Dear President Obama:
The holidays are over but we know better than to put away all the decorations, noise-makers, sparkly hats and champagne. Why? Because the most wonderful night of the year has yet to arrive! The night when you present your State of the Union (SOTU) address. And because this is your final address, the occasion is likely to be even more festive (if possible!) than usual. We're hoping you go out with a mic-drop to end all mic-drops.
Well, admittedly, hope is all we can do. You haven't asked for our help with the speech, which is totally fine, our feelings aren't hurt at all. But just in case you read this in time, here are a few ideas and topics we hope you include in your last SOTU hurrah.
1. Citizens United and our divided country
The Supreme Court issued its controversial Citizens United decision almost five years ago. In fact, the fifth anniversary comes just a few days after this speech. That ruling has led to a political spending free-for-all, now that throwing ungodly amounts of cash at candidates is essentially a First Amendment right. President Obama, we're all for free speech, but Citizens United has made some speech more equal than others. The ultra-rich and the biggest corporations wield a hundred-million-dollar megaphone—how will our voices be heard? Well, imagine what would happen if we all stood up and spoke out together! Mr. President, please call out Citizens United for its catastrophic effect on this country's politics and help us return power to the people.
2. Climate justice
The Paris UN Climate Conference (COP21) ended with a historic agreement to combat climate change and ensure a clean-energy future. You've long made it clear that you believe climate change is a threat to worldwide security, health and prosperity, but with a Congress (neck-deep, by the way, in donations from the fossil-fuel industry) determined to derail every last environmental initiative, activists and scientists and other devotees of facts/reality have to keep the pressure on. No, the agreement isn't perfect, but it works toward a warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, a line that many experts say can't be crossed if we want to avoid the most disastrous impacts of climate change. Let's live up to our COP21 commitment—the world can't wait any longer for us to act.
3. Your recent Christmas vacation in Hawaii
Did you enjoy the Koko Head Crater Stairs? People certainly seemed to enjoy seeing you—those OMG videos and sneaky selfies posted all over the Internet are pretty fun to look at. What else did you do on your vacation? State of the Union addresses, if you don't mind us saying so, tend to start dragging a bit in the middle. How about sharing some vacation stories, just to lighten the mood? Slide show encouraged.
4. Public campaign financing
A 2014 study from Princeton University says that the US is no longer a democracy. Instead, we're an oligarchy—government by the few. The researchers, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, reviewed data from more than 1,800 policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002 and found that while ordinary citizens have almost no influence over what the government does, the wealthy and their affiliated interest groups have a great deal of influence. No, this is not at all shocking. And, as you know, things have only gotten worse since 2002, but it needn't be "just the way things are" either. Taking money out of politics by publicly funding campaigns would go a long way toward restoring American democracy.
5. The importance of the Voting Rights Act
So, big money is one big problem with elections. But, Mr. President, there's another problem that needs to be fixed too: national and local challenges to the Voting Rights Act. Citizens United is just one part of an increasingly rigged system. While all that unfettered money shouts down the voices of common people, restrictions on and impediments to voting are keeping people from getting to the ballot box. Why have so many states, for example, passed voter ID laws, claiming to protect against voter fraud, when it's been shown that voter fraud rarely, if ever, happens? It's time to ensure that every voter everywhere can exercise his or her right to vote. We should be encouraging participation in our elections, not restricting it.
We get it, this is a somber occasion. There's pomp and circumstance. There's ritual and tradition. Everyone's all dressed up. It's so formal that, for those in attendance, it can sometimes be hard to stay awake. And beyond that, yes, we face many challenges as a nation. You want to get a lot done in your presidency, and there's just not that much time left. Yet we all know that you had some coffee, yada yada yada, with a certain well-known comedian recently, and you've always been pretty pretty good with the one-liners. Sir, this is your last SOTU! Don't hold back. No napping allowed in the crowd this year: Time to bring the funny.
Ben & Jerry's