The stories you won’t hear at Trump’s first State of the Union: Meet Laura, Tracy, Will and Juan.
Each year, it is tradition for the First Lady to honor chosen Americans with an invitation to the State of the Union address. The individuals she invites represent the priorities and policy aims of the administration.
This year, the Center for American Progress Action Fund is showcasing the stories the Trump administration doesn’t want you to hear. Laura, Tracy, Will and Juan represent the millions of Americans who have been negatively impacted by this president’s health, immigration, environment and foreign policies.
Laura, cancer survivor
Laura Packard lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. She’s a small business owner — each day she wakes up and is able to provide for herself through her independent consulting business.
It wasn’t always like this. Laura is fighting stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. She was diagnosed in the spring of 2017, and that’s when her life changed. She began treatment after the diagnosis — covered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer last spring, and I went through extensive treatment, and luckily thanks to the Affordable Care Act I’m still here today,” Laura said.
Laura has a special connection to the ACA: She helped lead to its passage when she worked for the AFL-CIO in 2010. Now, the legislation she fought to pass is saving her life.
“The good news is that my doctors believe I can be cured. I just need to keep my health insurance,” Laura said in a video for NowThis. “I appreciate the sympathy, but what I need is affordable, comprehensive health insurance.”
Laura was a fierce opponent of attempts by President Donald Trump and Congress to repeal or restrict the ACA. She is vocal about her views on Twitter, and her willingness to vocalize her views has even led to her being silenced. Last year, she was kicked out of a town hall after sharing her story.
“In the process, from 2017 to now, my premiums have almost doubled and my insurance company from last year pulled out of the market entirely, due to the chaos that President Trump and his people have caused,” Laura said.
Laura is happy that the ACA is still law, but she says there is still more work to be done.
“They’ve come after our health care again and again and again,” Laura said. “They won’t stop until we replace them. And that’s why I’m a health care voter — now, and this November, and every election to come.”
Juan, DACA recipient
Juan Escalante’s parents knew. They knew Venezuela was on the verge of political turmoil. They knew what they needed to do for their family.
Juan wasn’t even middle-school aged when his family fled to the U.S. in 2000. He, his parents and his two brothers adjusted to life in America, attending school and paying taxes. After years in the country, there was a chance for them to become legal residents. In 2006, an attorney mishandled the Escalantes’ case. They lost the chance to gain legal status.
Juan first learned of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Twitter. He was elated.
“I ran to the office lobby, turned on the TV, and immediately knew right then that life would not be the same,” Juan told the New York Times. “I called my mother in tears and proceeded to tell her that my brothers and I would be able to benefit from a program that would temporarily shield us from deportation.”
By the time President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, Juan had graduated from Florida State University with a political science degree, fought (and lost) two legislative battles in support of the Dream Act, and helped organize thousands of Dreamers from all across the country. Since 2013, Juan and his brothers have been protected from deportation under DACA.
With DACA, Juan was able to return to FSU for a Master’s degree in public administration and get a job in immigration advocacy, as the Communications Manager for America’s Voice. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he has become an advocate for young people like himself.
“Right now, Dreamers are facing potential deportation as the DACA program that currently protects us from deportation has been rescinded,” Juan said. “Every single day, Dreamers like myself lose their DACA protections and become targets for Donald Trump’s deportation force.”
Juan knows he has plenty of hard work ahead. For now, he wrote a message for the president on Medium: “Mr. President, just as your parents wanted you to succeed, and just as you want your children to succeed, my parents took a great risk for my future.”
Juan says, of Dreamers: “All of them want to give back to this great country.”
Will Fischer loves his country, but he’s nervous.
Will is a former Marine and an Iraq War veteran. He’s served in combat. He’s lost friends and gained harrowing memories. He knows the true cost of war, one that extends far beyond budgets and dollar amounts. And he fears President Donald Trump doesn’t.
Before the presidential election, Will warned in Newsweek that Trump, with his erratic behavior, can’t be trusted with America’s nuclear weapons.
“His tantrums and incendiary rhetoric have proved time and time again that he is incapable of holding such a position of power responsibly,” Will wrote in October 2016.
Now, a year into the presidency, some of his fears have become realities.
“Our alliances around the world, under this administration, are frayed in a way they haven’t been in a long time,” Will said. “Because of this president, our troops are seeing our standing in the world deteriorate, which makes their jobs that much harder.”
Will, who now lives in Washington, D.C., has also watched firsthand how Trump’s policies affect veterans long after their combat days are over. As director of government relations for VoteVets, the largest progressive veterans organization in America, he’s observed how Trump has paved the way for the privatization of veterans’ services.
“Our veterans, returning from war, are being given a voucher and a pat on the back, as they’re sent out into the private, for-profit, corporate hospital system,” Will said.
It’s challenging for progressive veteran voices to be heard by Trump, especially when the president has blocked the group on Twitter. Will knows he has a journey ahead of him. In 2018, he plans to continue to represent veteran voices and advocate for stable, diplomatic foreign affairs.
Tracy Williams didn’t realize the scope of problem in the air around her until a highlighted flyer appeared on her front door.
The air is contaminated, it said.
Tracy lives in Norfolk, Virginia, with her two school-aged kids. She had been living in her neighborhood for a year before she learned about the hazards of her proximity to Norfolk Southern, a rail company that transports coal.
“When we first moved to our neighborhood, we had no idea we’d become neighbors with [Norfolk Southern],” Tracy said. She was worried about her kids.
Coal dust is hazardous. When coal is transported, it releases dust containing toxic heavy metals. When inhaled, these toxins can cause “increased rates of childhood bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, heart disease and reduced lung capacity,” according to the Sierra Club. Trains carrying coal release 90,000 pounds of coal dust onto Virginia towns each year. Dust films gather on cars and windowsills, and kids breathe it in as they play outside.
Norfolk is one of those towns, and Tracy lives in one of the most affected communities. Her son suffers from allergies, and the polluted air requires her to change the filters in their home from week to week. Asthma occurs in disproportionately high numbers near where Tracy lives. She now limits her children’s playtime outside so they don’t breathe in the air too much.
Tracy has become a fierce advocate for her community, fighting against the air pollution to protect the health of kids. As the Trump Administration considers plans to expand coal lines, it’s not clear whether voices like Tracy’s will be heard. In Norfolk, Norfolk Southern has refused to meet with members of affected communities. Tracy and her neighbors are beset with worry about ongoing health impacts.
In the past year, Trump has shown a lack of empathy for environmental concerns. He’s made cuts to the EPA, withdrawn from the Paris Agreement and expanded drilling.
One year into President Trump’s presidency, Tracy has a question for him: “Mr. President following your first year, are you thinking about a healthier environment or even protecting my community and my children?”
Trigger warning: Contains references to rape and sexual assault.
Jane is not her real name. Her real name is Martha. Or Shana. Or maybe Brianna or Taylor or Sabrina.
She’s an American woman, and she might be one of the 300,000 who will be raped this year.
If Jane is under 30 years old, the chance that she is assaulted increases. If she’s trans or nonconforming, her chance increases even more.
Is Jane Latina? It’s even more likely she will be raped or assaulted this year. If she’s Native American, that chance increases again. Is she developmentally disabled? Increase.
If Jane is assaulted this year, there’s a 3 percent chance her attacker will spend any time in jail for the crime. If Jane is raped this year, her rape kit might go untested, like thousands do each year.
If Jane is assaulted, she’s more likely to start using drugs. She’s likely to experience distress at work or school. She’ll probably experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which will likely last weeks but could last years.
If Jane is raped this year, she’s more likely to try to kill herself.
Jane represents the millions of women who are survivors of rape and sexual assault. Jane represents victimhood, and Jane represents strength. For every Jane who shares her story, there are thousands more who, for many reasons, are not yet able to speak.
The #MeToo movement will be stronger than ever in 2018, and Jane and millions of women and girls will continue to share their stories and their pain. These stories will empower and propel women closer to equality.
In 2017, many victims of sexual violence found their voice. In 2018, they’ll use it to shout.
During Trump’s second year in office, it is critical to remember the voices of these Americans. Follow us on twitter @CAPAction for stories like these and more.