Julie Winokur, Executive Director, Talking Eyes Media & Director, Bring It to The Table
March 2, 2017
A few years ago, my 17-year-son called me the most politically intolerant person he knew. He told me that if the ‘other side,’ had a good idea, I wouldn’t know because I hadn’t been listening. My first reaction was denial, then self-reflection, then action. His comment inspired me to travel across the country with a small folding table and invite people to sit down to discuss the roots of their political beliefs. What started as a journey of redemption turned into a campaign to reclaim civil discourse in America. At the core of this effort was a rallying cry for every citizen to take ownership of their own biases and to recognize our personal responsibility in either dividing or healing the nation.
Little did I know how much this rallying cry would be needed in 2017.
In light of our recent election, much of the nation seems to be in need of the same cathartic journey I took, in need of a way to retrieve civility and safety in political discourse. The 2016 election devolved into a brutal slugfest that allowed us to lose sight of what it means to put country before party, issues above personalities. People from across the country are now waking up to the consequences that result when we demonize the political ‘other’ and dismiss viewpoints that don’t comfortably gel with our own.
Our project, Bring It to The Table—which consists of a 40-minute documentary film, website, and live interactive events—is a call to action that grew out of my journey and is now being deployed on campuses and in communities across the country. In addition to a film screening and discussion, the project uses creative visual motifs (a star-spangled tablecloth, a folding table, and a small red flower pot containing a yellow flower) to launch participants into the uncharted territory of authentic dialogue. In our live, interactive workshops, we tackle topics that typically trigger knee-jerk responses and bumper sticker slogans. But through our process, the conversations that occur create a safe space, model active listening, and invite audiences to examine not just ‘what’ people believe, but ‘why’ they believe it. Bring It events mine for the personal experiences that inform our convictions and encourage a more transpartisan outlook focused on issues rather than party affiliations.
The concept is simple: one table, two people, and a flower that becomes the barometer for personal, political identity when participants move it left, center or right along the table. Unlike many discussions about contentious issues, Bring It conversations don’t devolve into sparring matches, but rather are intentional opportunities to understand someone else’s point of view. They are subversive in their demand that each participant cut the rhetoric and stop relying on third-hand information as though it gives license to authority. The result is a transformative approach to political dialogue and personal revelations about our own beliefs and predispositions.
Bring It could not be more timely or necessary. Over the past year, we have watched partisanship turn racist, xenophobic, and nationalist. We have seen citizen pitted against citizen and heightened intolerance impact the exchange of ideas. It is tempting to dismiss the ‘other’ as ignorant, selfish, elitist, politically correct…but in doing so we create space for destructive elements to thrive. Frustration and fear easily morph into anger, allowing instability to take over. We cannot confuse dialogue with diatribe and expect to foster a healthy democracy. Nor can we demonize the political ‘other’ and expect to successfully navigate the tremendous socio-economic and demographic shifts of the 21st century.
Bring It to The Table inspires people to address our differences and acknowledge that which we don’t understand. The project recognizes that we cannot fight fear with a closed fist, but have to approach our adversaries with an open hand. Our interactive “Table Talk” workshops train people to engage with the intent to listen and probe, rather than refute and debunk someone else’s beliefs. This requires discipline and genuine curiosity, so we can enter conversations that invite discourse rather than further entrenching ourselves in feuding camps. Ultimately, the project is designed to illuminate the role each of us plays in diffusing hyperpartisanship, citizen to citizen, peer to peer, family member to family member.
Too often, when people think of politics today, shouting matches on large stages come to mind. The Table Talk format brings political discourse back to where people feel comfortable: their own tables. This expressive, interpersonal format wrests political deliberation away from the hands of big party leaders and partisan pundits and returns it to the personal. We might not be able to control what goes on in Washington DC, but we can impact the immediate world around us. As citizens, we have to demand more from our leaders and ourselves, because we play a vital role in the tone of the conversation. There is no better way to hold our leaders accountable than to lead by example, proving that civility can and will prevail.
For more information about Bring It to The Table, to host a Bring It event on your campus or in your community, purchase a DVD (which includes a downloadable screening toolkit) or streaming license, please visit: bringit2thetable.org or contact: [email protected]
Julie Winokur, Executive Director, Talking Eyes Media & Director,
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