Meet the Feminists Ready to Talk Back to Trump from the Audience at the State of the Union

Feb 5, 2019
In The News

After much debate and delay, President Trump is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address tonight at 9 p.m. EST—and the audience will be ready to talk back. Many feminist lawmakers now serving in the historically diverse 116th Congress have plans to bring advocates, activists and folks from communities impacted by the administration’s callous policies to the president’s speech.

Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York, both outspoken feminists themselves, will be accompanied tonight by fierce advocates fighting for gender equality. 

Maloney’s guest, Sydney Ireland, succeeded, at just 17, in opening up the doors of the Boy Scouts of America to girls. Because of her efforts and advocacy, the Boy Scouts began accepting girls aged 11-17 into the program and changed their official name to the gender-neutral BSA. 

Ocasio-Cortez will be joined by activist Ana Maria Archila—who will recognize the halls of the Capitol from her last fiery visit, when she confronted former Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. 

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Representatives Jimmy Gomez of California and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey invited immigrants to the address—an especially significant gesture, given the fact that President Trump partially shut down the government last month in an effort to force Congress to provide him with over $5 billion in funding for a border wall.

Merkley’s guests, Albertina Contreras Teletor and Yakelin Garcia Contreras, know firsthand how Trump’s xenophobic and racist immigration rhetoric and policies impact people’s lives. The mother and daughter were separated in 2018 at the U.S.-Mexico border when they arrived seeking asylum, suffering the same unfortunate fate as thousands of women and children who were forced into separate facilities under a so-called “zero-tolerance” policy launched by the Trump administration. Many families remain separated, and some parents may never see their children again.

For Gomez’s guest, Sandra Diaz, and Watson Coleman’s guest, Victorina Morales, Trump’s political policies are just as personal. Diaz and Morales are both former housekeepers for the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, who recently opened up to the New York Timesabout the treatment that they and other undocumented workers faced while working for the Trump Organization.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Representative Chris Pappas of New Hampshire have invited transgender service members to the address, hoping to bring attention to Trump’s attempt to ban them from the military. (At the end of January, the Supreme Court upheld his policy.)

Gillibrand’s guest, Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann, is the first openly transgender service member to be promoted to such a high rank; Pappas’ guest, Tavion Dignard, is a transgender Navy veteran.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Representative Sharice Davids of Kansas have similarly arranged to bring advocates for affordable healthcare as their guests in order to shed light on the impact of Trump’s disastrous policies around healthcare and his repeated attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Klobuchar’s guest, Nicole Smith-Holt, has been an advocate for those with diabetes ever since her son died from the disease in 2017—shortly after his 26th birthday, when he aged out of her health insurance plan and became unable to afford his insulin. Davids’ guests Laura Robeson similarly became a healthcare advocate in 2017—when her son, who was born with a preexisting condition, had his access to healthcare come under attack in attempted cuts to the ACA.

The presence of outspoken advocates for critical policies and marginalized communities at the State of the Union sends a powerful message—and will serve as a reminder that the resistance remains resilient, and that activists will persist in fighting against a status quo that perpetuates their oppression.