The Living Room Conversations website has a simple process for staging a conversation among a small group of people who know, going into the conversation, that they differ on a significant issue. They begin by reading aloud a set of rules (of the “what I learned in kindergarten” type). That is followed by a topical discussion guided by questions that, first, help the participants get to know each other as people and, second, dive into the topic in ways that illuminate how people got to the positions they have taken.
We heard about Living Room Conversations several times during the summit, but last night’s session had the best story. Joan Blades, a founder of MoveOn, and Mark Meckler, a founder of the Tea Party movement, had a Living Room Conversation in 2013 that resulted in both of them working together on criminal justice reform because they discovered that they agreed that there were too many Americans in prison and that the War on Drugs failed. Ultimately, a bunch of organizations and donors, from all along the political spectrum, formed the Coalition for Public Safety that is working on problem.
The media seems to cover our divides more than our united efforts, but the New York Times did an intriguing piece on the Coalition for Public Safety last year. It turns out that stories about strange bedfellows are even more fascinating than stories about people shouting past each other.
I’ve already sent the link to the Living Room Conversation questions on Police-Community Relations to the person who roped me into a conversation that I feel unprepared to handle. I hope that our group agrees to try this process because I think it may get us closer to mutual understanding.
Overall, the best thing I got from the American Citizens Summit was the awareness that so many people and organizations are working together across all of our divides. In fact, it’s better than that. These people and organizations are discovering that our divides are, actually, a strength of the United States of America — coming at a problem from different angles demands creative solutions. The divides aren’t the problem; it’s the lack of bridges. But, people are building those bridges all across the country and on every topic you can think of. Just because you can’t read about those efforts in the newspaper or hear about them on TV or radio, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. Check out the speakers and organizations that participated in the American Citizens Summit to learn about these hidden stories.
I stand by my criticism in my Day 2 recap. The component that was missing from the American Citizens Summit was a way for participants to interact with each other. Even a Twitter hashtag would have helped! As it was, I only had one interaction beyond listening to the sessions and that was with The Chisel because I gave them a shout-out on Twitter when I posted my Day 3 recap.
Participating in The American Citizens Summit in the week following our two national party conventions, with a similar 4-day format, was terrific! I’ll do this again in four years (or sooner!) if it comes with a robust space for interaction — virtual meeting rooms for birds-of-a-feather gatherings, virtual suites to hold Living Room Conversations, and virtual hotel bars for serendipitous meet-ups. Would you join me in some of those spaces?