The State of the Union address is about how the president sees the country. For a crowd gathered gathered at the State House Tuesday, it became about a picture painted from a different view.
That view was delivered by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and Democratic Party rock star Stacey Abrams. Like many other around the country, New Haveners got together to watch the first black woman to ever deliver the formal Democratic Party response to a president’s State of the Union Address.
The watch party at the State Street club in the Ninth Square was organized by Jennifer Quaye Hudson and husband Paul Hudson (pictured) in support of Abrams’ Fair Fight Action, which advocates for election reform (including pushback against voter-suppression efforts like those that are believed to have thwarted Abrams’ quest last November to become the nation’s only black female governor). Fair Fight Action asked people to host watch parties to support Abrams and raise awareness about the problem of voting suppression. (Party leaders are now urging Abrams to run for Senate.)
Quaye Hudson is best friends with Wilbur Cross grad Hope Wollensack, who also happens to be Abrams’ general constituency director. She said she got to meet Abrams at Black Campaign School, which is hosted by the Collective PAC.
“She was so inspiring,” Quaye Hudson recalled. “I wished I could write her in here in Connecticut.”
Since that wasn’t an option, hosting a watch party for the #AbramsAddress was the next best thing.
First the watchers endured Trump’s address, which clocked in at an hour and 30 minutes. And to say viewers were underwhelmed by what they considered to be ridiculous assertions about immigrants or just outright “fake news” as someone shouted is probably an understatement. (Read Trump’s full address here.)
When Trump at one point in his speech bragged about the nation’s booming economy and the low unemployment rates, someone in the room said, “Thanks, Obama.”
When they weren’t heckling Trump’s talking points, the watch partygoers cheered for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who seemed to be checking address notes and looking bewildered where Trump might have gone off script. They also applauded the many eye rolls, blank stares, and side eyes from members of Congress like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and the tight lips of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I’m just waiting for Stacey Abrams,” WNNH radio host and Inner City News Editor Babz Rawls Ivy said.
Abrams didn’t disappoint. Where Trump had focused his address on what he characterized as threats of illegal immigration and renewed his call for building a stronger wall at the U.S. southern border, Abrams honed in on the more deadly problem of mass shootings.
“Children deserve an excellent education from cradle to career,” Abrams said. “We owe them safe schools and the highest standards, regardless of zip code. Yet this White House responds timidly while first graders practice active shooter drills and the price of higher education grows ever steeper.”
Trump called for the elimination of childhood cancer by praising the work of non-government, nonprofit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Abrams spoke of the financial toll on families like her own without adequate access to affordable healthcare and jobs that adequately cover the cost of living.
(Read Abrams’ entire address here.)
Watch partygoers admittedly weren’t there to support Trump. But they did sit through both speeches and observed stark differences in what they heard. Urn Pendragon (at left in photo) said Trump was clearly speaking to his base while Abrams “spoke the truth.”
“She was honest and stood up for real American values,” Pendragon said.
Michael Rady was rocking his Gillium for Governor shirt at Tuesday’s watch party. The New Havener has campaigned for many Democrats including Andrew Gillium, the former Florida candidate. Rady said he found Trump’s speech “frustrating” because of what he saw as the president’s hypocrisy for defending the sanctity of life (in the case of abortion) while dehumanizing people with his rhetoric and policies. He found Abrams stances of seeing immigrants as assets and the fight for social justice “inspiring.”
Quaye Hudson said she was particularly touched by what Abrams had to say about the maternal mortality rate and its deadly consequences for all women but particularly black women. She characterized Trump a liar.
“She is everything,” Quaye Hudson said. “And she is saying everything that people of color want to be said.”