While President Donald Trump addressed the nation from Capitol Hill for his first State of the Union speech Tuesday night, less than three miles away women from all over the country gathered for the historic State of OUR Union, a counter-event addressing gender inequality in the nation and offering an alternative view for the U.S.
Hosted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Girls for Gender Equity, National Farmworker Women’s Alliance (NFWA), Planned Parenthood, MomsRising and Color of Change, the historic gathering provided a women’s vision for the country, something the organizers believe has never been offered as a woman has yet to become president.
“The State of OUR Union allowed us to name some of the ways in which we have been held back, to state our hopes for the future and to articulate a plan for achieving what is required to move our country forward,” Mónica Ramirez, the co-founder and president of NFWA and one of the night’s hosts, told FIERCE.
Behind the scenes getting ready for tonight’s #StateOfOURUnion event—these women are incredible, you don’t want to miss it! We kick things off at 8PM EST at https://t.co/hUX6aduKyv #SOTU pic.twitter.com/TK4x1LNrKI
— Domestic Workers (@domesticworkers) January 31, 2018
The evening included speeches by several women of color who discussed the ways in which their movements, from reproductive justice and trans rights to economic justice and immigrant rights, intersect and become stronger when they are unified.
“I’m an undocumented, unapologetic transgender colombiana working various roles in different, yet interconnected spaces — because we are all one movement,” Catalina Velasquez, a Washington, D.C.-based activist and communications professional who helped kick off the evening, said to the crowd of almost 900 attendees at the National Press Club.
Several Latina activists participated in the nearly three-hour event, covering a range of topics, like labor, equal pay, DACA, sexual violence and modern-day slavery, and each pledging to take a specific action in 2018 to move every woman forward.
Dr. Natalicia Tracy, the Afro-Latina executive director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Boston, pledged to “speak out against systemic exclusions and restore our faith in this country as a place open to everyone who dares to dream.”
For Tracy, the commitment is deeply personal. As a teen, she moved to the U.S. from South America for a better education and future. Instead, the family that offered to house her and provide her with the opportunity enslaved her, forcing her to work 80-to-90 hour weeks for $25 pay and without the ability to communicate with her family or renew her visa. When the family moved away, Tracy decided to stay, teaching herself English, obtaining her GED and zooming through academia with associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.
“I believe in the power of the union. … this country has given me the opportunity to grow and change my immigration status, but we have a long way to go,” Tracy said. “We shouldn’t be denying this opportunity to others. We must fight to keep our ability to dream, to struggle to survive and to succeed.”
Following her speech was Katalina, a 10-year-old Latina from Colorado whose mother, a Dreamer, is at risk of deportation following the Trump administration’s termination of DACA.
“I still remember when I heard that Donald Trump was going to be president. My heart cracked. And last September, when I heard he was planning to get rid of DACA and planning to deport millions of people like my mom, my heart broke,” the child, who in December delivered a letter to Congress asking them to pass the Dream Act before the holidays, said.
“Everywhere I look, I see families like mine, kids with parents that have been taken away just because they don’t have papers. How would you feel if this happened to your family? We have to stop this,” she added, pledging to use her voice to make Trump “open his heart and stop deporting people.”
Katalina, whose mother is undocumented, shares her story: "I’m just a kid. I should spend time playing and doing homework. Not worrying about what will happen to us if my mom gets deported"@WomenBelong #StateofOurUnion #WeBelongTogether pic.twitter.com/OyfKKhWOT6
— Domestic Workers (@domesticworkers) January 31, 2018
The State of OUR Union also included speeches from U.S. Congresswomen Pramila Jayapa (D-WA), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Ilhan Omar, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, #MeToo creator Tarana Burke, National Domestic Workers Alliance executive director Ai-jen Poo, Dreamer and Planned Parenthood organizer Victoria Ruiz, national strategic organizing coordinator at International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Neidi Dominguez and co-founder of NFWA Milly Trevino-Sauceda, among so many other activists and leaders, as well as a performance by the grammy-nominated singer Ledisi.
“Despite the fact that many of our communities have been under attack by Trump and his administration, last night demonstrated that we are strong, united and more committed than ever before to putting in the work that is required to beat his divisive agenda,” Ramirez, who described the energy in the room as one of excitement, hope, determination and mutual respect, told us.
She added: “We intend to flex our muscle by holding political leaders accountable, continuing to mobilize our communities and by defending the rights of all of those whose who are suffering because of Trump’s actions.”