#SOTU2014: Why Bother? It matters!

The following post is written by Megan Dunne, spring intern for the League of Women Voters of New Jersey

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Play along with LWV SOTU Bingo!

I don’t have to tell you that we are witnessing an age almost unrivaled in partisan politics and government gridlock. Pick your poison among the various pundits the 24-hour news networks and the current political climate will be blamed on a whole host of factors. It feels like there’s a whole lot of talking and not a whole lot of doing.

So, as the State of the Union address approaches, why bother watching it? Isn’t it just a formality anyway?

I argue that given the current state of our union, it couldn’t be more important to watch. Here’s why:

1. It is uninterrupted.

Other than dozens of applause breaks in the chamber (which, by the way, does set my teeth on edge), this speech will be uninterrupted. No leading questions, no snide remarks, no commercials, nobody cuing the music to hurry him off stage. Just the President speaking about where we are, and where we can go next.

2. It isn’t a stump speech.

President Obama is in his final term. Since he is not trying to get elected again, he is not trying to woo voters. He will talk policy, including addressing issues originally on his election (and reelection) platform that he hasn’t had much success with yet; that is, immigration and climate change. In this sense, this year’s State of the Union Address presents the opportunity for the speech to return to its original intent: “He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

3. The media will be cropping and splicing it immediately…

…so make sure you see it in its original context. A speech is an entire body, not a series of disjointed statements, and these edits can be the equivalent of Photoshopping an image into something entirely different than what it is in reality. Before the soundbites are distilled and spin attached to them, make sure you understand the nature of the discussion. The only way to do that is to watch the speech.

4. Hold our representatives accountable.

With the State of the Union being a policy map or forecast, we will hear what President Obama hopes to do. As citizens, we have a right to have our voices adequately represented in government. With rights come obligations, and in this case, the obligation is this: If you disagree with what President Obama maps out, contact your representative and tell them. Likewise, if you’re thrilled with what he proposes, let them know. Representatives and Senators wouldn’t be in a position to make these decisions if we didn’t put them there, so our opinions matter a great deal to what they will do.

Find your representative’s contact info here.

5. Democracy works best when we talk about it!

And I don’t just mean by shooting emails to your government reps. An equally important facet of our democracy is an informed citizenry, and one way to be an informed voter is to watch this address tonight and talk about it with the people around you—coworkers, classmates, significant others. The Founding Fathers relished debate with their peers as a means to make the best decisions when voting and maintain sound logic in government decision making. Today, this informed yet informal debate is easier than ever to access: tweet about it using #LWV and #SOTU to be a part of the greater discussion!

There is a lot of discontent among the people about what is going on in Washington these days. Voting is one critical way to do something about it, but not the only way. Be an engaged citizen, watch the speech and talk about it. The State of the Union Address presents us with an opportunity to use our power as citizens in our democracy, use it!

Finally, use this moment of inspiration to be civically engaged all year, not just on one day.  Join the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, join our conversation, and use your voice to affect politics big and small. It is our government, engage it!

Tune in to watch President Obama’s 5th State of the Union Address, Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 9:00 pm EST. Join the conversation using the hashtags #SOTU and #LWV

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