Yes, that’s right. You’re not misreading the headline. This weekend I had a chance to go to Berkeley, California and hang out at the home of my friend Joan Blades, one of the co-founders of MoveOn.org. “What??? How is that possible,” you ask? It’s possible because there is more common ground between left and right in this country than you might think. And Joan and I (and many others) intend to do our best to explore that ground, and force intransigent incumbent politicians to take action on the issues where we agree.
Joan and I were introduced almost two years ago by a mutual friend, Ralph Benko. Ralph concluded his introductory email between us with something like this line: “God help the politicians if the tea party and MoveOn.org ever agree on anything.” Well the time has come for us to find some agreement. If you disagree, let me ask you a few questions that I’ve asked many of my friends on the left and right.
How many of you voted for trillion-dollar deficits? I haven’t yet met the voter who did, yet representatives on both sides of the aisle continue to impose them on us.
How many of you think we have the premier education system in the world, where the dollars and are efforts are focused on our kids? Hmmm…none of you? Then why are so many of our politicians on both sides of the aisle wedded to the status quo, and we see so little change?
How many of you think that our criminal justice system is the best in the world, and the War on Drugs has been a tremendous success? Hmmm…anyone…left or right? No? Then why are so many of our incumbent representatives on both sides of the aisle so weak when it comes to making any real criminal justice reforms?
How many of you think that we have far too much unproductive, government mandated paperwork? Everyone? Then why can’t we get our elected representatives at all levels to do something about this?
There is much common ground on these and many other issues. And it is on these things Joan and I are focused, and on which our discussions focused on Saturday. I brought a couple of conservative friends, both in their early 30′s (and some homemade baked goods from my beautiful and talented wife Patty). As a relatively old guy (50), I was hoping my friends would add some youthful balance to my perspective. I brought the baked goods as an upfront peace-offering, knowing that no one can resist Patty’s baked goods. Joan had invited two of her friends from the left, creating a good mix of people, and the potential for some political fireworks.
I think my two guests were a bit nervous, as Joan is obviously a legend on the left, and they had never met or spoken to her. I was very comfortable, as I already knew Joan through emails and phone calls over the last two years. While we disagree strongly on many political issues, we’ve learned over time that we really like each other as people, and have a mutual respect not often found in cross-partisan dialogue.
We arrived at Joan’s house in the beautiful Berkeley Hills around 1 p.m. after making the tricky navigation on the tight winding streets in my ridiculously large Ford F350 pickup, which was about as out of place on the streets of Berkeley as a vehicle could be. I even felt a bit bad parking it on Joan’s street, hoping it wouldn’t draw the scorn of her neighbors upon her. After all, it says “Tea Party, the Original American Grassroots Revolution,” in large letters across the tailgate. As you might imagine, it was not exactly in tune with the rest of the bumper stickers in the neighborhood.
From here, I’ll quote from Joan’s great blog post on the Huffington Post about the event:
“Mark arrived at my door wearing his signature cowboy hat, big belt buckle and warm smile. But that was not all, he brought delicious baked goods made by his wife Patty and two friends to join our conversation. Once we’d introduced my friends and Mark’s friends and made sure everyone had what they needed, I apologized to Joe the reporter from the SF Chronicle for our plan to ignore him completely and we began our conversation.
This was a conversation that was a bit different than the standard Living Room Conversation because we had a reporter present and because of Mark and my roles in the conservative and progressive movement. I thanked everyone profusely for their willingness to have a public Living Room Conversation and we dug in. Mark asked me to tell his friends how MoveOn started and then we wanted to hear from Mark about how he helped start Tea Party Patriots. Generally we followed the suggested structure for a Living Room Conversation but to some extent Round two and three blurred together. This worked fine with a group that it turned out had no adversarial vibe at all. We were curious about each other and really wanted to understand how we might work together to make our democracy and our communities more successful.
The conversation was enthusiastic, lively and primarily focused on all the common ground we saw as well as revealing many issues we would like to talk more about. Right or left, none of us are comfortable with the degree of influence that big corporations have on government regulation.”
I think all six of us who participated could have talked late into the night, but I had promised my wife I’d be home by 6 for a dinner engagement, so we had to break off conversation earlier than all of us would have liked. We didn’t solve the problems of the world in one, three-hour meeting, but six people gained a better understanding that as human beings, we’re not as far apart as many politicians would like us to believe.
There are many things that divide us politically, and when the time comes, we’ll all still have our very partisan fights about those. But we can’t continue to buy into the overall politics of hate, perpetrated upon us by politicians and others in the ruling elite who find it quite profitable to keep us apart in order to maintain the status quo. When it serves the interests of “We the People,” we need to stand together and remind the politicians, they work for us, not the other way around.
Joan’s Living Room Conversations are intended to foster this approach, and I look forward to participating in many more. If you want to know more about Joan’s approach, or how you can host a similar conversation in your home, you can visit the website here.