I announced yesterday that I would not be attending the State of the Union this year. I join other distinguished members, including Rep. John Lewis, in refusing to dignify a president who has used the platform of the Oval Office to fan the flames of racism, sexism and hatred — most recently with his vulgar condemnation of Haiti and other African countries.
As a member of Congress, my highest responsibility is to advance the interests of the 7th District, our nation as a whole and our global community with which we are now so inarguably interconnected. If I felt that attending the State of the Union advanced us, I would absolutely be there.
My analysis, however, is that my highest contribution — in these extraordinary times and circumstances where President Trump is himself breaking all established precedents to serve very narrow and self-serving interests — is to stand up to declare that I profoundly disagree with his approach and his unacceptable behavior. His path is dangerous. His path is destructive. His path cannot be normalized. I will not normalize it. This is our own form of nonviolent resistance, a path advocated for by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we just celebrated yesterday but whose lessons we must continue to incorporate.
This president has consistently indicated that he has no interest in leading a unified country. He has gone out of his way to play to a small and shrinking base of voters by using language that diminishes and demeans vast swaths of people in our own country and around the world. He does and says things that none of us, as parents, would condone for our children. He consistently uses language that is outright racist. He actively uses the highest office of the land to promote hatred as a political tool for his own benefit.
My constituents and people across the country are heartbroken, terrified and demoralized. It is hard to express how deeply scarring the president’s words are to them and their families. As a brown immigrant female member of Congress, I feel the impact of these words personally, as well as collectively.
In my career standing up for civil, immigrant and human rights, I have also been steadfast in listening to those who disagree with me and in building “unlikely alliances,” even on controversial issues such as immigration. Even in this divided Congress, I work with conservative members, co-chairing a new members coalition on immigration with Republican Rep. Roger Marshall from Kansas. I have introduced several bipartisan bills with Republican members of Congress who I have many disagreements with, but find things on which we agree to work together. My refusal to attend the State of the Union, then, is not about policy differences — of which I have many. I would attend a State of the Union by a president with whom I disagree if I felt she or he was otherwise respectful and adhered to basic moral values or basic tenets of civility and respect.
However, this president has gone beyond the pale, over and over again reaching new lows in his leadership of this country that I love. I cannot and will not reward him as he pushes a self-centered agenda that hurts the district I represent, endangers our country’s struggles for unity and abdicates any moral authority that the rest of the world has accorded to America in the past. I hope that there will come a time soon when Republicans who I respect will also understand that to be silent is to be complicit. History has always judged silence and complicity harshly in these times of moral consequence.
Civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rep. John Lewis fought hard to move our nation forward on civil rights. Courageous women like Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells fought for women to have the rights we have today. And throughout the course of history, here and abroad, men and women have died to stand up against despots, dictators and those who sought to pursue paths of ethnic cleansing. Our job today is to honor those who came before us by refusing to go backward. Our job today is to stand clearly for a moral center that this president has shunned.
This is a time for crystal clarity and courage. We cannot send mixed messages — to him or to the millions of people he demeans. That is why I will not attend the official State of the Union, and instead will join activists from across the country, women of color and others in holding our own State of OUR Union, where we resist this racism and put forward our own progressive vision for our beloved country.