This is how we end hyper-partisan politics

Want to empower social change? Break bread, literally, with the so-called enemy.

ALICE DREGER: "Breaking bread with the enemy" is something I mean literally—not if you're gluten intolerant. But if you're not, literally having food with people who are on the other side of an issue often allows you to go back to a very early thing that developed in us as we evolved, and that was the idea of: sharing resources creates connections between us. It allows us to begin to understand where other people are coming from, it allows us to have more charity in ourselves with regard to understanding their point of view and I think, all in all, it leads to a situation where you have better outcomes. It's not always the case. This can go too far, as when politicians spend time with particular lobbyists and special interest groups and end up shifting not based on rationality and not based on justice but shifting basically on loyalty of who they hang out with. But I do recommend to a lot of activists that they try to literally sit down at a table with somebody who is "the enemy" and see if they can have a conversation, and preferably to do it over food or drink, because there is something very primal in us about sharing food and drink that allows us, I think, to open our hearts and our minds.

If the tools you're using to do activism are tools that can be used in highly destructive ways, I often recommend to people to think carefully about deploying those tools. We don't want an arms race in activism. We don't want a situation, for example, which has happened in many cases, where people go after people's families or children in terms of social media attacks, where they do things that are just out of line, make false charges against people. If you're using those kinds of tools, those are the kinds of tools that then become ever more common in our society and it doesn't help anybody. So I try to encourage people who do activism to think really carefully about this: Whatever you're doing, would you want it to be done to you? Is it something that has integrity? Is it something that will maintain your integrity? And are you not creating an arms race? Because an arms race isn't going to help anybody.

It may sound really strange to say to an activist that a way to be a good activist is to take time to be nonpartisan, because by definition activism is partisan. And yet I think it's really important and valuable to step back when possible and try to spend a little time doing descriptive research—not normative research that says 'this is good, this is bad, this is true, this is false', but rather trying to do descriptive work that simply understands what's happening in the world. One value of that is it gets you knowledge that is useful in terms of understanding how to achieve your goals. But another reason that is super useful is because it actually reminds you of what the other side may be seeing that you may be missing because you're blinded by your partisan side. So it allows you to step back and say to yourself, "Okay, what other points of view might there be here? What other knowledge might there be that I'm missing?"

I run a nonpartisan local newspaper that I founded for my city because we're living in what's called a news desert, which means the Internet basically had crushed the economy of local news where I live, which is East Lansing, Michigan, and I was really concerned that the people of East Lansing had no idea what was going on at City Council, at Planning Commission; they would just see building go up and would be upset about it but have no idea it was even coming. They didn't know we had a $200 million debt happening, even though we have only 20,000 permanent residents, so it's an enormous debt for our city—they just didn't know it was going on. And so when I founded that newspaper I realized it needed to be nonpartisan so that people could feel there was a place they could come and get reliable knowledge—and that was pre-Trump. I mean, this was already a problem happening in the mid 2010s, this was 2014 when I started it. And one of the things I've learned from doing that is when I have to do nonpartisan news reporting, it really forces me to step back and say to myself, "Okay, who might have a point of view that I haven't thought about?" And I've got to go out and listen to people I wouldn't normally listen to. I have to go and seek answers to questions. I have to fact-check myself. So my assumption that 'X is true', well, maybe X isn't true and I have to go and look at the facts. And that really changes how we're all thinking about something. But engaging people in the nonpartisan process—I use citizen journalists—I've really found that it helps them understand that they may not know everything. It breeds a kind of humility, it breeds a desire for more knowledge, and interestingly it breeds a kind of political sympathy where, even if they don't change their mind personally but they're doing the nonpartisan reporting, they're understanding much better what somebody on the other side is seeing, and that's extraordinary. It never would have occurred to me that spending time in nonpartisanships makes you a more sympathetic person, but that often happens.

  • Alice Dreger shares brilliant advice for divisive times: Break bread, literally, with your so-called enemy. "[S]ee if [you] can have a conversation, and preferably to do it over food or drink, because there is something very primal in us about sharing food and drink that allows us, I think, to open our hearts and our minds."
  • If you're passionate about social change, Dreger recommends avoiding destructive tools or methods that would cause a kind of "arms race" in activism—it leads somewhere that no one wants to go.
  • Spend time getting to know the issues you care about from a nonpartisan perspective—do descriptive, not normative, research. It will remind you of what the other side may be seeing that you might be missing because you're blinded by your partisan side.


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