This week, the Common Ground Committee hosted a discussion of the new documentary Stars and Strife, which examines the increasing division in American political culture. They also recently released the Common Ground Scorecard to help voters see how elected officials seek points of agreement through listening and productive conversation. Be sure to check it out!
The zeitgeist of 21st century America is division. From the very beginning, Divided We Fall has covered this issue. We have discussed the causes and their implications. We have identified who is the problem demographic and who is not. And we have discussed how bipartisanship has preserved the Union for almost 250 years and what we need to do to preserve it for 250 more.
We have continued this work based on the belief, as President Clinton stated, that there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. And what is right with America has not changed. Alexis de Tocqueville saw it in his 19th century journey across the country: “the spirit of association.” He observed: “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite… thus the most democratic country on earth is found to be, above all, the one where men in our day have most perfected the art of pursuing the object of their common desires in common.” What de Tocqueville was saw in the 1830s was that America’s greatness lay in its unity. And so, even in the darkness of our division today, there is light in the growing associations of concerned citizens demanding democracy reform.
Common Ground Committee
One key player in this movement is the Common Ground Committee, “a citizen-led nonprofit that inspires action on polarizing issues by bringing prominent leaders with opposing views together in public forums to find common ground.” The Common Ground Committee hosts events to promote civility and rates politicians on bipartisanship through their new Common Ground Scorecard.
Recently, the Common Ground Committee hosted a discussion of new documentary Stars and Strife. The documentary features eminent politicians, pundits, and academics including Arthur Brooks, Amy Chua, Rahm Emanuel, Francis Fukuyama, Alan Greenspan, and Larry Hogan, among others. In the film, veteran politicians such as Leon Panetta and James Baker III discuss the way politics used to function in Washington D.C.; current politicians talk about recent acts of bipartisanship such as the First Step Act; and Derek Black, godson of white supremacist and KKK grand wizard David Duke, discusses his conversion and denouncement of white nationalism through weekly shabbat dinners with Jewish students. (The story is featured in the book Rising Out of Hatred.)
One of the most compelling stories in the film features Hawk Newsome, the President of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, at a Trump rally in Washington D.C. Amidst heckles and insults, he was invited on to the stage and told “We are going to give you two minutes of our platform to get your message out. Whether they disagree or agree with your message is irrelevant. It’s the fact that you have the right to have the message.” Hawk takes the microphone and starts with a message of unity—“I am an American”—and, to everyone’s surprise, the crowd goes wild. He continues: “The beauty of America is that when you see something broke in your country, you can mobilize to fix it.” He goes on to discuss police brutality and racial inequality to mixed reviews from the crowd, but eventually wraps up his speech with handshakes and hugs. You can watch the moving encounter here. It is exactly what we need more of in this country.
Taking Common Action
This week, the Common Ground Committee hosted a discussion with several of the participants of Stars and Strife, moderated by New York Times columnist David Brooks. The conversation featured many compelling soundbites, including “politics isn’t broken, it’s fixed.” Leon Panetta wondered aloud whether governing is good politics anymore and voiced his concern that dysfunction and gridlock have become effective methods as of late.
Divided We Fall was able to ask a question to the panel about a time when each panelist was convinced they were wrong by the other side. Brooks discussed his change of heart on reparations, especially as a show of respect to the Black community; Panetta discussed his missteps on immigration reform in Congress; and Hawk Newsome discussed a conversation with Conservative influencer Candice Owens and her opinions on political motives and race. You can watch the conversation here.
What can I do, you might be wondering, to help preserve unity in America? There are countless answers. You can vote. Find out everything you need to know at Vote.org. You can study up and speak out, be it on social media or at the family dining room table. Or you can get involved with the Common Ground Committee or Divided We Fall, and participate in the spirit of associations that will keep America united for another 250 years. The only question remaining is, what are you waiting for?
Joe Schuman is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Divided We Fall. He works to set the vision of the organization and to build the team to meet that mission. Joe works as a civilian for the Department of Defense promoting innovation and emerging technology. Joe is also an Officer in the Air National Guard and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his spare time he can be found reading non-fiction, playing piano, and running triathlons.