As someone who’s been busy changing the world for many, many years, I have some advice that may be unpopular. Here it is: you have to work with people on the other side of the political spectrum to effect substantive change. Common ground is the name of the change game.
Here in sunny Central Florida, I worked on a local congressional campaign because the newcomer candidate running in my district promised to do just that. Although I knew she agreed with me on many social issues, she was very careful to repeatedly point out that we had to work together in Congress to accomplish real change. She got my vote and my volunteer hours. I even donated a little to her campaign. She’s in Congress now, and that is awesome. Yet, locally, I registered with the other party. There were a few candidates I wanted to vote for in the primary that I couldn’t have if I were not registered as a Republican in my county. At heart, I suppose I am an independent voter. It would be hard to recognize that if you tracked through my social media and online footprint.
Enough about me, let’s talk about how to change the world. During the Occupy Wall Street movement, I wrote a post about how the Occupy team was meeting in the lobby of the Deutsche Bank building every morning. Even though I supported the Occupy movement in spirit, I had a guy on the payroll in my network many floors above driving systemic changes there who shared my values. His efforts created real, lasting change. One guy influenced thousands and thousands of ordinary people at the bank. He was so successful with his message, he’s now working independently to impact greater numbers of believers.
After years of doing this, I can confidently tell you: People can come together to fix the problems that plague our society. While individuals can have diametrically opposed opinions and preferences over planks in their chosen political platforms, good-meaning people can come together to fix problems they unanimously identify as bad for society. Finding that intersection and keeping the focus on that goal is paramount to lasting change.
For instance, I’ve chosen to devote my time and energy on solving an absurd social problem that continues to cascade ripples of dysfunction into our communities every day: intimate partner violence. I will work with anyone on this. I am an equal opportunity opportunist. If you voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Evan McMullin, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or Micky Mouse in this election, and you think you can help me in what I’m interested in achieving, I am eager to meet with you and hear your ideas. I’m not going to discriminate against you blinded by my fiercely held personal beliefs.
This week I gave a short talk at a local Rotary Club breakfast where my political ideology was most likely in the minority. So what? After I spoke, one of the influential local politicians spoke up and supported me. He gets it. He knows we have to work together on these horrific social issues that plague our community. We can stay on task and not get distracted by the emotionally charged issues that divide us. The extremes in our country have been making it difficult for all of us who are on the side of progress and solving our most vexing problems.
Bottom line: If you want to make something happen, offer to pick up a shovel with people who disagree with you and focus on fixing something you can agree on. You’ll probably get sweaty and dirty, but at the end of the day, you’ll take pride in what you’ve accomplished together. And your world– our world– will be that much better.
*In Hinduism it means “I bow to the divine in you.”