The past few months have brought a lot of political statements.
Last week was “A Day Without A Woman,” a national protest in which many women stayed home instead of shopping or going to work to show their contribution to the economy.
After the inauguration, over 3 million people across the nation participated in women’s marches to protest discrimination against women. At the beginning of the year, thousands also protested during “Not My President” marches. Others have joined demonstrations to make political statements about education or immigration.
Among all the political statements we could make, I wish we would make this one: “Let’s talk.”
Let’s be clear: Protesting and striking are protected rights that all Americans should cherish. The passion and concern Americans have shown in recent marches and protests is nothing short of awe-inspiring. No one can say this nation has apathetic, disengaged citizens. So many of us today want to make a difference.
But I wonder if protests and strikes are the best we can do.
In this particularly heated climate, protests often create more division than solutions. Protests cause us to retreat into our like-minded groups rather than explore a real medium of constructive change. By nature, division creates more outrage, inequality and problems.
Luckily, Americans are more than passionate — we are creative. I plead for us to use our gifts to unite rather than to divide.
This can look like talking to a co-worker with whom you disagree to understand a new perspective. Maybe there is something behind his or her belief that you didn’t see before. Or perhaps you could contact an elected official you vehemently disagree with to offer constructive ideas instead of personal criticism. You might find out they don’t actually have a vendetta against you or your loved ones, and that there are possible compromises. You could get involved with a community organization like Village Square that brings together people with different thoughts and philosophies to discuss a host of controversial topics.
Though it would require listening, it would not require abandoning or compromising what you hold dear. But it could be uncomfortable. This would require everyone to leave comfort zones. It would require some serious pride-swallowing. And allowing others to be heard, even if you’re certain that they are ”bigots” or “morons” or “crazy hippies.” You may find they are people, like you, who have beliefs, and reasons for those beliefs. And you may even find that by working with these people, you could create better policy than you could have alone.
Think of the Utah Compromise — the legislative feat that balanced religious liberty and LGBT rights. Two worlds that frequently are at odds with each other came together to make sure everyone could be heard. It must have been slightly uncomfortable, but they did it. And they have real legislation to show for it — legislation that was mentioned by The New York Times and NPR as an example of how other states could unite for the benefit of all. Perhaps, instead of protesting, we can create and champion innovative solutions that we do support, with people we never gave a chance before.
We can be more creative than thinking our only option is re-creating the Boston Tea Party. After all, it took the constitutional convention — a collaboration of thoughtful compromises — to give meaning to the Boston Tea Party. Let’s make sure that we don’t settle for marches, protests or strikes, leading us away from the change we seek and into like-minded seclusion.
I’m not asking that we change our drive, our passion, our ideals or our goals. American people, please, keep all of those. But real change does require changing. Changing methods of effectiveness, or the way we view others we disagree with — realizing that there might be other ideas that are worth our time. We have the power to come together and actually make a difference. Let’s not picket it away.
We, as individuals and communities, have always had the power to make America great by coming together. So to you who want to have a voice, I extend this invitation: “Let’s talk.”
Davi Johnson is a policy intern with Sutherland Institute.