How to get political (or not)

This issue is hitting your inbox a day late this week. I had written and rewritten it in attempts to commemorate a weekend of anniversaries: one year since both Donald Trump's inauguration and the subsequent Women's March nationwide. The role of this newsletter is not political, but both events were seismic shifts for our country — for the places where we live and the networks that we have. What can we do about political differences where we call home?

Thanks to a combination of factors and my sense of direction, I accidentally encountered the Women's March twice on Saturday while crisscrossing Manhattan to meet up with old friends during a weekend visit. From little girls and boys cheering their future to grandmas putting their foot down, the energy was infectious (and the signs hilarious). But I know that there's a large swath of the country that doesn't feel that way — I grew up with some of them.

My home neighborhood is a bastion of presidential red in a blue metropolis. It's a tightly-knit row of locally owned restaurants and shoe stores and churches, populated by proud families whose roots stretch for generations. It's also the site of a fatal shooting of an armed black man by an off-duty police officer in a "road rage incident" days before the presidential election, and the site of protests by Black Lives Matter activists and pungently forceful counter-protests by my own neighbors in a demonstration of long-simmering racial tension. Watching the Women's March this weekend, I couldn't help feel invigorated by the girl-power spirit. But I was also struck knowing the struggle faced by the march's message to reach the depths of my childhood home as well as the frustration felt by my neighbors in how their various feelings are represented and interpreted by the other side of the political spectrum.

We as a country can feel more polarized than ever, and our political differences can keep us from (or push us to start) making moves. What can we do about it?

Share Sown

This is not just a you problem.

42 percent of women voted for Trump in the presidential election (including 62 percent of white female voters). More than 3 million marchers took to streets across the U.S. in the 2017 Women's March. While a lot has happened in the past 12 months, data now shows women are split 49-49 in their approval-disapproval of President Trump. At the same time, about 25 percent of our country's population strongly dislikes and/or feels the other political party is a threat to the nation's wellbeing.

Yikes. Let's see that again: 78 million people in the U.S. have some sort of vehement distaste toward people with different political opinions. Where do we go from here? What do we do if folks with opposing views are in our own communities — and is it problematic if they're not?

Eve Pearlman has an idea. In 2016 she co-founded Spaceship Media, a startup focused on bringing people of different political, geographic, and socioeconomic viewpoints into dialogue with each other. She draws on her experience as a journalist to develop productive communities of conversation, from connecting female Clinton supporters in California's Bay Area with female Trump voters in Alabama to now building a 5,000-member women-only Facebook group to discuss the issues ahead of this year's midterm elections. The key to avoiding a dumpster fire? Empathy, curiosity, and genuine listening.

If you're in a new place in the second year of Trump's presidency, or just want to gain a greater understanding of political differences around the country, Eve shared some tips for where to start. (Our chat is edited and condensed for clarity.)

Q: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned through observing and helping to foster these meaningful interactions between other women in the Spaceship Media groups?
  • A: A key takeaway for me is how much we all want to connect across difference and how good it feels to do that. When we live in a state of hostility or disdain or dismissiveness or judgement or all the ways that people are seeing people on “the other side”, it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good if you can’t talk to your grandma or somebody you went to high school with or people that you know. When we create these communities where people can engage productively across difference, it feels much better. When people can listen with empathy and respect and see that people they might disagree with fiercely are joined by a common humanity, that we all want the same things: we want a safe comfortable life, we want our families to be healthy, we want good relationships. When we can get past the level of animosity and get to know each other respectfully, it feels much better.
Q: What do you advise for people who may be apprehensive or intimidated by connecting over political differences? 
  • To be fair, you don’t have to engage anyone you don’t want to. If someone’s a jerk to you or they’re insulting you or they’re dismissive of you, you don’t have to engage. I don’t think it’s a necessity. But there are plenty of Americans who will be curious about your views of gun control, or abortion, or your life experiences if you can engage with them respectfully and show your curiosity about their views. I don’t think it’s my job and I wouldn’t tell people to talk to anyone they don’t want to, but I would encourage the part of themselves that is curious. We talk a lot about valuing curiosity and I think underneath the worry and protectiveness, people are curious. How do other people think? How do they come to these different conclusions than those that I have? What can I learn about myself by listening to them?

Q: Do you have any suggestions for a concrete way that someone of a particular political opinion can approach someone of a different political opinion — and to have a productive dialogue by doing so? 

  • Assume the best. Assume that you don’t know. Free yourself of the negative assumptions you might carry, like "she’s stupid because she thinks this," "she’s uneducated because she thinks this," "she’s ignorant because she asks that." Free yourself from any negativity and go in with curiosity. And ask questions: Why do you think this? How did you come to hold this belief? Did it change over time? What in your experience led to this? What are the values behind this? Recognizing your own negative assumptions, and then asking really open questions that are curious questions, being willing to hear deeply and to understand that you might not know everything.
  • If you can go in with this open-hearted curiosity, instead of this burden of negativity, and if you can go in not to change someone’s mind but to hear why they think what they do and why they believe what they do — it will be more interesting and engaging, but it will be more challenging. It’s hard to give up your own certainty. It’s hard to say maybe I’m right, but what can I learn from this person?
Q: Do you have any advice for someone who may be living in or considering moving to an environment or situation that has different political beliefs than they do, and may not know how to connect with others?
  • Don’t hunker down in your own belief. Wherever you go, you can find some people that believe as much as you do. Be open to hearing and listening and understanding what’s important to other people and what they think about and how they tell stories about themselves. It’s easy to go and be somewhere and really find a small posse of people that reinforce your beliefs but take that opportunity of living somewhere different to learn. When you start listening — really listening — to people and start understanding where they come from and what matters to them, it will make you a richer deeper person. It will help you understand your beliefs more. 
  • I think it’s an opportunity to grow, especially for young people. There’s a world out there that’s worth looking at. If this political moment tells us anything, and I will not be the first or last to say it, our institutions are not connecting with a lot. Our coastal institutions, our government, our media are not connecting with a lot of people. We’re not reflecting them to themselves. 
  • Let’s keep growing and keep challenging ourselves — for ourselves, but also for our country.

Go sow: Challenge for the week.

Politics is tough, and talking about it with your friends, family, and neighbors can be even tougher. Broach your bubble a teeny bit this week.

Start the conversation — try using one of Eve's suggestions to ask someone about their beliefs, and not necessarily about politics (experiment with the pineapple pizza debate). You know who you're thinking of.

Why do you think this?
How did you come to hold this belief?
Did it change over time?
What in your experience led to this?
What are the values behind this?

Our communities and our homes don't improve by our disconnection.
Write back and let me know how it goes! Also, If your workplace is in need of a friendly reminder of lady power, these are your new go-to's. I also recommend digging into this powerful package of what unites us — featuring people from all 50 states — and this reminder of humanity from November (scroll to the end):

Though they didn’t change their different opinions of the president, Daniels invited Brown to join her as she cooks and delivers meals for neighbors who need them on Thursday.

After they exchanged numbers, Brown promised to come along.

“God answered my prayers in bringing you out here today, Cat,” Brown said as she entered Daniels' number in her phone. 

“I can see you’re not a hateful person,” Daniels responded. “And it’s cool that you are actually standing here talking to me. It’s pretty dope.”

Grow the Sow.

From sea to shining sea, it's pretty dope. See the full map here.

Share Sown with the woman that inspires you the most
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