The Bridge Alliance met for the second consecutive year in Wahington DC last Monday. Politics Done Right participated in the event as well as conducted over 22 interviews of participants from Progressive, Conservative, and non-Partisan organizations. It is clear from many of the interviews that many organizations are trying to, as former President Obama used to say, 'fever will break'.
Just like most virus outbreaks eventually burn out, so will the current state of American politics. The problem is that what leads up to the burn out is a path of destruction, some irreversible.
Over 100 organizations of various ideologies attended the Bridge Alliance conference. This type of reunion can be risky for some of these organizations because of their supposed staunch adherence to a stance. To create a cocoon, a safe space, anonymity was assured for those who wanted it. Ironically, by the end of the conference, it’s not certain how many if any wanted to abide by said protocol.
An opportunity was given to every attendee to provide interviews at the end of the conference. These interviews focused on what the attendees were doing in their political spaces, what they expected out of the conference, and whether it lived up to their expectations. It was clear based on various interviews on both sides of the polarized American body politic that the fever is indeed breaking.
This Bridge Alliance Conference was intentional in many different areas. As one who has attended several Progressive and trans-partisan conferences, the effort to make this conference reflect America was immediately evident when one walked into the room. This organization received sponsorships to assist young people and others who could not otherwise afford the lodging and travel ensuring every voice could be heard. This is a necessary investment in our body politics if we are intent on understanding the intersecting and disjointed problems.
It was refreshing to walk into that the main hall filled with tables that included a cross-section of races, ethnicities, ages, religions, genders, and everything in between. Immediately before interviewing a black Latino from the Caribbean coast, upon realizing we shared a common heritage, exhaled and said he finally, paraphrasing, did not have to pose. An American attendee of Guyanese descent offered a similar observation unsolicited. An Imam told me when he got the invite and encouragement to attend, he first said he had to be convinced that the Bridge Alliance Conference was not going to be yet another paraphrasing talkfest of people who like to hear themselves come up with academic-sounding ideas. This is common because many of these conferences come from a position of the ‘the elite knows best.’ This was not going to be one of those conferences.
Last year, the conference was decidedly white and had a rather elitist tone. Lacking was not only a diversity for diversity's sake but a basic understanding that one had to really engage the community to find organizations that have been working effectively on the ground for some time just without national press or necessary notoriety.
There are dozens of stories to tell from the conference. A few left an indelible impression.
At the very start of the conference, the facilitator told everyone to turn to someone next to them and ask them who they are. I was sitting next to a white millennial woman. She looked me straight in the eye and said all her life it bugged her because she saw the injustice in the manner different Americans were treated and unlike the past generations, she knew she had to do something about it. She pointed out how prevalent the feeling is in her subgroup. She also pointed out that millennials are misjudged because they don’t have the economic security of the past generations. As such they must make many compromises. She decided to go to Botswana with the Peace Corp to develop her skills. She was very reverential to her elders who participated in the program with her. The young woman was empathetic and mature beyond her years.
A black activist said she decided to take her craft fulltime. She created a company that advises companies who want to be socially and racially responsible by doing something, anything. She said many times clients are surprised that while investing in activists attempting to pass necessary laws to ensure equal access to success, responsible companies can eradicate problems within their own domain. She points out where she told a CEO simply going through all his employees and mitigating any obvious biases in pay scale goes a long way working on these problems.
A 17-year-old high school activist young woman of color blew the entire room away as she provided a coherent narrative of why it was necessary to start political engagement at an early age. More importantly, she pointed out it is imperative that people of color, paraphrasing do not remain invisible in many of these discussions.
Another young activist got up and respectfully admonished the room. “There are a lot of problems out there,” she said. “But we must concentrate on many of the good things that are happening. The only activism that is sustainable is pleasurable activism.” When she elaborated it was clear she was not talking about ignoring the problems but asserting them, pointing out the great things that activists are working on, many of them successfully, and concentrate on solutions and remedies. She said that activism brings pleasure. And that joy makes activism sustainable. I told her that her passion and viewpoint singlehandedly is advice I intend to implement in Politics Done Right and that many of us in this sphere would do well to likewise take her wise advice to increase our effectiveness.
Later a lengthy and lively forty-minute-plus interview/debate with a Republican resulted in some consensus. While he was not a convert to Single-Payer Medicare for All he agreed that it would likely be better insurance at a much lower cost for most for several years but feared that special interest would eventually cause it to be corrupted. I pointed out that was the definition of today’s system and it is incumbent on us all to keep the government in check. His lacking faith in government makes that a difficult proposition for him. But again, we reached some common ground that expanded, would lead to the compromise that we have lacked since Ronald Reagan gave legs to the Right-Wing government destroyers. This Republican wants to be one of the catalysts to break that fever.
Those of us who are Progressives are of the mindset that people are good and given the opportunity most would make better choices. One of the Republicans I interviewed said they do not share that mindset.
The most important outcome of the conference is that people with significant difference learned techniques to foment dialogue. Most importantly they learned that when given space without the request for capitulation, many can be eased into a consensus that most will buy into. It is never about given up one’s ideology or belief. Where beliefs and solutions are mutually exclusive it is essential to err on the side of individual freedom if it does not have an impact on someone else.
It is clear the Bridge Alliance Conference exceeded what most thought could be accomplished. The reality is, there are so many Americans who are so tired of the fight that they have tuned out. Seeing the possibility as many saw it at the conference should encourage many to reengage.