WATCH: 2024 WFP Response to State of the Union

The official Working Families Party response to President Biden’s State of the Union Address was delivered on Thursday, March 7th, 2024 by Philadelphia City Councilmember Nicolas O’Rourke.

Full remarks by Councilmember O’Rourke as prepared for delivery:

Good evening. My name is Nicolas O’Rourke, and I’m a City Councilman in The City of Brotherly love, Sisterly effectiveness and Sibling solidarity: Philadelphia. It is my honor to deliver the Working Families Party’s response to the State of the Union. 

The WFP is the party for working-class people from every background. Over the last twenty-five years, WFP has elected thousands of working people to Councils, legislatures, and to the‌‌ Congress.

Each year, WFP selects one leader to give our perspective on the State of the Union. Tonight, that voice is mine. 

I’m the son of Regina McCain & Ernest O’Rourke. My father was a truck driver and a musician. My mother worked as a telephone operator, a bus driver, and was an athlete. 

I grew up in a proud, Black, working-class union family. We lived in largely white parts of rural Ohio and Black suburbs of Indianapolis. As a Minister I’ve joined in prayer and partnership with — ‌Christians, Muslims, Jews, Yoruba, Buddhists, and Hindus.

And I’ve learned that, despite our differences, most of us want the same things:

A just world.  

Where our children have smiling faces and full bellies, a job that pays the bills, a roof over our head, clothes on our backs, food on our table, our parents and elders cared for and safe. Our families secure. 

And a belief that we can leave something better for the next generation. 

And, It is my faith that shaped my view of a just world. Equitable even. And on my most hopeful days, free. 

Last fall, I was elected to the Philadelphia City Council as an Independent with the Working Families Party alongside my running mate, the Minority Leader Kendra Brooks. We won seats Republicans held for decades. 

Philadelphians, including WFP voters, helped put Joe Biden in office in 2020. Tonight, we have a message for the President: 

Together we built a record of delivering resources and opportunities for working people and communities. But, that work is not only unfinished. It is imperiled. 

Wars in Palestine and Trump-era immigration policies are out of step with our values and endangering the coalition that elected you. The coalition you need to come together again. But, here is the good news: there’s still time for you to unite that coalition — if you heed the calls from the people. 

I speak with urgency because my city’s needs are urgent. Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America. It embodies the struggles and aspirations of working families. 

One in five Philadelphians live in poverty. Our minimum wage is $7.25, stuck for 15 years. The rising cost of housing is outpacing our wages. 

The tolls of poverty land the hardest on children. Our kids can’t breathe. Air pollution has given 21 percent of Philly kids asthma, almost four times the national rate. Our murder rate has dropped since the pandemic, but violence still claimed the lives of more than four-hundred Philadelphians last year – and terrible shootings just this week. . 

I believe this country should be judged not by how the richest are doing, or those who already have the most. But rather, in the words of that Palestinian Jew named Jesus, how we lift up “the least of these, my siblings”.

A nation as rich as ours can end poverty — and in so doing, we’ll all be richer for it. 

We know that the strongest, safest, healthiest communities are those with the most resources. That’s why I proposed a targeted guaranteed income in Philadelphia, a stepping stone to a universal basic income, that would combat poverty and inequality and give working people the economic floor upon which to build their lives.

Our nation’s working class is diverse. 

You may live in a city where rent has skyrocketed, or buying a home is out of reach because of mortgage rates. 

You may live in a small town where jobs have disappeared. 

You may be worried about the cost of groceries and gas or of childcare and college. 

You may be from a community ravaged by guns or opioids or climate disaster. 

We all face obstacles. Wages that aren’t keeping up with rising costs, and a political system built for your boss instead of for you. The wealthy are few, but they are powerful.  Because, they pit us against each other along traditional lines of race and nationality. They convince us we’re in a battle – a battle with other people, who are trying to make a living, just like you and I. They hoard the resources for themselves and then they buy politicians to protect what they’ve extracted from us. 

I got into organizing and politics because it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe we can do better. We have a moral obligation to do better. 

And, we do that by building governing power for working people. 

So, the path forward is twofold. 

We already know what it looks like when the MAGA movement holds power. If the authoritarian right takes control, it gets even harder to build a nation rooted in justice and dignity. 

But blocking the right isn’t enough. Never has been.

Which is why we build independent political power for working people, that bends the arc towards justice.  

Block, and build. Block the far right, while building the power we need to challenge corporations AND make change in people’s lives. Block, and build. 

In 2020, Philadelphia showcased our collective power.  We mobilized voters to defeat Trump. When they tried to intimidate us, we fought back and made sure every vote counted. 

Because we did that, the newly elected President Biden and Democrats in Congress could deliver real wins: 

They made real investments in communities, healthcare, infrastructure, and clean energy jobs. They provided vaccines for the people and put money in people’s pockets to get us through the pandemic. Since then, the administration has sustained a tight labor market that has in fact raised wages for the working class, and shrunk the employment and wage gap between Black and white workers. The people who President Biden appointed to the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Trade Commission have sided with workers and consumers over the bosses. 

It wasn’t as much progress as we needed, or wanted. Just enough corporate Democrats worked alongside Republicans to block some of our most-needed fixes, like affordable childcare and expanded Medicare coverage. 

That’s why in 2022, we elected a new class of WFP champions to Congress, including Greg Casar, who won his Democratic nomination again earlier this week, Delia Ramirez, and my sister on the other side of my Commonwealth, Summer Lee and more.

Today, we are witnessing an undeniable humanitarian crisis and the establishment is falling desperately short. The United States has given moral and material support to the arrogant & extreme-right Netanyahu Regime as it daily wages a horrific bombing campaign in Gaza. 

I recoiled in horror at Hamas’ brutal attacks on October 7th. The slaughter of Israeli civilians and the taking of hostages was abhorrent. 

AND the government of Israel’s campaign of collective retribution has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people and counting, 13,430 of them Palestinian children, left more than a million displaced and created widespread hunger – and is risking, perhaps, instigating, a wider war. I’ve listened to the accounts. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve watched the videos.

We cry over fiction that we see in movies. Have we hardened our hearts so much that real life doesn’t move us to tears? What we are witnessing on all of our screens is disgraceful and flatly unacceptable.

There is no military solution to this crisis. That’s why ‌WFP members in Congress were at the forefront of calls for an immediate and lasting ceasefire months ago. We’re glad to hear the administration and especially Vice President Harris finally start to shift rhetoric. But, now it’s time to shift to action. 

I’m glad the Biden administration wants to send aid – but how can we do that when we also keep sending weapons? We should not be providing unrestricted military aid to Israel only to escalate this slaughter. We should be using our diplomatic weight to force start a peace process. THAT is the best path to returning hostages, ending the occupation, and bringing longterm peace, security, and freedom to every human being in that region, regardless of religion. 

Over the last two weeks, Democrats in Michigan and Minnesota voted uncommitted to communicate this message. Tonight, protesters are marching in DC, repeating it again. Mr. President, I hope you’re listening. 

We also face a humanitarian crisis at home. Migrants and refugees have come to America, some fleeing dangerous, failed states that American policy helped destabilize. Like generations before them, they are seeking to build a better life. But our broken immigration system offers no pathway for most. We know Trump’s plan: detention camps, raids, splitting families, and turning away refugees fleeing for their lives. But now, some Democrats want to emulate those inhumane policies — policies they previously spoke out against. 

Democrats should NOT follow Republicans on this – on anything. No human being is illegal. They should lead by fixing our immigration system so that it does what it was meant to do — give people who want to come to our country and build our communities a pathway to citizenship. 

Migration. Climate change. Offshore tax shelters. Wars. These will require us to engage in unprecedented global collaboration. 

Let’s be clear-eyed about the Biden Administration. But let’s be just as clear-eyed about who Trump’s Republican Party is. 

The Republican Party has shown us their unshakeable allegiance to corporate power. Trump’s tax cuts gave trillions to the rich and made the rest of us pay for it. Meanwhile, if Congressional Republicans regain power, they will gut our Social Security and Medicare, to make way for even more tax cuts for the wealthiest. That’s backwards. We need to raise taxes on the wealthy and big corporations and raise living standards for all of us. I’m glad that President Biden said so too tonight. 

Meanwhile, it was Trump-appointed judges who denied us basic freedoms, like abortion rights, and opened the door to Alabama banning in vitro fertilization treatments. They’ll eliminate birth control if the Evangelical-Christian Right has its way. That’s not my Christianity. 

Trump has sung the praises of autocrats and has said he wants to be a dictator. When people tell you who they are, believe them. The first time.

Trump’s MAGA movement must be defeated. But our commitment to opposing Republicans must not blind us to where the Democratic administration continues to fall short. 

So what do we do? Don’t get mad – organize. And even if you are mad – organize. Power concedes nothing, so we must build our own. Independent political power outside the Democratic Party. 

Imagine a future with Trump defeated again, the MAGA movement rejected firmly. The Senate is free of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Imagine a House led by a growing Working Families Party bloc. 

This is a scenario that opens the door to progress.

We can win abortion protections across the country with that.

We can‌ make the minimum wage a living wage with that.

We can make childcare available and affordable for everyone – and elder care, and in-home care, too with that.

We can build housing that people can afford, and protect tenants from spiking rents with that.

We can protect workers from retaliation for speaking out and organizing at companies like Starbucks and Amazon with that.

We can protect the right to vote, end gerrymandering, and push big money out of politics with that. 

And we have far more power to advance a humanitarian, pro-peace agenda, with that — more than we do in a world where the MAGA movement is calling the shots. 

Look a little farther ahead, we will fight for the guarantee of a good job for everyone who wants work, for healthcare for all – and more.

Those billionaires that seek to divide us, they see that future coming, and they want to stop it. ‌ Republican billionaires like Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus who fund groups like AIPAC, are amassing vast resources to challenge champions of the working class. We gotta defend my sister Summer Lee, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and all our Working Families Party champions from these attacks AND elect new leaders to join them in Congress.

We also must build power locally. WFP elected officials from New York to New Mexico are winning policies that lift up working people. 

Over the last two years, we have witnessed the power of worker solidarity — ‌be it UPS workers, Amazon warehouse workers, Starbucks workers, Hollywood writers and actors, the autoworkers with the UAW, or teachers. Workers stood up for each other on the job and at the strike line, and I was proud to stand with them during that hot labor summer. And they’re winning big.  

What if we took that same sense of solidarity and brought it to the ballot box? What could we gain for our neighbors, for working people across this country, for ourselves if we did that? That’s our vision. 

To people dissatisfied with only having two choices in most elections: hear me. I hear you. I know first-hand that building a third party in a political system that favors two parties is challenging. So at the WFP, we start from the ground up instead of parachuting in from the top down.  

We have our differences with the Democratic Party, to say the absolute least. But as someone who personally organized, on the ground, to get out the vote in 2020 and make sure every vote was counted, I do not believe we can afford to enable the re-election of Donald John Trump. We can’t fracture or leave the front – not if we aspire to lead it.

So Mr. President, we need you to do your part too, Sir – don’t damage your legacy and fracture your coalition on behalf of Bibi Netanyahu.

In Philadelphia, we proved we can build third-party power and win against the far right and big money. We can block the right while building our movement to put governing power in the hands of working people. But my path to victory took five years, and I can tell you firsthand there are no shortcuts. 

We’re also going to fight for reforms to our political system that make it easier for more voices to speak and be heard. That includes fusion voting, like we see in New York, Connecticut, and Oregon, multi-member districts, or proportional representation. People deserve a system that gives them real choices. 

All of this is achievable. But none of this is achievable without these two things: a President that listens to the people – and a united movement of working people, standing together across differences to create change. And, if you don’t see yourself perfectly reflected in the two major parties, then help us build the Working Families Party. 

Tonight, I invite you to join us by texting WFP to 30403. Together, we are the majority. Together, we can forge a future that reflects our values and meets our needs. We can build a nation where everyone can thrive, and be free. What’da ya say we do? Let’s get it done.

Thank you for listening.

Glory be to God, and all power to all the people.