By Joan Blades — On December 4, 2011, the Living Room Conversations Website went live and I co-hosted a demonstration Living Room Conversation gathering with my conservative partner Amanda Kathyrn Roman. I’m still feeling the glow. I expanded my understanding of where we might find common ground across party lines around reducing the influence of big money in politics, and people participating in the conversation expressed interest in a future Living Room Conversation about immigration. What a pleasure conversing respectfully and constructively with a small diverse group that included a Republican mayor and a Republican candidate for state elected office. Intimate, structured conversations work!
I wrote the following note to invite my guests to the Living Room Conversation which took place on December 4th. Now I’d like to invite both individuals and organizations to use the materials on our website to have a living room conversation and then tell us about it! We have so much to learn and together! This holiday season I’m dreaming of tens of thousands of Living Room Conversations happening across our nation next year.
I live in a community of people that I’m sure want this country to be a great place to live both now and in the future for our children and grandchildren. Yet when I watch our leaders and media, the focus seems to be primarily on our political differences. Some of us believe that the risks of climate change make it the most urgent issue that we must address together. Others believe it is our economy or big government that are the urgent issues to address. I find myself disheartened and doubting that our leaders have any idea of how to change the polarized game of politics and to make meaningful progress.
While watching this sad game played on the national and local stages, I wonder if just maybe, common sense and respectful conversation within a community might result in more constructive understanding of our diverse perspectives and a more healthy approach to achieving the big goal that we all desire — a bright future for our communities and our children.
Perhaps we could help lead the leaders out of this destructive political bickering we find ourselves engaged in again and again, despite the earnest desire many have to find common ground. Perhaps here in our local communities with 6 people of good will who hold different view points, we can begin to discover how we can have a meaningful conversation that will help us exit this hall of mirrors.
One doesn’t need to believe that global warming is a threat to agree that the U.S. needs a new modern energy grid. Everyone wants government to be more efficient and regulations that make the playing field fair without creating undue burdens. Clean water and air are a common good. Locked in perpetual distrust and competitive bickering we render ourselves ineffective and fail to create that future we all desire.
Thanks so much for considering this opportunity to show that people with different political views can have rewarding conversations about important issues that conclude with a sense of appreciation or even partnership and willingness to work together for a better future.
As the co-founder of both MoveOn and MomsRising, I’ve had the privilege of being on the cutting edge of some profound changes in the way citizens engage in politics online and off. In 1998 it felt like we caught a tiger by the tail when MoveOn had 500,000 people sign the one sentence petition to, “Censure the President and move on to pressing issues facing the country.” In 2000, MoveOn raised over 2 million dollars in contributions for House and Senate candidates online. That was extraordinary at that time. MoveOn was part of the biggest antiwar movement in the history of the world. It still breaks my heart that the huge wave of citizen oppositions failed to stop the war in Iraq from being started. MomsRising is a new vibrant voice in the women’s movement, it already has more than a million members and works with more than 150 policy partners. Through my work with both of these organizations, I’ve come to trust the good will and common sense of average citizens more than anything.
The Living Room Conversations project leverages the common sense of average citizens, and believes that through a movement beginning with intimate local conversations, citizens from across the political spectrum just might be able to short circuit the destructive political dynamics we find ourselves trapped in. Living Room Conversations is an open source effort to share best practices for hosting small structured conversations so that people with diverse views can have constructive heartfelt conversations. We are eager to learn how to do this even better. Might a grassroots conversation movement be able to usher in a culture of respectful civil dialogue? Co-host or join a conversation to find out!
This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.