Just minutes ago I witnessed President Barack Obama complete his first State of the Union address. Sitting there the House chambers, I was humbled by how far we have come as a nation.
The president’s address was a testimony to the power of we: we, who dared to dream that breaking the centuries-old color barrier, even at the lofty heights of the White House was possible; we, who continue to fight for expanding voting rights; we, who battle tirelessly every election to maximize voter participation and minimize voter intimidation. We who struggled to guarantee that every vote cast will indeed be counted. President Obama’s State of the Union address is a paean to those who have joined together throughout history to change our country for the better.
Today our country is in crisis. Wall Street greed has unleashed a torrent of predatory lending that is turning homeowners into the homeless. The unemployment rate for Americans of all colors is over 10 percent, and black and brown American unemployment hovers above 16 percent. Over 40 million Americans lack health insurance. Millions more– disproportionately children– don’t get enough to eat.
Tonight the President unveiled new polices to support working families. He reiterated his commitment to rein in some of the worst excesses of Wall Street, and pledged to bring health care to millions of uninsured Americans. He expressed his forceful and compassionate commitment to the people of Haiti — a swift, comprehensive response to the human tragedy that stands in stark contrast to his predecessor’s reaction to the thousands victimized by Hurricane Katrina.
President Obama outlined the right agenda– one that is pro- civil rights, pro- human dignity, and pro- American Dream for every American. But he cannot do it without us.
Predatory lenders, profit-driven health care CEOs, and those business leaders who would see our country and our families go bankrupt before they would pay their own way are committed to funding a fierce battle for the status quo. The Supreme Court has unleashed unlimited amounts of corporate dollars into the political landscape with its ruling this month on campaign finance reform, money sure to undercut and distort the real priorities of our democracy.
President Obama has vowed to fight. He has pledged to reverse the worst impact of the Supreme Court decision. Yet without each of us fully engaged, billions of dollars will be harnessed to crush his agenda and those who support it for simply daring to do the people’s will.
Still, we can win. Organized and educated people ultimately trump misdirected money.
But without you and all your friends and neighbors back on the battlefield, harnessing the power of we, there is no guarantee progress will continue. Like every great wave, the one that made it possible for an African-American family to live in the White House must be regenerated, or it will ebb. More importantly, our communities’ and families’ fates, which are in perilous condition, will ebb with it.
Too many times over the past 12 months we have powered down, left the field for the bleachers, and chosen to play armchair pundit rather than continue to build and lead. When our president is not bold enough, it is up to us to build the next wave for bolder action.
Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
We cannot be silent. The change we seek is in our hands.
Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO