Over the weekend I made a quick trip to Denver. On two separate shared rides, sitting up front for 45 minutes, I had the chance to talk politics with people quite different from me. It reminded me of the value of face-to-face conversation, not making assumptions, and listening without trying to convince.
Driver #1: Seva
Seva graduated from UC-Boulder with a mechanical engineering degree. His American father met his Indian mother in New Delhi as a missionary. Seva was born in India and has lived in the US since he was 5. We first talked about India and some friends I had known: an American woman who married an Indian man and lived there for many years as missionaries. He described India as chaotic, developing, needing so many basic services, and expressed appreciation for the opportunities he has had in the US.
After college Seva worked for a start-up. He was recently laid off when it went out of business. His father worked for GM and has also been laid off. Seva's biggest concerns with the Presidential election are about the economy and jobs. While the overall unemployment rate is low, it doesn't feel that way to his family. He's leaning towards voting for the Republican nominee because he believes that jobs should be the number one focus, and as a successful businessman, he thinks the Republican nominee will create more American jobs.
I asked him what specific Republican policies he thought would make a difference in terms of jobs for him and his father, and he said he "hadn't really seen any specific policies." I suggested that might be worth looking into before he made a final decision.
When I asked him how he felt about the statements made by the Republican nominee about immigrants, Seva said he thought "he was only talking about illegal immigration," not immigrants in general or about his own family.
We talked about the importance of voting and being engaged in the process, and he shared some personal thoughts about how much it means to him to be able to vote.
Driver #2: Ron
Ron is currently driving part-time because he's a co-founder of a marijuana start-up. They're selling product wholesale to other dispensaries while they renovate their store, which will open in the fall. Our wide-ranging conversation covered service dogs, guns, medical marijuana, both parties and their nominees, and the importance of voting. Ron is originally from Kentucky, loves Denver, and has many friends back home who are "coming out of the woodwork" to vote for the Republican nominee. When I asked why people who hadn't voted in the last several Presidential elections were going to vote, Ron said, "Guns. They're afraid the government is going to take away their guns."
Ron himself owns multiple legal guns, for which he took gun safety classes. He doesn't carry them, but sometimes goes to the gun range to shoot. He told me that he does own an assault rifle from the 1960s, which he found in the wall of a house he was flipping in Kentucky. He's only shot it a few times. He understands the concerns about assault rifles and agrees there is a problem with mass shootings, but he doesn't feel like the government should have the right to make him surrender guns he owns legally. When I asked him if he thought it was realistic that the government would enact legislation to do that, he said no.
We discussed the seemingly contradictory positions of people we both know--gun owners to police officers--who while concerned at how much more gun violence there is are still not wanting to see more gun control measures enacted.
Ron said that "cities like Chicago have such a high murder rate, and all the criminals have guns, so it doesn't make sense to limit non-criminals having guns." I asked him whether he thought someone who wasn't trained in a stressful combat situation could have any meaningful effect in a situation like Orlando; he said that more guns in Orlando would have simply meant more people would have died, and "you're not allowed to have guns anywhere that alcohol is sold anyway."
Ron is more on the fence than Seva, he's leaning Republican presently. He hasn't seen enough specifics from that nominee about policies, and he's concerned about his temperament. He's also concerned that the Democratic nominee might be too soft militarily, or that "other countries would try to bully her and she wouldn't stand up to them."
I suggested that it was hard to picture a Black president until we had one, and now that seems normal. I also mentioned that many other countries had had women in that role, including Germany, the UK, and India. He agreed, and he said he felt the Democratic nominee's plans and policies were much clearer. He thinks her experience is much stronger to hold that position.
We both fully agreed about the importance of voting and not taking it for granted.
In both cases, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and I think Seva and Ron did too. I realized that I rarely talk to people who are different from me. Engaging in person, instead of virtually, helped me to realize that the stress I feel about politics has to do with me trying to influence other people to think the way that I do without actually talking to them. I'm going to try to do more talking and listening and less convincing between now and November.
Stephanie Weaver, MPH, CWHC is a writer. Her book The Migraine Relief Plan will be published on February 14, 2017 by Agate Surrey. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.