2020 WFP State of the Union Response: Rep. Ayanna Pressley

On Tuesday, February 4th, 2020, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D – Mass.) delivered the official Working Families Party response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address.

Remarks as prepared:

Good evening. 

Tonight, I have the honor of delivering the Working Families Party response to the state of the union address address. The WFP is a people-powered grassroots party fighting for an America that works for the many, not the few, and I’m proud to be part of that movement. This movement is made up of working people – organizers, advocates, and activists who are uplifting community and fighting for justice each day. I am proud to call you my partners in good. 

The work we take on together is the work my mother raised me to believe so fiercely in. Sandy Pressley, may she rest in power, was a super voter. An advocate. An organizer. I grew up on her hip attending tenants rights meetings and knocking on doors in our neighborhood. She would often remind me that your job and your Work are two different things. Your job is what pays the bills. Your Work (with a capital W) is about the upliftment of community, and it is the contribution we are each called to make. 

Growing up in the residual impact of broken promises and short sighted policies she reminded me that when we organize, we are powerful. 

Tonight serves as a forceful reminder of the necessity of that work. The occupant of the White House stands impeached by the House of Representatives for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. This man has time and time again used his office to put his own gain above the safety and security of the American people. But we know the abuses don’t begin and end with the charges debated in the House and Senate. Since he was sworn into office more than three years ago, Donald Trump and his Administration have attacked our communities with racist, xenophobic, hateful rhetoric, and even more bigoted, destructive policy. For Donald J. Trump, the cruelty is the point. 

Over the past year, I have seen the bigotry and hatred from this Administration first hand. I visited a detention center on the border and sat with immigrant mothers separated from their children and denied the basic necessities of life. Before I was even sworn in, I stood with advocates and survivors to oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and later I stood on the steps of that court to speak out against draconian attacks on the right to safe, legal abortion. I sat with my colleagues on the Government Oversight and Reform Committee and questioned Secretary Ben Carson, who refused to say out loud that safe housing is a human right – even as the Administration spent billions to cut taxes for corporations and the top 1 percent. And every day – in the communities of the Massachusetts 7th and across the country, we see the impact of an Administration that emboldens white nationalism and promotes bigotry. 

Tonight I want to remind Donald J. Trump that I see right through him. The American people, see right through him. Tonight we reject short sighted policies that work for the wealthy and powerful few but leave the worker and the immigrant behind. Whether you’re black, brown, or white, no matter your sexual orientation, gender or where you grew up, so many of us want the same things for our families. We want to have enough to thrive, not just survive, and leave a better future for our children. We deserve decent housing, quality education and medical care. Safe communities and clean air and water. We want to be free. Our destinies are tied. 

The good news is that, in our democracy – we still have the power. The power to stand up and evict that man in the Oval Office come November. The power to take back the Senate. The power to build on our diverse majority in the House. The power to elect transformative leaders up and down the ballot. But the occupant of the White House, this Administration, and those who would take our country backwards will not be defeated solely by lawmakers in Washington – only a movement will do that. And that’s what we are building – a multi-generational, multi-racial, powerful grassroots movement of working people 

We have already seen the power of this movement reverberate across the country. We are seeing what is possible when ordinary people do extraordinary things. 

I want to tell you about Kendra Brooks, a Philadelphia mom who lost her job, then lost her home, but never lost her fighting spirit. She fought to save her children’s public school and to save her neighborhood from a dirty power plant. Last fall, she took her activism from the streets to the seats of the Philadelphia City Council, winning a city- wide election to become the first-ever third party councilmember in the city’s history. 

In Denver, social worker Candi CdeBaca ran a determined, grassroots campaign for city council and beat the odds. Within a few months of her victory, Denver had canceled a contract with a company that ran a private prison for ICE and raised the city’s minimum wage above $15 an hour. 

In Phoenix, activist and organizer Carlos Garcia helped end the career of Donald Trump’s favorite sheriff, Joe Arpaio, and then ran for office himself and won a seat on the city council. 

In New York City, tenant organizer and criminal justice reform advocate Jumaane Williams won the number two job in NYC, becoming NYC Public Advocate. 

In San Francisco, Chesa Boudin became the latest criminal justice reformer to be elected district attorney of a major American city and he’s hit the ground running, working to advance key tenants of the People’s Justice Guarantee. 

These are victories for the movement. They and so many others like them are taking on the charge of getting involved, getting to work, fighting for working people and making change for our communities. 

Electing leaders who represent a diversity of perspectives and lived experiences is essential because we know, too, that the entrenched disparities and inequities impacting our communities didn’t begin when that man descended an escalator in Trump Tower – they are the result of decades of shortsighted, exclusionary policies that failed to center the voices of community. 

But the good news is this – if racist, hateful, bigoted policies got us to this dark moment – progressive, inclusive, brave public policies can shine a light and show us the way out. When I ran for Congress – I said that defeating Donald Trump was not enough – we have to both resist AND progress, in pursuit of equity and justice in all of our communities. With the strength of this movement, and in deep partnership with community, we will not only ensure the election of determined advocates to local, state, and federal office, but we will work together to advance a bold, progressive policy agenda that confronts, head on, the policies that have cemented inequality in our communities. 

TOGETHER, we will fight for Medicare for All, so that no family is forced, ever again, to ration life-saving medications because they can’t afford the cost. 

TOGETHER, we will organize for a Green New Deal that will transform our economy while addressing head on the devastating effects of the climate crisis. 

TOGETHER, we will enact the People’s Justice Guarantee to restructure our criminal legal system through massive decarceration and a renewed focus on basic dignity, humanity, and safety. 

TOGETHER, we will support organized labor and lift up the rights of workers. We can start right now by passing the PRO Act, which would make it easier to form a union, and the BE HEARD Act, to protect workers from harassment on the job. 

We will believe survivors, stand up against those who would roll back access to safe, legal reproductive healthcare, and fight to expand the right to bodily autonomy. 

We will stand up for families by fighting for paid family leave and paid sick days for all, and universal childcare too. And after years of inaction at the federal level, we will finally raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

We will welcome and defend immigrants, not demonize and deport them. 

We will safeguard our democracy by repealing Citizens United, implementing public financing of elections, and guaranteeing the right of every single American to vote. 

We will rebalance the scales of our economy by passing a wealth tax that ensures billionaires pay their fair share, and we can afford to meet the needs of working families. 

And we will remain in community with the people and working families of America, and fight back against policies that would continue to widen the gap between the top one percent and everyone else. 

In the midst of the constant insult and assault on our civil rights, our liberties, our very humanity, it is easy to feel dismayed. It is easy to feel small. But I remember the wisdom my mother shared with me – when we organize, we are powerful. 

So, family, tonight I’m here to tell you that we are powerful. 

The state of our movement is strong. 

I’m humbled by the opportunity to work in partnership with the Working Families Party, and with all of you. I HOPE you’ll join me and the Working Families Party, and be a part of this movement, by texting WFP to 738674. That’s WFP to 738674. Together, in the year to come, we will reject the politics of hatred and bigotry, we will elect dynamic leaders up and down the ballot, and we will usher in a bold, progressive vision of America. 

So thank you. Thank you for your voice, for your activism, for your advocacy, and for your partnership. 

Let’s get to work.