It’s simple! Open a blank email, write a story from your experience that illuminates the state of our union, add your name and location, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read on to learn why.
The People’s State of the Union has another week to go, and we already have some amazing stories to share. All of the quotes below are excerpts from stories that have already been uploaded to the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture’s #PSOTU2016 Story Portal.
For this nine-day National Action, people around the country are forming Story Circles in their homes, schools, workplaces, places of worship, and community groups. They are telling their own stories their own ways, either in response to the #PSOTU2016 questions or questions they choose themselves:
- Share a story you think the next President absolutely needs to hear.
- Share a story about something you have experienced that gave you an insight into the state of our union.
- Share a story about a time you felt a sense of belonging—or the opposite—to this nation.
Even if there’s no Story Circle planned for your own community, you can share any story that helps shine a light on the state of our union. Just type your story into a blank email, add an image if you like, and send it to email@example.com. It will automatically become part of the feed that goes to the #PSOTU2016 Story Portal.
If you add your name, location, and email, anyone who is moved by your story or wants to connect with you will be able to find you.
This woman asked me to explain to her how it was possible that Islam justifies killing so many people in the name of religion. She said all she knew of Muslims was what she saw in the media, and she wanted to know more. And I realized I had a huge opportunity to give this woman some insight, to help shift her thinking and to show at least one person some of the beauty in a religion whose capacity for beauty is so rarely discussed in this country, during this short time we had together.
And I thought: what can I do in my life to make these opportunities come up more often? It’s so rare to be able get to a safe space in the conversation where people feel they won’t be judged, where they’ll be able to engage in a way that they might otherwise be afraid to, and ask questions that allow for the possibility of growth and understanding instead of unexamined fear. (Mia Bertelli, Santa Fe, NM)
It’s not too late to host your own Story Circle either. You can sign up here to download a free Toolkit and find other resources to host a Story Circle before #PSOTU2016 ends on January 31. A Story Circle event can be a few friends around a kitchen table or a hundred people dividing into circles of folding chairs in a high-school gym. It’s an amazing experience of democratic dialogue where everyone’s story counts and every story deserves attention and respect.
It wasn’t until 1995 that I got involved in Labor organizing in Chinatown. There was a case with a restaurant paying their workers 75 cents an hour. This was 1995. I was 16 years old and thought I’d see a bunch of hippies in Birkenstocks protesting. I had no idea I was going to see people who looked just like me—Chinese immigrants, working class families. I felt, for the first time, a sense of belonging. My family got involved. The workers won that case, winning back $1.1 million for nearly 60 workers in 1997. (Betty Yu, Brooklyn, NY)
Most of us are full of opinions (myself included). When you ask about the state of our union, we quickly tell you it’s solid or in need of repair, who’s helping and who’s not. Of course, our assessments don’t always agree. Sometimes the disagreement is so profound that discussion turns into argument and friends into foes. But when we share actual stories instead of opinions—specific moments we’ve seen or experienced—several things change.
First, each of us is the World’s Foremost Expert on our own experiences. Better than anyone else in the world, I know what I have seen, done, and felt. No single story can say it for everyone. One-by-one, our stories build up layers of truth. Democracy is a conversation, not a monologue.
A couple of years ago, we were up in this tiny village, called Anton Chico, in the valley. It’s very isolated in a big growing area. Farmers used to grow there for Seeds of Change, one of the first organic seed companies. Over the years, it’s kind of declining. We’ve been in a drought here, but there’s more water in Anton Chico.
We were up there, and we kicked off the first annual Anton Chico Seed Exchange. Maybe thirty people showed up, all walks of life, all brought their seeds and exchanged them. While we were doing that, we activated people to tell their stories. It was an exchange of seeds and an exchange of stories.
On Anton Chico there’s a particular kind of corn grown called the Concha Corn. Many people brought their Concha Corn seeds. And this seed provoked deep conversation. It’s been grown for generations. This elderly man stood up, and he held the Concha Corn in his hand, and he said, “If we lose this corn, we lose our culture.” It still gives me shivers, hearing him say that. It deeply rooted in me the absolute importance of the seed here in New Mexico. (Chrissie Orr, Santa Fe, NM)
Second, multiple stories honor the complexity of issues, rather than reducing them to simple pros and cons: immigration, for or against? Gun control, for or against? When we are truly present to each other’s stories, we can discern the feelings and realities that infuse our stories. Deep listening encourages us to consider responses that are truly worthy of all our stories.
Throughout the whole first year of having health insurance in the U.S., I keep thinking “at least I have time, energy, and motivation to spend all this time on phone to investigate matters such as what are my blood tests going to cost me.” If my situation is anything to go by, this thing we call a healthcare system cultivates a great deal of fear and frustration on a daily basis. And many people don’t have the capacity to minimize the damage this complex, incomprehensible system can do to us. Which is why I also keep thinking, “I don’t like it. Not at all. It isn’t right. It doesn’t make sense.” (Veena Vasista, Santa Fe, NM)
Third, stories are extremely useful. Artists use Story Circles to gather dialogue and incidents that help to shape scripts or murals. Visitors to the #PSOTU2016 Story Portal can browse stories by theme, searching for those speak to their own situations and opportunities. When the USDAC published An Act of Collective Imagination, a publication that shared some of our generative cultural policy ideas, we grounded each idea in stories uploaded to last year’s PSOTU Story Portal. When you share your story, you contribute to a body of knowledge that can help move the world.
#PSOTU2016 ends on January 31, and we’d love to have all stories uploaded within a week after that. An amazing group of poets will be working to create the 2016 Poetic Address to the Nation, inspired in part by your stories. It will be performed at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia, videotaped by PhillyCAM, and live-streamed nationally courtesy of Free Speech TV. So if you upload your story, you just may hear a snippet of it on TV!
Just open a blank email, write a story from your experience that illuminates the state of our union, add your name and location, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was looking at the list of 2015 obits (nothing like a memento mori to make one feel luck to be alive) and came across this fascinating story of the singer Lesley Gore, who passed away in February. Here’s a version of “You Don’t Own Me” she did at a feminist gathering not long before she died.