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Responding to Obama's 2012 State of the Union

Posted on: Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Keywords: US Foreign Policy, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice

On the Financial Crisis: “It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis.”

It’s clear that the terms of the national discussion on economic justice and the financial crisis have shifted dramatically. And we have the Occupy Wall Street movement to thank for that. Time and again, President Obama returned to the growing unemployment and debt that the 99% of this country are experiencing. He laid the responsibility on a broken and unfair financial system that privileges the rich and leaves the rest to struggle.

He pushed for a fairer tax code, to lessen the burden on the majority of tax payers while requiring the richest to pay their fair share. But the sights of the Occupy Wall Street movement have always been set higher. We must have real accountability for economic policies that trap people in poverty, here in the US and around the world. And after all, the State of the Union was just a speech—what we need now is action.

On Trade: “I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products.”


Obama suggested that free trade agreements with Panama, South Korea and Colombia would help boost business in the US by opening markets in those countries. But let’s not forget what damage these free trade agreements have done. For years before the Colombia FTA passed, activists warned that it would worsen rural poverty, undermine labor rights and weaken access to public services like healthcare and water. We had already seen it happen with NAFTA, which decimated agriculture in Mexico and increased poverty and hunger.

On the US Wars: “For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.” “We will build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan.”

Again, we heard the rhetoric celebrating the supposed success of the war in Iraq, as US troops leave that country. The reality is that the war was fought at the cost of over one million Iraqi lives and tens of thousands of US troops killed or injured.

The US has left behind an Iraq that will reel for generations with the impacts of the invasion. Mothers are already reporting a sharp increase in severe birth defects, likely the result of the US military dumping toxic munitions in their communities. Our partners in Iraq also say plainly that women are worse off now than before the invasion. Women demanding their rights to political participation, freedom from violence and more must contend with fundamentalists left in power by the US.

Meanwhile, Obama also signaled a drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in the coming months. He promised a lasting partnership with Afghanistan, to prevent future terror attacks emerging from there. Afghan women were absent from his comments, although their rights and well-being have for years been used by US leaders as a justification for the war. Now is a crucial time for MADRE and women’s rights advocates worldwide to stand with Afghan women who demand their rights and a role in their country’s future.

And many in Washington are beginning to clamber for war with Iran. You could see it in Obama’s audience, from the standing ovation he received for hinting at military action targeting Iran and from the silence following his suggestion that Iran might still “rejoin the community of nations.” MADRE will continue to follow this debate closely and stand up against any push for a new war.

On Climate Change: “The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.”


We can’t wait for the government to act. US leaders have already failed to treat this as the emergency that it is. Instead, they have chosen to stall and block action at international talks on climate change.

The problem lies in more than divisions in the US Congress. It also lies in a failed capitalist vision of the world, enacted through policies that embrace consumption without limits and that ignore environmental sustainability.

And it is women, who make up the majority of the world’s poor, who have borne the brunt of the climate change already exacerbated by these policies. For instance, when drought threatens harvests, it is the millions of women farmers worldwide who must struggle to get food for their families. Faced with these threats, the women that MADRE works with are daily devising the solutions we all need now. 


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