of Capitol Heights and a member of Shiloh said she can’t utter the president’s name.
“The only thing you can do is pray because that person living in the White House is a bad person,” she said.
And while some millennials may not see racism as blatant in the country, Karen Devalera of Northwest said federal policies from the Trump administration are obviously racist.
“With the way things are going now it’s really unhealthy, particularly for people of color,” said Devarley, a behavioral health specialist for the District. “When you see injustice and can’t do anything about it, it hurts.”
Campbell emphasized the importance of Black women in the upcoming midterm elections, also criticizing the agenda of many candidates.
“If you’re serious about what you say and we are your number one vote, then invest in Black women’s initiatives,” she said.
Other comments included the following:
Liz Copeland: “African Americans need greater access to job training. This administration is not doing that. As a Republican, I still don’t feel this State of the Union address will unify anyone.”
Duane Taylor, Alexandria, Virginia: “They’re breaking down how business is typically done in Washington and how to run the federal government and [messing] it up. These people are incompetent.”
On the national front, Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat from Florida, joined other members of Congress who refused to attend the State of the Union, including Reps. John Lewis, Maxine Waters, Pramila Jayapal, Jan Schakowsky, Bobby Rush and Danny Davis.
“I chose to boycott the address because I refuse to normalize President Donald Trump and his loathsome language and actions,” Wilson said earlier this week. “With every day that passes, a new tweet, breaking news story, or leaked quote sheds new light on his Trump’s twisted and prejudiced mind,’ she added.
Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York, held nothing back when asked why he would not attend the president’s address to the nation.
“I cannot give this man, who does not respect me, the respect to be in that audience,” he said.
Staff writer William J. Ford contributed to this report.