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Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

Advancing the State of the Union: More Than Just the President's Job

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Leadership is defined not only by our words and our will, but by the very actions we take to back up our vision. Last night, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address (SOTU) to a nation that gave him the majority of its vote in 2012, and to a citizenry that is still overwhelmingly ready to continue moving forward. The president encouraged unity, economic growth, increasing the minimum wage, protecting voting rights, salvaging the middle class, combating climate change, enacting safe gun legislation, utilizing clean energy, educating our youth, bringing our troops home, immigration reform and much, much more. After his address, the president conducted a conference call with grassroots supporters, then took his message on a three-city tour. He backed his own words with action; now we, the people, must do the same. After all, movements begin in our own homes -- they don't come from the White House. If we want to see real substantive change in our lives and in society, then each and every one of us has to make it happen, period.

"We may do different jobs and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us," stated the president in his SOTU remarks.

But as Americans, we all share the same proud title -- we are citizens. It's a word that doesn't just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others....

Perhaps nothing summarizes the task before us all more than these words. It is not enough for us to simply list our grievances, or acknowledge challenges that exist; we must consistently work and strive to create the progress we seek. The president is our leader, and while he may guide us in the right direction, it is incumbent upon all of us to work together, take concrete steps and create a society that is more fair and more just for all.

As our economy continues to recover from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, many of our fellow Americans are finding themselves forced into working multiple low-paying jobs in order to put food on the table. We owe it to them, and to the countless others that weren't afforded the same opportunities for advancement as the wealthy to raise the minimum wage. As the president highlighted in his address, 19 states have already chosen to raise their minimum wage; now the rest of the nation should follow suit. We must start organizing and mobilizing around the president's push for a minimum wage of $9/hr. In a country as powerful as ours, we can never forget about the least of these. We must help neighbors push for the increase, and help educate others on how it will in turn benefit entire communities and the nation as a whole. Take the time to uplift your fellow citizen and watch as you find yourself uplifted in the process.

The same can be applied to all of the tasks that remain before us. Whether it's fighting voter suppression tactics and streamlining the voting process, or creating effective solutions to the growing threat of climate change, or working to ensure that all young people receive a quality education and a shot at the American dream, or finally establishing safe gun laws that protect young babies from Newtown to the streets of Chicago, or passing real immigration reform that protects those who were brought here through no fault of their own and keeps the brightest in the country, or any of the host of challenges that remain before us, the time for complacency has long expired. It's people that have always pushed this nation forward. Whether it was civil rights, women's rights, or gay/lesbian rights, it has always been the work of everyday Americans on the ground that educated, mobilized and created mechanisms for change. Coupled with the right leadership, that's how progress has won throughout our history. As we witnessed during the SOTU, we have the right leadership at this very moment; now it's up to us to keep advancing forward.

During the president's address, he acknowledged 102-year-old Desiline Victor from North Miami, who patiently waited hours just to vote in the last election. Also among those sitting in the first lady's box that he mentioned were Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton Sr., the parents of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton who was murdered at a park near her school on Chicago's South Side days after participating in the president's inaugural celebration. Until elderly women do not have to deal with mechanisms designed to stifle their vote, and until young women do not have to grow up in a society dodging bullets, our work remains. There's an old adage that states: actions speak louder than words. If we truly care about leaving a more advanced and a more equalized nation to our children and their children, then we must act now. In the words of the president, "It remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter of our American story."