Just like awards season — with men hosting the Emmys, Golden Globes, Grammys and upcoming Academy Awards — the State of the Union gave another powerful man, President Donald J. Trump, the podium for a night of primetime television.
But while other public events this year forced men to confront their own behavior — whether as abusers or silencers — Trump blissfully ignored it. His speech, which was the third-longest State of the Union address in history, was filled with divisive rhetoric on immigration, labor and foreign policy. But he never once directly addressed the women sitting in the room or watching at home by thanking them for speaking out against abuse and inequality.
In fact, the entire subject of sexual assault was left out of Trump’s State of the Union speech. He practically ignored a movement that has affected workplaces across the country, including the federal government.
Despite the president’s failure to acknowledge their courage, women still were able to steal the spotlight at the State of the Union and beyond.
In the U.S. Capitol building, most Democratic women lawmakers who attended chose to wear black, in solidarity with #MeToo and the women in other industries who have chosen to speak up about abuse, assault and inequality; others added a Times Up pin to their lapel.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) had 200 red RECY buttons made to pay tribute to the late Recy Taylor, a black woman who was kidnapped and raped by six white men in Alabama in 1944. No arrests were made, and the men weren’t charged. Rose Gunter, Taylor’s niece, attended the State of the Union as Rep. Watson Coleman’s guest.
Many members of Congress invited guests to show support for particular movements and policy positions. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) brought San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) invited Leah Griffin, a survivor of sexual assault, as her guest, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) brought Jean Bradley Derenoncourt, the first Haitian-American man elected to public office in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts — likely a dig at Trump’s “shithole countries” remark.
To show their support for “dreamers,” a slew of Democratic lawmakers were accompanied by DACA recipients. California Sen. Kamala Harris brought Denea Joseph, an undocumented immigrant from Belize who grew up in Los Angeles. Although things remained calm, before the address, Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) implored Capitol police and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “consider checking identification . . . and arresting any illegal aliens in attendance.”
Activists Tarana Burke, Ai-Jen Poo and Mónica Ramirez were asked to attend the State of the Union as guests, but the women declined multiple invitations. Rather than sitting in resistance at Trump’s address, they chose to host the State of Our Union and were joined by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Arisha Hatch of Color of Change and #BlackLivesMatter activist Alicia Garza, among others.
Their speeches touched on issues like immigration, LGBTQ rights and racial injustice. When Catalina Velasquez, a communications specialist and activist who is an undocumented transgender woman, addressed the room, she touched on unity.
“Like many people, around the globe, this past year I have watched my communities — transgender and queer folks, fellow dreamers and immigrants, Latinx people, women and survivors — undergo attack after attack,” Velasquez said at the State of Our Union event. “Against all odds, we have and continue to be defiant and proud, persistent and resisting. Even though there were many attempts to divide us, we have come together in unity.”
Several members of the House chose to resist Trump’s State of the Union, too. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla) and Rep. Maxine “Reclaiming My Time” Waters (D-Calif.) — who are fierce opponents of the Trump administration — chose to boycott the speech.
At the State of the Union, curious eyes were on first lady Melania Trump, who had not been seen publicly with her husband since New Year’s Eve.
On Jan. 12, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Stephanie Clifford — a porn star who goes by the name of Stormy Daniels — $130,000 in exchange for her silence over Clifford’s alleged sexual relationship with Trump in 2006.
The first lady made the decision not to accompany the president to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. On Tuesday, wearing all white, she departed for the U.S. Capitol without Trump.
At the State of the Union, she hosted 15 guests, including Ashlee Leppert, an aviation electronics technician in the Coast Guard who helped with Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts, and parents whose daughters were likely killed by members of the MS-13 gang. Trump honored those sitting with his wife by calling them out in his speech.
One thing he failed to mention? Cyberbullying, an issue the first lady has expressed interest in ending.