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Response to State of the Union Address: We Cannot Be Silent

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President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address is a testimony to the power of we: we, who dared to dream breaking the centuries-old color barrier at 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. His first State of the Union address is a paean to those who have joined together throughout history to change our country for the better.

We are in crisis today. The greed of fat cat bankers has unleashed a torrent of predatory lending and a trickle of permanent loan modifications that together are turning homeowners into the homeless. The unemployment rate for Americans of all colors is over 10 percent, Black and Brown American unemployment hovers above 15 percent.

The jobless rate among African- American men in many cities is over 50 percent. Approximately 50 million Americans lack health insurance. More than 50 million people in America -- disproportionately children -- don’t get enough to eat.

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 his enduring dedication 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 the American Dream for every American.

However, he cannot do it without us.

Predatory banks, profit-driven health care CEOs, and those big business leaders who would see our country and our families go bankrupt before they would pay their own way (or even a living wage) are committed to funding a fierce battle for the status quo.

The Supreme Court, still dominated by those who helped steal the election in 2000 and their protégés, has unleashed unlimited amounts of corporate dollars into the political landscape with its ruling this month on campaign finance reform. 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, loads of greedy multi-national corporate treasure will be used to crush his agenda and those who support it for simply daring to do the people's will.

Still we can win. Organized people ultimately trumps organized money.

But without you and all your friends and neighbors back on the battlefield, sowing and reaping the power of we, there is no guarantee progress will continue. Like every great wave, the one that made it possible for a black family to live in the White House must be regenerated, or it ebbs. More importantly, our communities’ and families’ fates, which are in perilous condition, will ebb with it.

We can be proud of the progress President Obama has made —implementing policies to stem massive job losses, extending health care coverage to millions of children, stabilizing the economy, increasing women's ability to ensure fair treatment in the workplace, rebuilding the Justice Department and EEOC's ability to protect Americans' basic rights, and restoring our nation's ability to protect its food and water. These are our victories.

Some argue that our president has not pushed hard enough for the change we need. But just as this Administration’s greatest accomplishments lies in the hands of the idealists and organizers, so too must we claim the shortcomings.

In too many instances in 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. If our president is not bold enough, it is up to us to build the next wave for bolder action. The great Frederick Douglass once 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 is President and CEO of the NAACP

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