People in conversation

Mixing It Up For the State of the Union

I don't know about you, but I generally watch the State-of-the-Union with people who think like me. That leaves all of us free to let loose our most partisan cheers, boos, and comments. With the need for everyone in this country to muscle-up our ability to talk with "others," here's an idea from the NoLabels people: Invite friends, neighbors, family members—including Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—to watch together.

Here’s the pitch to make when invite folks: "Let's get a political diverse group and watch the State-of-the-Union address together and see if we—and the leaders on our television—can identify common values and goals, and handle differences."

Tips on gathering the group

  • Ask people to come early enough that before the Address starts: (1) everyone knows who's there; (2) you can hear about what interests people in participating in a "mixed" watch party; (3) you can explain the monitoring task you're all going to be doing.
  • Agree on some simple ground rules. For this event, the most important rules probably are: First, not to talk over the President (and each other), and second, to keep things in the room respectful.
  • Try to avoid having just one person from any one political party. If you only know one person, ask him or her to bring a friend or two.

Monitoring ideas

1. Note what happens among Members of Congress. Observe the instances and number of times that:

  • All of Congress stands together
  • A single party stands
  • Booing
  • Other outcries
  • Clapping
  • Other observations

2. Note what happens among your own group watching the address. Observe the instances and number of times that:

  • Everyone reacted the same way
  • Reactions were different (or by some but not all)
  • Anyone got provoked by someone else's reaction
  • Other observations

After the speech

Even if people are eager to get home afterwards, try to do a few important things:

  • Compare notes on what you monitored.
  • Try to have at least one quick go-round in which people are invited to mention one thing they appreciated about the event.
  • If there's time, these questions might lead to interesting conversation:
  • What did you learn from watching the State of the Union Address with this mixed group that you probably would not have learned by watching it only with people who share your political orientation?
  • Where was your curiosity piqued by the reactions of other people watching with you? With more time what would you like to learn from one or more of your fellow viewers about where their responses were “coming from”?
  • What suggestions do you have for the design and conduct of future bipartisan "viewings" of televised political events?

Mary Jacksteit is an Associate of Essential Partners.