We (Jim and Cindy) moved recently to Rossmoor, an "active fifty-five and over adult community" with almost 10,000 residents in Walnut Creek, California, about 20 miles east of San Francisco. As you might expect, we've discovered an incredible variety of people and experiences here, and we are enjoying making new friends and exploring the variety of recreational resources and social clubs. Among these are many active political groups of all persuasions.
Since we care deeply about the future of this country and are dismayed by the lack of civil discourse, we were delighted to learn about Living Room Conversations from our friend Joan Blades. Rossmoor seemed like an ideal setting for exploring the LRC format, so we plunged in headfirst: we set up an exploratory meeting with Joan and six other residents here, including the current president of the Rossmoor Democratic Club and several active Republicans. At this first gathering in our living room Joan explained the LRC concept and guiding principles.
As we gather is common, there was plenty of skepticism at first. But there was also a hunger to try something new. It quickly became clear that every single person in the room, no matter what their political inclinations, was saddened by the difficulty of having thoughtful conversations with others holding different views. We struggled as a group for some time to figure out how to proceed, and we debated (in a friendly way, fortunately) what issues to explore together. We also learned something about each others' backgrounds and how each of us had formed our personal values and views. Interestingly, there were several people in the group who had moved from one end of the political spectrum to the other as they grew from teenage idealism to adult realism (it's important to note that there were “switchers" in both directions).
Ultimately we agreed to meet about a month later for a conversation about voting rights and procedures. It is clearly a broad topic, and one that is central to everyone's concept of what it means to live in a democracy. Those of us on the progressive side were particularly concerned about what we see as recent attempts in many "red" states to make it harder to vote, and to actively suppress voting by many minority groups (voter ID cards, reducing early voting, limiting access to absentee ballots). Our new friends on the conservative side expressed concerns about voting fraud and found the concept of a voter photo ID card no different, and no more unreasonable, than a drivers license or a bank ATM card.
Without dwelling on the details of the ensuing conversation, we are happy to report that we found a surprising amount of common ground. It wasn't easy, and there were many moments when individual beliefs and understanding of "the facts" came under attack. But we did uncover several areas of agreement - for example, that while a voter ID card may be a reasonable idea, states should make it easy to get one, cover all costs, and give people plenty of time before an election to ensure that they are qualified and registered to vote. We were much less in agreement about the existence and importance of voter fraud, but at least we were able to "agree to disagree" without any lingering nastiness.
What had brought us together, and driven each of us to take the risk in participating in an actual living room conversation, was clearly a common desire to understand the "other side" and to get beyond simple slogans about both the issues and each other. We do seem to have made meaningful progress towards achieving some of that very elusive civil discourse we are all looking for. Each of us acknowledged our pleasure in hearing statements from "the other side" that surprised us and with which we agreed.
The most heartening outcome is that several individuals from both "sides" have expressed a strong desire to meet again, on another topic … so our Living Room Conversation will go on.
Jim and Cindy Ware