This post was inspired by Dan Rather, who came to Nashville as part of his tour with his new book, What Unites Us. Purchase it from your favorite independent bookseller (in Nashville, that’s Parnassus Books)!
By Kennedy Hampton and Walden Farrell
That’s the percentage of Democrats who have few or no Republican friends, according to Pew Research Center. And it’s not much better for Republicans – 55% say they have few or no friends who are Democrats.
How can we possibly bridge a seemingly insurmountable political divide if we never even talk to anyone who thinks differently than we do?
It’s impossible to think about What Unites Us if all you ever hear is what divides us.
We may be high school students, but we aren’t powerless. And so when our librarian offered to start clubs for both the high school Republicans and Democrats at our school, we jumped at the chance to join them and to take a leadership role in them.
And once a month, we meet together – Republicans and Democrats, to have a civil discussion about policy.
And you know what we’ve discovered? There’s a lot more than unites us than divides us, if we just take the time to talk to each other.
Here are our perspectives:
At Hume-Fogg, my high school, republicans are definitely a minority. In fact, in the mock election we had at school last year, only 15% voted for Donald Trump. As a girl raised in a conservative home and also being a student at Hume-Fogg, it seemed that students would argue with one another and judge someone who did not feel the same way that they did. I didn’t always feel comfortable sharing my perspective because of fear of being judged.
With that being said, when I signed up for Republican Club (which I later became president of), I was concerned not a lot of students would sign up. But we have a very diverse group of about 20 students. What was beautiful about having this club was a sense of unity and the no judge zone we were given when we spoke about what we believe.We discuss topics, read articles, keep up with current events, and have guest speakers.
Since our librarian, Ms. Smithfield, sponsors both the Republican and Democrat club, we started having monthly bipartisan lunch discussions with both clubs and anyone else who wanted to join us. These “civil conversations” gave both clubs an opportunity to come together and talk about heavy topics, hear other perspectives, all while eating pizza.
Luckily for me, the president of the Democrat Club, Walden, is actually a good friend of mine. We both play volleyball together here at Hume Fogg and have always been friends since we met, never letting our political views get in the way. We often talk about our clubs and and what would be good for our next bipartisan discussion. So, in a way, our political differences are actually making us better friends.
Unlike Kennedy, I am not in the minority in the communities I belong to. Though the state I call home consistently votes republican, I live in a relatively liberal city, in a very liberal family, and go to a very liberal school. I am seldom punished socially for my views or told I am wrong. I have come to realize that this is not the case for my republican friends. With the introduction of two new clubs at school, the high school Republicans and high school Democrats club, we have tried to create a safe space to express ideas, educate ourselves, and consider opposing viewpoints. I am the president of the high school Democrats club, and during the times we meet we try to learn more about important issues of the time such as DACA, gun control, global warming, and freedom of speech.
Though Kennedy and I always knew we had opposing viewpoints on several issues, it has never come in the way of our friendship. Over time, we have learned to politely discuss our opinions with each other in an attempt to understand the other viewpoint.
Along with the help of our sponsor Mrs. Smithfield, we try to mimic these conversations on a larger scale in our monthly bipartisan discussions. We discuss our viewpoints freely and civilly without it feeling like we are there to prove each other wrong. I always leave our discussions with a better idea of exactly where I stand on an issue, as well as a new appreciation for my friends and their views. By learning the stories of my republican counterparts, and hearing exactly what their concerns are, it brings to my attention ideas that I could otherwise easily ignore. These kinds of discussions have connected people with different viewpoints and helped everyone to feel heard. And since we read a few short articles from different perspectives in preparation for our discussion, I’ve experienced a different point of view before the discussion even starts.
These bipartisan discussions has shown conservatives and liberals that they have a voice that is valued, that we can be civil, that we can always set aside political differences and be friends. What goes on just in the walls of the school, sets an example for not just our school and students, but the community. It shows the ways you can value one other, be familiar with the other side, and focus on more facts than hatred. This kind of discussion between political parties seems to be lacking in our government today, and we think that what we are doing here at school is what our elected officials SHOULD be doing. Though we study U.S. Government in school, maybe it is about time the government starts to learn from us.
So we’re taking it to the next level. We are starting #projectcivamerica because we think that every school, library, community center, and household could benefit from what we are doing in high school -reaching out to ALL members of our community, reading a few articles on a topic from different perspectives, and coming together to talk about them each month. Follow us on twitter at @projectciv or facebook @projectcivamerica to find out about our topic of the month and ways to support civility in your community. Join a projectciv discussion or host one yourself. You’ll be reminded what unites us.