Civil Discourse on Tap As Conservatives and Liberals Meet
Article and photos by Sally Wagoner
On September 30, “Conservative” and “Liberal” leaning community members came together to seek commonalities while acknowledging differences through civil discourse. The structured gathering was facilitated by Michigan Braver Angels hosts Sarah Brabbs and Jim Distelrath. Designed to address division and polarity, these unique and constructive forums have been occurring in Michigan and throughout our nation.
The Red and Blue Workshop’s goals are to “reduce stereotyped thinking, clarify disagreements, build relationships and find common ground through listening and learning rather than declaring and debating.”
Based upon feedback from participants, it was a successful event.
“There is a lot more that connects Republicans & Democrats than divides us,” stated Dr. Bob Clouse, following his participation in the workshop.
One of the beginning exercises of the day separated the “Reds” and the “Blues” into their own camps. Each was asked to list the stereotypes that they felt the “others” had about their party affiliation. The groups then identified the “nuggets of truth” in the perceived stereotype – and proceeded to give a corrected statement.
For instance, a Conservative thought is that Liberals think they (the Conservatives) are “2nd Amendment Zealots.” The Conservative’s responses to that were: a) Not all Reds want or own a gun, b) It is about the Right to own a gun, not about the gun itself, and c) We value the 2nd Amendment to preserve the safety of self and loved ones. And what is the “correction” that can be gleaned by the Reds about this stereotype? “Guns are a tool, and some people misuse them.”
“It was wonderful to have respectful and attentive dialogue,” stated one participant.
The questions posed to both the Reds and the Blues sometimes caused an initial rise of emotions. “Is that what they think of us”? But by giving the time, opportunity and safe space to look into the statements a little bit deeper, the participants were able to tease out the subtleties of their particular position, and the beliefs that others have about them.
During the “Fishbowl” part of the workshop, each side was able to “eavesdrop” on the other as they discussed two very targeted questions with their own people: “Why do you think your sides’ values and policies are good for the country?” And “what are your reservations or concerns about your own side?”
“It was nice to watch others start to see their ‘opponents’ as humans again,” expressed another attendee.
The workshop was held at Newaygo Church of Christ in, whose Pastor (and workshop attendee) Jonathan Riedel generously offered the space rental for free. Lunch was catered by Hit the Road Joe of Newaygo, and provided a nourishing breaking of bread together. The event was free for participants, although some did make a donation to Braver Angels with their registration. The Fremont Area Community Foundation supported the workshop with a financial contribution as well.
“It warmed my heart to witness members of our community - folks with different viewpoints - show up and invest in this experience,” stated Sally Kane, one of the local organizers of the workshop. “These workshops are like an olive branch. My hope is that insights gained will carry over into all aspects of daily life.”
“We hope to bring people of diverse political persuasions together again, especially as we move toward the next Presidential election,” added Sally Wagoner, the other co-coordinator.
On October 16, CBS “Sunday Morning” broadcasted a segment of the Red and Blue Workshop that was held recently in Traverse City. It can be viewed online at www.cbsnews.com/video/bridging-the-divide-gathering-red-and-blue-together/.
Gloria Switzer, a participant from Fremont, described her experience well: “After attending the Braver Angels workshop, I came away with a renewed spirit in humankind and hope for the state of our nation. And two significant insights. My first insight was that all of us there, regardless of party affiliation, had been ‘brainwashed’ by the media with its stereotypical blaming, shaming and ‘othering’ of one another and issues of the day! Listening to one another in a safe environment with unbiased moderators, one red and one blue, brought attention to my second significant insight; we are not enemies!”
Braver Angels is a national organization with a growing constituency in Michigan. In person and on-line workshops and events cover areas such as debates, book discussions, a film club, and the building of “Alliances” of Conservatives and Liberals in a community. More information can be found at www.BraverAngels.org.
For information about possible future local events, contact Sally Kane (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sally Wagoner (email@example.com). Donations to the Braver Angels organization will help support its mission, and its presence in Michigan. Donate online at: https://braverangels.org/donate-alliance. Please put the number “122” in the Field Org ID to support events in Michigan. Or send a check to Braver Angels, 733 Third Ave, Fl 16, NY, NY 10017 – in memo write in “122 Michigan”.
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