Sounds of chatter echoed through Moses Hall on Tuesday evening as UC Berkeley students and faculty congregated to watch President Barack Obama’s fifth State of the Union address.
The viewing party — sponsored by the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service, Cal Berkeley Democrats and Berkeley College Republicans — was open to the public and attracted about 100 to the campus Institute of Governmental Studies.
“There were a lot of students here who care a lot about politics and public policy,” said Ethan Rarick, director of the Matsui Center. “It’s great to see this level of interest in important national issues.”
In his speech, Obama called for “a year of action,” promising immigration reform, increased efforts to close the income gap and boosts to the technology sector.
Obama emphasized the need to make college affordable for middle-class families. Promising to work with Congress to limit student loan debt, he also noted the importance of helping students of color “stay on track and reach their full potential.”
Obama’s announcement of a minimum-wage increase earned snaps and quiet applause from many in Moses Hall. His executive order, applicable to only federal contractors, will increase wages from $7.25 to $10.10.
Cameron Morgan, a first-year graduate student studying social work, said Obama’s goal to increase the minimum wage was the most likely of his initiatives to succeed. Cal Dems Vice President of Finance Denim Ohmit noted that Obama’s executive order may potentially invite more expansive legislation.
“When it comes to influencing Congress, it’s an uphill battle, obviously,” he said. “Whether Congress acts on it or not, it seems that he’s prepared to do what he needs to do.”
While he believes Obama’s stance on progressive issues has proven his bravery in his second term, Ohmit was disappointed the president didn’t take stronger stances on issues like the environment during his speech.
But Berkeley College Republicans Secretary Ben Zhang said he was not surprised by the address at all.
“Every year, he lists just about the same goals, and very little is accomplished,” he said. “It’s all talk of action but not much action going on.”
Speaker of the State Assembly John Perez, a former UC Berkeley student, also attended the screening. He said the speech gave compelling evidence for the country’s need to “come together.” Perez was on campus to film a promotional video for the Middle Class Scholarship Act, which aims to make college affordable for students at the University of California and California State University.
“The president was able to weave together several different thematics that tie into the general concept of opportunity,” Perez said. “We’ve all gone through the Great Recession together and must create opportunities for us all to experience recovery together.”