The People’s State of the Union:

an act of cultural citizenship

We humans long to belong.

Whether it’s to a place, a tradition, or a group, we want to know that we are welcome. We yearn to be seen and heard, valued for our creativity and contributions to society. We want to know that our stories matter.

At the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, we’re out to create a society characterized by this experience of belonging. In other words, we’re out to create the conditions of full cultural citizenship. Cultural citizenship doesn’t require passports or green cards. Rather, it means having a sense of agency, knowing that your culture and heritage are essential parts of our shared social fabric.

We like to say that the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) is not an outside agency coming in, it’s our inside agency coming out. As a people-powered department we exercise artistic license and are often inventing or redefining words. We’ve adopted the name of a government agency that doesn’t exist (but perhaps should), and invite anyone to enlist as a Citizen Artist, joining an action network dedicated to cultivating empathy, equity, and social imagination.

Too often, the word citizen is used to exclude those without certain legal papers. Even among those with a “legal” claim on the word, the rights of citizenship are far from equally applied. But with the USDAC you don’t need to be a U.S. citizen (or an artist) to be a Citizen Artist. We welcome anyone who wants to apply their gifts of creativity and imagination to a more just world. Unlike many politicians and pundits, we don’t define a good citizen as a consumer of goods, but as co-creator of our common good.

And it’s in this spirit that we invite you to co-create the 2016 People’s State of the Union.

Every January, the President delivers a State of the Union address. It’s a broadcast from one to many. But democracy is a conversation, not a monologue. Understanding the state of our union takes all of us reflecting in our own communities on our challenges and opportunities locally, nationally, and globally.

Between January 23–31, 2016, any individual or organization can host a Story Circle as part of this annual civic ritual. (Last year, folks in more than 150 communities hosted in cultural centers, living rooms, places of worship, libraries, public parks, and beyond.) Participants are invited to share their own take on the state of our union, either by reflecting on the following prompts or by creating their own prompts around a specific theme (such as education, the environment, or racial justice):

  • Share a story you think the next President absolutely needs to hear.
  • Share a story about something you have experienced that gave you insight into the state of our union.
  • Share a story about a moment you felt true belonging — or the opposite — in this country.

The Story Circle is a powerfully democratic mode of gathering, offering each participant the same time, respect, and attention as they share their truth. When you sign up to host a Story Circle — whether it’s a few folks in your own kitchen or a dozen simultaneous circles in a high school gym — you’ll get a free Toolkit that explains absolutely everything you need to know to organize, promote, and pull off your event, plus online training and technical assistance.

In partnership with CTZN, GOOD’s new app, scribes from each event (and individuals anywhere) will be able to easily upload stories to the #PSOTU2016 story portal where they can be browsed and shared. Then, as the culminating gesture, a diverse group of poets will draw inspiration from the stories to collaboratively compose the 2016 Poetic Address to the Nation, performed and broadcast live in February.

Yes, at the people-powered department our State of the Union Address is poem.

During this election year, with record numbers of people feeling politically disengaged, with a discourse focused so heavily on fear and exclusion, we desperately need new civic rituals that cultivate empathy, belonging, and a sense of agency; we need creative acts that invite us to envisage a state of union in which love is justice and justice is love; we need Story Circles that encourage deep listening and model a democratic culture rooted in participation and equity.

The People’s State of the Union is an act of full cultural citizenship and a reminder that the state of the union is something we create together every day. What story will you choose to share? Together, what culture will we choose to create?

Sign up at www.usdac.us/psotu.

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Artist, organizer, co-founder: U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, Nuns & Nones, Taproot. Writing from Tiwa territory, in ABQ, NM. www.adamhorowitz.org

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Adam Horowitz

Artist, organizer, co-founder: U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, Nuns & Nones, Taproot. Writing from Tiwa territory, in ABQ, NM. www.adamhorowitz.org