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Questions about your work in red-blue dialogue

Here’s a thoughtful message and some great questions from Jacob Hess, one of our two featured speakers on next Wednesday’s confab call on red-blue dialogue.  See the full description of the confab, and register here if you’d like to join us.  We’re excited that 110 people have already signed up!

JacobHessRush Limbaugh taught me, in my teenage years, that liberals were trying to destroy America. And I believed him.

They were the enemy. And I was a combatant in a desperate culture war against them for the soul of America…

Like many of my conservative community, I felt I had little reason to believe otherwise….

Then I made a decision to actually spend time with ‘liberals’ – going to school with them, breaking bread with them and talking deeply with them.

And in ten years of looking, what I found was astounding: not once did I encounter a liberal out to destroy America. What were they doing instead? Trying to figure out ways to make the world a better place – something strangely familiar to what I believed as a religious, building-the-kingdom kid from Utah.

I began co-facilitating liberal-conservative dialogue courses at the University of Illinois. I began interviewing liberal and conservative citizens to understand subtle distinctions in contrasting narratives. I fell in love with the Public Conversations Project, Living Room Conversations and an adorable liberal named Phil.

And with each step forward, some things kept growing inside me: Anger – anger that I had been lied to – convinced for so much of my life that “those liberals” were something they were not. Sorrow – sadness that the majority of my friends, family and conservative community still lived with boiling political resentments and fear. And delight – a thrill that I had found another way – a way of conversing that had dissipated these fears and resentments entirely – filling me, instead, with new insights, discoveries and the sweetness that comes from seeing loveable people as they really are.

I am not an anomaly. When I share my experience with conservative friends and family, I almost universally see hunger in them for similar experiences – this, alongside bone-deep weariness of all the animosity, all the hostility and all the relentless political sound bytes about “those idiots on the other side.”

I am reaching out to my NCDD colleagues today because I often feel isolated and a bit lonely in my work. I’m eager to connect more formally and more regularly with others who also sense the enormous possibility of transpartisan and liberal-conservative work – and who share my ache to make it more popular than Rush Limbaugh.

In advance of a confab call Phil and I are doing next Wednesday, there are 3 questions we would love to ask anyone in NCDD – especially those with a particular interest in the socio-political divide. I’ll post them below in the comments, and I hope you will respond.

In a nutshell, the three questions are:

  1. Could you tell us a little about your experience with red-blue or political dialogue?
  2. Do you have ideas on how we can secure trust and buy-in from different sides, or how we can expand transpartisan work in the future?
  3. What current dialogue efforts or initiatives do you believe hold real potential for the future of red-blue dialogue work?

If there is anything else you’d like to raise or share – please do. We’re all ears – and will share all ideas that come up in our written report to the group.

Thank you for your attention, NCDD. It means a lot…You have my promise as a qualitative researcher: We will report back key themes of everything you share!

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  1. Jacob Hess says:

    Question 1… Please give Phil and I a glimpse of your current interest and your past experience (if any) with red-blue or political dialogue – whether participating in a group, facilitating a group, pursuing conversation with one person over time, or something else, etc. We’d like to have a better and broader sense of the landscape of good work happening all around – and will be reporting back to NCDD everything we hear.

    • David Kimball says:

      I was a facilitator for Conversation Cafe for several years. The problem I had was that it seemed that only progressives were willing to come out and discuss things. As much as I tried to emphasize that the dialogues were non-partisan and did everything I could to have as diversified group feel comfortable, it was a losing cause. After an initial romance with the discussions, there remained a core of people who would come out not to discuss, but to meet other people and/or to do something else besides watch yet more TV. We were a good option.

      • Stewart says:

        Last year I arranged to teach some collaboration skills to members of a state legislature. The invitation came from the liberal side…no one from the other side showed up.

      • Phil Neisser says:

        Dear David Kimball:
        Thanks for your thoughts. I am interested in the idea of organizing a discussion by having an elected official as a host or guest. That seems promising. On the other hand I imagine many elected officials considering such action to be too risky. Do you have any thoughts about that?
        – Phil

    • Like what you and Phil have undertaken, I teamed up with conservative transpartisan activist Joseph McCormick to write an ebook called Reuniting America. We found that even though we were coming from different places, we were “going to” something similar … an integrated, include and transcend view of politics, looking for the healthiest expressions of both the progressive and conservative impulse … asking the questions, how do we wish to progress and what do we want to conserve?

      I’m also the co-author with cellular biologist Bruce Lipton of Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There From Here http://www.wakeuplaughing.com/SponEvo_Info.html where we look at what an evolved body politic might be … and it includes the work of many who have brought diverse sides together in constructive, breakthrough dialogue.

      • Steve – where can people purchase the Reuniting America ebook you and Joseph wrote? We have it posted in the resource center at https://www.ncdd.org/rc/item/5041, but I just checked and the site where the book was available before (http://transpartisan-affiliates.org/) is no longer available. Is there another link you can send me?

      • Also, Spontaneous Evolution isn’t in the resource center yet. Could you add it via the form at https://www.ncdd.org/rc/add — I’d love to see it added!

      • Phil Neisser says:

        Steve, I think a lot of the work done by Reuniting America but I also have the thought that the “reuniting” idea, in the end, might lead back to polarization because it does not ready anyone to see remaining disagreements as part of “success.” Thus I love the idea of organizing conversations around the goal of how to naming problems, in part because sometimes in the pursuit of common terms people on each side newly grasp how it is that people on the other side understand society’s problems (what their terms mean, and how they hear our terms). — Phil

    • Our organization is dedicated to giving citizens greater leverage over policy through combinations of “personal” and mass media. We’ve been doing this in various ways for a decade. The issue of the partisan divide has, distressingly, grown worse over the years, while the broad agreements by the majority of Americans has not decreased – and may be increasing. Partisan rancor is a serious obstacle to the unity needed to make significant change, so we have been involved with red-blue projects and the transpartisan movement since 2006.

      We are now focused on finding Citizen Representatives who are chosen by a large number of people and can speak articulately in public and media about the issues their “constituency” feels strongly about. We use an online app that lets people choose representatives and then we train and deploy them, as citizen journalists and/or representatives. Briefly, we focused on MONEY IN POLITICS last year, bringing 2 citizen reporters to the political conventions and running a TV series of their adventures there. You can see accounts of these efforts at our website.

      • Phil Neisser says:

        Evelyn, Thanks for doing work empowering people to be citizens by getting involved. My question about that is: how to do we go from there to dialogue across difference, and don’t we need to take that step? Also: is it hard to go there if those doing the talking feel obligated to represent their side?
        Also I apologize for not knowing more about RedBlueUS and the Tea Party Occupy Wall Street Connection (TPOWS) projects. They seem like projects we need. On the other hand, what you report brings up a difficulty: when is a good time to ask people to talk across party lines? Right before an election is bad for one reason, and soon after an election is bad for another reason!
        — Phil

    • Tom Taylor says:

      I was the Associate Director of the FL Conflict Resolution Consortium Consensus Center for 20 years. For the last 3 years I have continued to do consulting work volunteer and teach. We have a group in Tallahassee, The Village Square that is doing explicit trans-partisan work: http://tothevillagesquare.org/

      • Phil Neisser says:

        Dear Tom:
        I would like to learn more about the FL Conflict Resolution Consortium Consensus Center. The word “consensus” does, however, suggest a possible limitation when it comes to moving toward widespread, inclusive political dialogue. Is the goal consensus? If so, in what sense?
        On another note, I think the speed dating idea is brilliant!
        — Phil

    • Sarah Read says:

      We have helped facilitate several interfaith discussions, which included discussions on increasing civility in political discussions, and also community disputes with a wide range of political views.

      • My introduction to liberal conservative dialogue was working in for 7 years in the 90s on pro-life-pro-choice dialogue directing the Network for Life and Choice at SFCG. That convinced me about why it’s crucial, and that it’s possible if people feel a deep need to make a connection across the political divide. That’s the crucial thing in my experience – a real, strong felt need. Like you have felt, Jacob. Sometimes it’s external reality that creates that – a presenting decision, a town torn apart, an act of violence. But the inconsistency of professed values and the reality of dehumanizing other people can create that profound sense of need. In continued work with Public Conversations Project that is often rooted in a religious/spiritual belief system but not always. In recent years I’ve been impressed by – and privileged to support – community-building work – Mark Shoul of HANDS across North Quabbin is an example – that doesn’t explicitly say it’s about overcoming political polarization but takes on a form of community-organizing and network building that creates relationships across liberal-conservative lines for the the sake of their shared love of the place they live in and realization that they can’t make it without each other.

      • Phil Neisser says:

        Dear Sarah
        I would like to learn more about your interfaith discussions, as I find that approach very promising ((even though I am not religious).
        — Phil

      • Phil Neisser says:

        Dear Mary
        I agree that a great way to understand the task is to think about building connections because of shared love for a place and the reality of interdependence, rather than because there is common ground to be found. That seems to me very promising.
        — Phil

  2. Jacob Hess says:

    Question 2… Compared to other areas of dialogue, there have been some unique challenges with spreading transpartisan or liberal-conservative dialogue efforts. The language and framing around socio-political issues, for instance, can be so distinct and emotionally charged that well-intentioned dialogues can be literally predisposed to fail (see Sandy’s 2009 paper on these barriers, at https://www.ncdd.org/rc/item/3387). Liberals sometimes see dialogue as preserving the status quo – while conservatives sometimes see dialogue as reflecting an implicitly liberal agenda – “come participate in this dialogue for social justice.” In light of this, how can we secure trust and buy-in from different sides? In view of these and other challenges, do you have any ideas or suggestions for expanding transpartisan work in the future?

    • David Kimball says:

      The best way that I found to include transpartisanship was to have an event hosted or at least sponsored by a government representative (House or Senate of either State or Federal). These people have an obligation to listen to all sides and people of all sides look for an opportunity to be heard by their representatives. The event does not necessarily have to be facilitated by the rep. But having the rep there will bring out people on both sides – those who want to maintain the status quo, those who want to progress into new territory, and those who want to retreat to safer and more secure times.

    • As someone fascinated with language here is an idea that might have come from Michael Ostrelenk … a progressive / conservative dictionary that playfully shows similarities and differences in how “old” words are experienced differently, and perhaps some new ones both sides could agree on. For example, I’ve been using the phrase “corporate state” to describe the two-headed beast in the living room that seems capable of much more damage than either the corporation or the state could accomplish alone. This phrase — it also may have come from Michael — seems to resonate with all sides. We need more of these mutually-agreed on definitions that weave together both progressive and conservative understandings into one “truth” at least 75% of us can agree on.

      • Arthur Pena says:

        Hi Steve,
        Yes, “corporate state”. Exactly. “Crony Capitalism” also seems to work well as an identifier of “the beast”, resonating with both marxists/socialists and libertarians.

    • In 2006 we launched an experiment called RedBlueUS, matching liberals and conservatives in online dialogue. Immediately the problems you bring up surfaced. You put it very well, although I’d say: Liberals see dialogue as part of their identity, while Conservatives see it as a leftyish waste of time. In 2006, Conservatives were in power and seemingly ascending, another reason they were less interested. I think this attitude may be changing now, providing an opening. A related issue was that the very phraseology we used to describe the project contained words that we thought were universal but that Conservatives pointed out to us gave away our Liberal orientation.

      In 2011-12, we created the Tea Party Occupy Wall Street Connection (TPOWS), based on the similarities around some issues that these opposites shared and alot of connecting going on at the level of communities (see http://pinterest.com/evelynmessinger/the-tea-party-occupy-connection-chronicle/). Some things went really well, but this project had a fatal flaw: the upcoming presidential election forced everyone into one side or the other, and people were swayed by the partisan propaganda bombarding them.

    • The best right-left dialogue I’ve personally experienced has been within the direct democracy movement. This tends to draw folks from the Green Party type left (concerned about the concentration of power in corporations and financial institutions) and Tea Party Libertarian right (concerned about the concentration of power in government). Because we share common views on citizen empowerment, we could at least listen to each others’ very different views on issues like gun control, welfare, and climate change. I was shocked by how inspired I was by someone who launched an initiative to destroy a program about which I care deeply. I hated his politics, but liked him and came to see weaknesses in my own side.

    • Michael Briand says:

      Better comprehension of the nature and depth of the challenge would be a good place to start.

      In her IJP2 paper, Sandy mentions the importance of factors such as conservatives’ conviction that absolute Truth exists and is knowable (which has a counterpart in the conviction of many “progressives” that it’s the absolute Truth that truth is relative), and the basing of individual identity on the content of belief rather than on the process by which beliefs are formed and sustained.

      Sandy’s reporting puts me in mind of the invaluable contributions made to our understanding of psychology by scholars such as A. O. Hirschman, George Lakoff, Chistopher Lasch, Martin Buber, Lawrence Kohlberg, and John Burton (the latter two of which are heavily indebted to the work of Abraham Maslow). Yet I seldom see references to publications such as Hirschman’s “The Rhetoric of Reaction” in discussions of dialogue and deliberation.

      Members of the D and D community who are trained as psychotherapists, community psychologists, or social workers understand better than most of us (certainly better than I do) how deeply people’s sensitivities, perceptions, interpretations, values, and priorities are rooted in their basic psychic needs. Public dialogue and deliberation, of course, cannot—and should not—be reduced to therapy. Its strategies and methods must take into account much more than that. I wonder, though, how much progress can be made, and how swiftly, without greater attention being paid to what has been written about human needs, the psychology of personality, and the ability and willingness to reflect critically on one’s most deeply held beliefs.

      Pressing questions exist as well concerning the way people understand their ethical obligations to one another, and concerning the effects of ideology, “civil religion,” and other socially constructed phenomena. But these matters are even more complex, if that’s possible, than the questions I cited above.

      • Stewart says:

        Start by talking about what all human beings share in common. I’m informed by an African American friend who was on the board of a wall street financial institution in the 1980’s as diversity initiatives were percolating. All of the older white males turned to her as the logical person to take charge. She said she would however her diversity program would be different – it would speak of the common humanity and aspirations we all share.

      • Phil Neisser says:

        The older I get the more I understand the importance of what you have perhaps understood for a long time; the need to understand and respect human limits when we try to accomplish political goals. People do indeed have psychic needs and limitations, and efforts to create dialogic political conversations are doomed to fail if they demand that people transcend those limits, or they demand that people leave their psychic needs to one side. And for sure I need help understanding this better. What I’m hoping is that, paradoxically, by aiming at consideration of the content of people’s views, rather than aiming at meeting their specific needs (for safety, unity, change, continuity, etc.) dialogues can respect those differing needs.

    • Tom Taylor says:

      One recent example done at The Village Square (http://tothevillagesquare.org/) was “Speed Dating” with local officials (Rep & Dem) who spent 7 minutes each at tables with a room full of citizens. It was a great way for everyone to see each other as real human beings concerned about a wide range of real issues: http://tothevillagesquare.org/?s=speed.

    • Sarah Read says:

      We address a number of these challenges in a recent essay on dialogue that we prepared for the National Institute for Civil Discourse. You can read the essay here: http://buildingdialogue.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/nicd-article-web-version-mar-26-2013.pdf To have productive dialogue on an “issue” or navigate differences in information, you first have to establish some relationship and trust. This takes time, careful planning, and skilled facilitators. Many of the skills used by transformative mediators are helpful for supporting a group. There need to be multiple opportunities to meet, and it helps to have groups, leaders, or others who can build an invitational bridge to different groups. Often you need to start with a small, diverse group and expand through their networks. And you have to be ready to really listen and accept a wide range of thoughts. Starting with something like listening circles where people share their thoughts and hear each other on a very human level (no debate, no positions, no conclusions)and moving to adapted conversation or world cafes is a good place to start. For more on facilitation skills useful when serious divides are present see this series of blog posts: http://buildingdialogue.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/dealing-with-conflcit-in-the-community/ We have found that combining some of these softer dialogue structures with presentations that help people think about the structure and triggers related to their conflicts has led to some very powerful dialogue.

    • 1. My motivation to join the call is that I am launching my site, Agreedis.org, with the very intention not of fostering “dialog” but in fostering compromises.

      There is no shortage of dialog, although I agree that such dialog among does not happen enough among people who label themselves as having vastly different opinions. However, we believe there is more common ground than people would expect if they simply took the time to have a respectful conversation. In fact, we believe the “labels” themselves are part of the problem in that they they suggest differences may be more extreme than they truly are.

      2. I recently volunteered on behalf of The Sierra Club regarding the hearings on whether to allow coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. I am a huge treehugger and am against the export terminals. But I feel both sides are disingenuous about the matter for reasons that would make this post too long.

      I do not like coal, but I respect that coal is legal. I do not feel the export terminals should be built because the railroads and coal companies negatively impact millions of people (and wildlife) who want nothing to do with coal — and I am not even referring to the global warming aspect.

      However, each side is very extreme in its opinions and there does not seem to be many people looking for compromises or even common ground. The vocal minority drowns out the silent majority.

      I believe that compromises on emotional and extreme issues such as this could be reached if there was a dispassionate way to discuss them, focus on the issues, and consider the options that both sides could live with. But to do that, you really need to limit the actual “dialog”, which inevitably becomes emotionally charged and adversarial.

      There are many examples where the silent majority is willing to compromise, but there are somehow outgunned by the vocal minority: gun control and Israeli / Palestinean peace to name just two.

      By engaging the silent majority in the process, we can encourage a reasonable compromise that the majority of people are willing to accept. There will always be the extremists on either side that will never accept a compromise. But democracy is (supposed to be) about the will of the majority. So engaging that majority, giving them a voice, and enabling them to reach a compromise has the potential for flipping the current political dynamics.

      3. I am certainly biased in favor of my new initiative, Agreedis.org, as being deserving of more time, attention and investment. The site is about fostering compromise solutions and showing people that how they label themselves does not necessarily define their opinions.

      I am not aware of other initiatives with a similar focus. Change.org and causes.com are great, but they are about getting like-minded people to support you on relatively simple petitions. That does not lead to compromises on complex problems.

      I think for any initiative to truly succeed, it needs to focus less on open-ended dialog — which can quickly become heated and overrun by zealots — and more on engaging the vast majority of people who are truly interested in actually solving problems and realize that compromise is necessary to make that happen.

      • In my experience it makes a difference if it’s about “having dialogue” or it’s about achieving an end that is important to conservatives – a future for our town, preventing violence, reducing teen pregnancy, increasing the humane treatment of animals, etc etc –

      • Phil Neisser says:

        “The vocal minority drowns out the silent majority.” Agreed! If you ask me this names one of the major obstacles we face. Does that mean that looking for compromises is the way to go? Perhaps. I’m sure it is “a” way to go, but I confess to also hoping for events that aim directly at, and include, the vocal minorities on each side, but do so in a way that breaks down walls to listening. In other words I hope that we can – if you will – transform zealotry without making anyone less zealous. Also I promise to check out Agreedis.org.

    • Charlie Wisoff says:

      2. My insights towards the difficulty of liberal/conservative dialogue come both from my personal experience and the experience I’ve gained at the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue (IISD) and the Kettering Foundation. Hal Saunder’s (the founder of IISD) great insight is that politics at its heart is about relationships. Part of what makes liberal/conservative dialogues so difficult is the strained relationships between liberals and conservatives. At one level, these relationships have become strained because the liberal/conservative divide has become a matter of identity. In other words, people’s political beliefs are ingrained in who they are. Therefore, asking a conservative to dialogue with a liberal, or vice versa, is equivalent to asking them to knowingly question and explore aspects of their identity. This can be an emotionally taxing process.

      If people do not antecedently believe in the value of dialogue this will be a very difficult obstacle to overcome. I have a few thoughts about how to overcome this obstacle (but I’m sure there are many more). Successful dialogues I have had with conservatives have been with my friends who are conservative (I identify as a moderate liberal). This is because we have a relationship that has enough trust, and other social capital to sustain us through the dialogue. Granted many friends and family specifically avoid political talk because they feel it threatens their relationship; the incentive to dialogue is to have a constructive conversation that will strengthen and empower that relationship, and what is need is to show people that is possible and support them in doing so. Extrapolated to society beyond friends and family, one strategy for practitioners is to focus on finding groups of people who have existing relationships that are not oriented around politics (yet still contain a diversity of political perspectives), and then get these groups to dialogue. Another insight, is that groups of citizens often want to “do work”. This is the message behind people saying “talk is cheap.” The route to dialogue then, is in the framework of the need to solve a collective problem, this being the incentive for citizens to come to the dialogue table.

      Lastly, a note about the language issue mentioned above, i.e. that conservatives mistrust “dialogue” as being liberal or wishy-washy. In part, I think this is completely deserved. I have heard a number of people in the field argue that dialogue is inherently liberal, a tool for social justice. I personally don’t share this view, however, I do think it is important to have a dialogue about this issue. If dialogue were truly liberal than we are doing a disservice to both ourselves and those we ask to engage in dialogue. If dialogue is not liberally-biased, we need to better flesh out our reasoning and assumptions behind that statement so we can better communicate it to those we ask to participate in dialogue.

      3. One of the organization’s I work, the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue is in the very early stages of conservative/liberal dialogue initiative. We are still at the stage of deciding what this initiative will look like, but our hope, as a DC based organization, is that it will have a connection to capital hill. It could be dialogue among hill people themselves, or dialogue among citizens that is connected to what is going on on capital hill. Hopefully, this webinar Wednesday will be informative of what we plan to do! And if you are interested, we are always looking for collaborators!

      • Jacob Hess says:

        Amen, Charlie! Thank you for adding all this. You’re hitting on many of the points Phil and I are being drawn to as well…I think your insight to draw on existing networks is a wise one – emphasizing the places where the relationships already exist and (theoretically) so also the implicit motivation to improve those relationships and work through issues.

        How cool would it be if NCDD members were one day seen across the country as the “go to” local, professional support for anyone who happened to be interested in or needing help to improve the quality of their inter-family, inter-neighborhood conversations! (Public Conversations Project does a good job of this already).

    • I co-founded the Institute for Civility in Government about 15 years ago, and we have been working to build a citizens’ movement for civility ever since, developing programs and resources as we see a need. I have co-authored a book, Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square – 10 Rules That Work. Right now we are putting together our second national Citizens’ Civility Symposium which will be on Capitol Hill July 22-23. Currently we have 24 members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle signed up as honorary co-hosts. I’m looking forward to the conversation tomorrow, although I might chime in a little late…..

    • Arthur Pena says:

      sharing doubt:
      One thing that seems to work for me is to be the first to share my own doubts about my own positions and world views. When I first approached the Tea Partiers, I think one of the reasons they opened their hearts and minds to me so quickly was that I shared doubts and misgivings about my own marxist world view. When I share my own doubts, the “other” tends to back away from polarization, and to feel more comfortable sharing their own doubts about their own world view.

      sharing my own shadow:
      Another thing that seems to work is to vulnerably share my own homophobia, racism, misogyny, islamophobia, etc. etc. etc. Too often liberals (myself included…though I don’t identify as a liberal) manifest a kind of judgmental self-righteousness when they condemn others for being homophobic, racist….etc. When I share my own racist thoughts, or my own homophobia, etc., it gives other people the space to bring their own thoughts to the table, with less fear of being shamed or condemned. I don’t think I’m unique in having thought pretty much every possible thought there is to think…nothing is foreign to me as a human being….rape, violence, murder, lying, hatred….all that is within me, too, even if I do choose not to side with it. That gives me the feeling that “racists” and “bigots” etc. are not all that different from me…that I can relate to them as human beings. And that, I believe, makes them feel welcome in a way that can allow them to have the thoughts they have, and to bring them out into the open, where those kinds of thoughts can be healed–instead of hidden away and protected, forever out of the reach of healing.

      reveal common ground:
      Pointing out the common ground between marxists and libertarians (which I take as representing the most principled of “left” and “right” positions) can be a real eye-opener for people. Showing people how our system pits left and right against each other in order to keep the powers-that-be in power can make people curious about each other, about seeking out the potential ally in what they had previously thought of as “the enemy”. More specifically, I like to point out that our system keeps roughly half the population focussed on the problems with “big government”, and the other half of the population focussed on the problems with “big business”, when in fact, once it’s pointed out to them, most people realize that the real “beast” is “crony capitalism”, that is, the collusion between big government and big business. The fact that both marxists and libertarians have this common enemy is quite shocking to most people, as is the fact that both marxists and libertarians believe in representative democracy. In my experience, it’s been like watching the scales fall off people’s eyes as they realize that they have been pitted against people who share so many values.

      challenge linear left-right metaphor:
      I also like to challenge the single one-dimensional linear metaphor of “left” and “right”, which marginalizes marxists and libertarians by putting them somewhere on the “extreme” ends of that single line, with whatever happens to be the unprincipled compromise of the moment between crony capitalist Republicans and crony capitalist Democrats proclaimed as the allegedly “reasonable moderate middle”. I find the libertarian “square” metaphor (http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz ) to be far more accurate, since it puts different positions in different corners, instead of forcing them to fit along a single line, with some necessarily “farther out” or “more extreme” than the others. Instead, it allows them to be seen as merely “different”, rather than “extreme left”, or “extreme right”. I think a 3-D grid would be even better, and I have done some work on trying to imagine what that might look like. When I have pointed out the limits of the single left-right linear metaphor, again, it has been like watching scales drop from people’s eyes…new ways of appreciating different positions becomes possible.

    • A couple of our recent efforts that may be of interest to the group:

      1) Our national competition with MacArthur Foundation: http://lookingatdemocracy.org/

      2) Our local effort to promote meaningful dialogue: http://www.prairie.org/programs/un-common-good-2011

      Thank you for your work!

  3. Jacob Hess says:

    Question 3… Are you aware of any current dialogue effort or initiative that you believe holds real potential for the future of red-blue dialogue work – something you would recommend as deserving more time, attention and investment? We are aware of a number of great efforts – past and present – but we’re seeking a better sense of what YOU feel is most promising across these various efforts. Let us know!

    • David Kimball says:

      I personally know of NO efforts to foster dialogue between the red and the blue communities. I would love to work with such a group. I’m disappointed with America Speaks as it doesn’t seem to speak for me nor allow me to speak without being a successful marketing person. I do not have the networks and contacts to market, so the early years of America Speaks were with poor results. None of the blogging sites I know are effective because they are always taken over in the Comments section by spammers and people looking to create emotional reactions.

      I would like to see something like the Lyceum, popular in Mass during the times of Emerson, Thoreau, etc. where they would go on a lecture circuit and give Friday night speeches that then went into dialogue and discussion. I could see something like a local TED Talk session, by various local people, who would give a 15 minute presentation and then a facilitated dialogue discussion.

    • Tom Taylor says:

      See the wide range of activities at The Village Square in Tallahassee, FL, including a great discussion of Election 2000, “Recount Reunion” 10 years later. http://tothevillagesquare.org/. Leaders from both side met to remember and put things in perspective.

    • Sarah Read says:

      I think the White House Open Initiative’s platforms offer some promise as they are forward looking and are structured to invite joint problem solving. They could be used more. A number of cities and local governments are using a range of engagement tools to bridge the divide when looking at local issues. I don’t think that the divide at the national level can be bridged at this point by traditional deliberative dialogues (too close to the inflammation caused by partisan debate) although dialogues that explore the roots of some of the suspicion and distrust and how that is manipulated in the political process could build greater understanding among those from different regions and ultimately lead to more deliberative dialogue. The Patchwork Nation project has some very interesting data and insights that could help inform that kind of discussion. See http://www.patchworknation.org/

    • Living Room Conversations is an initiative launched last year by Move-on co-founder Joan Blades and conservative (and transpartisan) activist, Amanda Kathryn Roman to encourage people to host conservative – liberal conversations tapping personal and social networks. Jacob and Phil did an LRC with some friends. The model is for self-facilitation, informal setting developed for LRC by Changing the Game. Public Conversations Project is acting as fiscal sponsor (as a PCP Associate I’ve been helping, and PCP President Cherry Muse is on an Advisory Committee that also includes Sandy Heierbacher, Michael Ostrolenk, Lawrence Chickering, John Steiner). There have been pilot and a couple of demonstration conversations – Joan has recruited Mark Meckler, one of the founders of Tea PArty Patriots and now with his own group, as a co-host, an an official “champion” of the project. They’ve found commonality on issues of criminal justice reform etc. Some great new videos on are on the website describing this. The idea is for people to just get busy and do it, starting with people they have a trust level with. It’s a grand and open source experiment, seeing what happens if you put the idea out there and push it with some unlikely allies. http://www.livingroomconversations.org.

  4. I would love to see local conversations broadcast nationally convened by some neutral convener designed to elicit extraordinary wisdom from ordinary individuals. Tom Atlee has been involved in these, as has Jim Rough (Wisdom Councils) and many others. My vision is to convene these simultaneously on a large scale, culminating in a people’s Reconstitutional Convention.

  5. It is gratifying that there is an explosion of projects to connect across the divide right now, and some may work! As for us, we proved to our satisfaction in the MONEY IN POLITICS conventions projects mentioned above that people will self-select to speak out in media, and that many people will vote for those who can articulate what they are feeling. We are exploring applying this process to the urgent issue of gun regulation legislation – which brings up a question I want to ask: I am wondering if the number of issues around which majorities have coalesced are increasing, even as the ability of these majorities to get legislative satisfaction decreases. I have not come across an analysis about this. If you or somebody out there has, I would love to hear about it, so maybe this can come up in next week’s call.

    One reason the gun issues seems suited to this work is the overwhelming number of Americans who believe we need universal background checks for gun purchases, compared with the failure to pass this legislation. There are pitfalls, especially people’s propensity to “fall back” into their “side’s” stance rather than endorse the ideas of the other side. Still, 91% (and 88% of Republicans) is big enough to merit the effort.

  6. Stewart says:

    I know of none…one that strikes me as possible is teaching skills first, i.e. developing the curiosity of being a great listener in the face of things you do not want to hear because you disagree. This would be a way of learning about the other.

  7. Jacob Hess says:

    Thank you all, for the great contributions! It’s so gratifying to see parallel efforts out there – reflecting a healthy and vibrant diversity.

    I’m aggregating, organizing and thematizing everything that comes in – to report back on key questions, insights and patterns.

  8. Jon Denn says:

    1. Could you tell us a little about your experience with red-blue or political dialogue?

    Most successful: I’m on the board of the Clean Government Alliance that will soon be launching with at least one prominent leader from both sides to write an omnibus electoral and clean government reform amendment. Anyone interested in learning more please contact me personally, Jon Denn at jmdenn@me.com.

    The most unsuccessful: We had a left/right group that actually agreed on six major reform items, and before we could “announce” the conservatives took their ball and went home over the naming the group and future rules.

    The next most unsuccessful: The Continental Congress 2.0 that just devolved into a progressive utopia to the exclusion of the other half of America.

    2. Do you have ideas on how we can secure trust and buy-in from different sides, or how we can expand transpartisan work in the future?

    Yes, agreeing on quick easy wins first. We agree on a ton of stuff, but behavioral psychology, and the hugely biased media are strong headwinds.

    3. What current dialogue efforts or initiatives do you believe hold real potential for the future of red-blue dialogue work?

    Clean Government Alliance
    Independent Voter Network
    Real Dialogues

    Looking forward to the call

    • Jacob Hess says:

      Jon –

      When you say the conservatives “took their ball and went home over the naming the group and future rules”…can you explain what that looked like? I’m intrigued…

      Thanks for these examples!

      • Jon Denn says:

        The conservatives suspended the operation of the group. I believe there was a fear of backlash from their constituents over the consensus, and what the consequences would be.

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