Mark Ruffalo invoked a positive vision for America’s future, Common rapped about Trayvon Martin and Michael Moore called for a cultural clean-sweep at “People’s State of the Union,” the Manhattan performance and soapbox that saw a starry array of activists and artists — including Mark Ruffalo, Amy Schumer, Rosie Perez, Cynthia Nixon and John Leguizamo — rally the progressive movement on the night before President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. A rowdy, nearly-full house at midtown’s Town Hall turned up for performances by Andra Day, Common and Rufus Wainwright, along with issue-focused speeches by celebrity names and in-the-trenches activists alike.
“We must remove and replace the system and the culture that gave us Trump in the first place,” Moore said in a roof-raising speech toward the end of the evening. “He did not just fall out of the sky and land in Queens. He is the result of a decades-long corporate takeover of our democracy and of us, never correcting the three orignal sins of America: A nation founded on genocide, built on the backs of slaves, and maintained by the subjugation of women.”
“The one silver lining in Trump is that we have created the mother of all movements,” said Ruffalo, one of the event’s organizers, at the start of an evening that touched on threads of activism including the Dream Act, civil rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, women’s rights and labor rights. Nodding to the celebrity that allows him and the other boldface names onstage to bring attention to the activists who spoke during the show, Ruffalo vowed the fight wouldn’t end with the current presidency.
“We’ll strengthen our bonds and commitments to each other for long after the Trump era comes to its rightful end,” he said. “We aren’t stopping with Trump.”
New York City mayor Bill deBlasio also made an appearance to fire up the troops. “You want to know the state of the union? The state of the union is the people are fired up,” he said. “In this age, the people are recognizing their own power.”
Kathy Najimy, introducing the evening’s segment about women’s rights, nodded to Gloria Steinem in the crowd, who got a quick standing ovation from the audience. “F— locker room talk,” she declared, citing #MeToo, pay parity, Time’s Up and the Women’s March, one of the founders of which, Paola Mendoza, was introduced by Najimy.
“The question is, now that this movement has been birthed, how do we sustain it?” Mendoza asked, encouraging the advancement of all progressive issues through marching, protesting and voting. She also called on the Latino community to band together. “Our undocumented brothers and sisters can’t vote, so we must vote for them.” (Later in the evening, speakers Fisher Stevens and Gina Gershon both won T-shirts that said “We are all dreamers.”)
“You put a brother in ‘Star Wars,’” Common said at the podium during a segment about civil rights. “Maybe you need two.” He then introduced Dejuana Thompson, the founder of Woke Vote, the organization that played a role in getting out the vote in the special election in Alabama.
“We are no longer begging to be on your agenda,” Thompson said. “We are creating our own.”
Andra Day performed two tunes, including “Stand Up For Something,” the song from the film “Marshall” she performed with Common. Later in the evening, Rufus Wainwright played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Leguizamo, there for immigrant rights, cracked, “This president makes me long for Ronald Reagan.” He introduced Christina Jimenez of the immigrant youth network United We Dream. “We and our families are undocumented, unafraid, and here to stay,” she said, nodding to the organization’s fight to get the Dream Act passed.
She also spoke out against the immigration plan that Trump would try to sell in the State of the Union. “This Trump plan is nothing more than a white supremacist ransom note,” she said. “We must reject it.”
“Our American democracy is under attack, and we Americans need to not only cherish and protect it, but to fight for it,” said Nixon, calling to protect the Trump-Russia investigation. “We must make the firing of Robert Mueller a stark line in the sand, and if Trump crosses it we must take to the streets as never before and make inaction untenable for every elected leader.”
Moore’s speech culminated in a new to-do list for 2018, a sequel to the list he gave progressives at the same time last year, including a “massive removal of Republicans from the House and the Senate” and supporting the impeachment campaign. “Don’t worry about Pence, first things first,” he said. “Let me take care of Pence!”
The night was a launch event for activist organization We Stand United.