By Cheryl Graeve, National Community Organizer, National Institute for Civil Discourse
If you open your ears and listen quietly, if you set your eyes to look for people connecting across differences, you can see and hear a civic awakening cropping up all around us. I’ve had the privilege of being part of conversations and activities that are grounded in respect, using civil discourse and built on the deep commitment to build bridges across our partisan and ideological divides. Like small plants growing from strong seeds that tenaciously reclaim a green presence on top of scorched earth, these human connections across our differences are showing a roadmap of hope and reclaiming our democracy.
Recently I was part of an amazing “Living Room Conversation” that included a veteran, a political campaign organizer, a former professional athlete turned tech entrepreneur, a young college student and a philanthropist. We were men and women of different races, ages, conservative and liberal ideologies and profoundly different life experiences. We came together through an invitation to be part of the conversation around being “United or Divided?” and out of deep personal desires to connect as human beings across divides.
It was a luxurious and respectful space of conversation, listening, learning, sharing and finding connection as we explored our core values, talked about living up to our promise to each other as Americans and raised issues we wished we could solve together.
Civic hope bubbled within me.
This conversation came on the heals of another event, the gathering of state legislators facilitated by the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD). Legislators came together across party lines, sharing personal life experiences and exploring what a civil legislature looks like and how they would foster it in the coming session. I was in the presence of the finest sense of civic service and genuine commitment to people. There was a real spirit in the room of putting their communities and state, above partisan politics.
My civic hope grew.
Finally, I was on a call with a young woman who a year ago, in the face of the gut wrenching vitriol and divisiveness of the 2016 elections, believed that politics had reached a critical point. She’d made a personal commitment to bring people together across partisan lines and do something to put “we the people” back into our politics. Starting on Facebook, she connected complete strangers across ideologies, but with similar hopes, together. They grew to a volunteer force of 5,000 people, who have now collected over 450,000 signatures to put a proposal for a citizen commission to redraw the legislative district lines after the census on the 2018 ballot.
Civic hope and action were bursting out right before my eyes!
Personally, as I look at 2018, I have made a commitment to actively seek out others who hold different ideological perspectives, to show up with genuine and open listening to find common values and hopes, and to shine a light on stories of positive, human connections that are sprouting up everywhere in our democracy.
If you want to also feel this growing sense of civic hope and to join the human to human network building bridges across our divides, if you want to be part of something larger than yourself that is moving the public hunger for respect and civility toward positive actions, I invite you to make your own personal commitment and to connect with Living Room Conversations and NICD to support you on that path.
Respectfully, Cheryl Graeve
Cheryl Graeve currently serves as the National Community Organizer with the NICD, working on the Initiative to Revive Civility and Respect that engages community members as connectors with each other and with elected leaders to foster a new respectful civil fabric. Having worked with volunteer community leaders in 50 states as the Senior Director of Field Support for the League of Women Voters of the United States, and from work as Legislative Director for the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), she’s seen and believes in the power of people coming together to strengthen and reform our democracy.