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Activists stage online State of the Union for marginalized voices

When President Obama delivered the customary line, “the state of the Union is strong,” in his address to Congress on Tuesday, many Republicans refused to applaud in agreement. They were not the only ones who disagreed with this sentiment.

On Wednesday night, a statement titled “State of the Black Union: The Shadow of Crisis has NOT Passed” was posted on blacklivesmatter.com and signed by a coalition of civil rights groups. The statement is a response to the President’s address, and the title is an allusion to his assertion that the country has avoided an economic crisis.

Black Lives Matter, a movement founded after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, describes itself on its website as “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.”

“The current state of Black America is anything but just,” the statement read, just before referencing inadequate access to health care, voting restrictions, police profiling, and incarceration rates. The cosigners of the statement felt that these issues were ignored by the President.

While a national conversation on race has persisted since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last August, the president made little mention of it on Tuesday.

“We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York,” Obama said, “But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.”

He did not suggest congressional action to combat what activists see as extrajudicial killings by police.

“Black queer folk, trans folk, black youth, folks with disabilities, undocumented folk, are quite often left out of conversations that make decisions over our lives,” Lourdes Ashley Hunter, the National Director of the Trans Women of Color Collective and Black Lives Matter leadership team member said.

The group’s statement lists other black individuals killed over the last year, including Islan Nettles and Anyia Parker, two black transgender women.

According to activists, the killings of black queer and transgender individuals often go unreported and unsolved, but members of these communities are very active in movements like these. 

Our initiatives “are being led by trans and queer people of color, black people,” Hunter said. “When we create our own media, we’re able to control our narrative.”

Before the statement was released, members of the Black Lives Matter movement helped facilitate what they called a Twitter town hall to discuss issues they felt were important to black Americans. Using the hashtag #SOBU, users were able to share what they thought the president should have acknowledged in the State of the Union address.

Even though the Twitter discussion happened before the statement was released, Hunter says many of the sentiments expressed online echoed the assertions of the “State of the Black Union.”

“It’s a testament that we’re aligned with our community, and the needs of our community,” she said.