IWJ's Rudy López responds to President Obama's final State of the Union

Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From IWJ's Executive Director Rudy López:

In his final State of the Union, President Obama spoke about the spirit of the nation that has driven the progress that makes this country great. He spoke of reforming health care and the push to strengthen the middle class. He spoke of reforming the criminal justice system and fixing our broken immigration system.

The president made the critical point that progress like this is not inevitable. That we have to “make choices together” to keep moving forward. 

In this moment, President Obama seemed to forget his roots. Progress isn’t simply a choice that we wait for our leaders to agree to. Progress is won by the blood, sweat, and tears of workers, organizers, and allies in the street and in the union hall.

President Obama hit all the right notes last night. He just forgot to thank the band. 

Nowhere did the president mention the Fight for $15 movement that has made the lofty goal of a living wage for all workers seem inevitable. Nowhere did the president mention the tens of thousands of people organizing to stop the record number of deportations that have occurred on his watch. Nowhere did the president mention the growing movement of worker centers leading the fight against wage theft and unsafe working conditions.

While we applaud President Obama for all he has accomplished during his tenure -- especially given Republican opposition to his agenda at every turn -- we still expect more in the final year of his presidency. 

We want the president to stop deporting refugees fleeing violence in Central America and instead welcome them as contributors to our great nation. We want the president to take a more pro-active role in supporting the Fight for $15 and the collective bargaining for all workers. We want the president to use his executive authority to expand paid parental and sick leave.

We the people are ready to back the president in these fights. But we must together acknowledge that it is organizing that forces the hard choices of which the president spoke. That these choices won’t be made unless we fight for what is right.

The president also spoke of cynicism last night. He warned against those who believe that our actions “don’t matter.” Organizing is the antidote to that cynicism. It always has been and always will be. Organizing is what forces hard choices. Organizing is what has brought us progress during President Obama’s time in the White House. 

Progress is not made by the people in power. It’s made by those standing off to the side, getting their hands dirty.