Between a pandemic that wreaked havoc on everything from our mental health to supply chains, constant gridlock in Congress and the never-ending barrage of divisive messaging on cable news and social media, it is easy to feel like everything is broken. And it’s easy to feel powerless to fix anything.
In fact, Americans were losing confidence in our government and institutions even before the pandemic. Voter turnout in 2014 was lower than at any point since World War II. As of 2021 Gallup poll found that a record low of 39% of people trust the federal government to handle international problems. Perhaps most striking is that younger Americans are much less likely to say that living in a democracy is essential than previous generations.
HELP UNITE AMERICA:Register to participate in America Talks
But what if we told you that more than 70% of Americans agree on most solutions to the key challenges of our time? Would you be surprised? Most Americans are. in an extraordinary 2020 reportthe international organization Beyond Conflict asked people to rate their views about immigration on a scale of zero (keep borders completely open) to 100 (close borders completely to migrants). The researchers also asked people to estimate how the average member of the other party would answer that question.
Americans share common ground
Democrats in the study had a median score of 35, but Republicans wagered that Democrats would be at roughly a nine – a 26-point difference. Republicans had a median score of 75, but Democrats pegged Republicans at 92 – a 17-point difference. Researchers asked participants similar questions about guns and got similar results: lots of common ground, but little perception of common ground.
That gap isn’t confined to our opinions on specific issues; it extends to our understanding of our fellow Americans. For example, the Beyond Conflict report also found that “Americans believe that members of the other party dehumanize, dislike, and disagree with their own party about twice as much as they actually do.”
So what is it we agree on? Public Agenda’s Hidden Common Ground reports found high levels of agreement among Americans on a wide variety of issues including climate change, COVID-19, economic opportunity, racism, police reform and more.
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Perhaps even more important, why don’t we know that we agree? The first place to look is at who stands to benefit from a divided America. It’s not all cable news, but some; not all social media but some; not all politicians, but some who act as merchants of division.
Whether it is to reap profits by drawing eyeballs or to retain a grip on power by dividing the many and representing the few, merchants of division have obscured the fundamental reality that Americans have a lot in common. In doing so, they undermine our power.
Come together for America Talks
Armed with this knowledge and a few other tools, we can take our power back. It’s easier than you think, thanks to a constellation of groups across the country that are making it easier for regular Americans to find each other and connect as humans, in all our complexity and diversity of experience. And you can find us at America Talks on Saturday and during the National Week of Conversation events that follow.
America Talks is a powerful event that invites Americans of different backgrounds and beliefs to connect in small groups or one-on-one via video in order to heal divisions, solve problems, raise our voices and put ordinary people back at the center of politics.
Participants can read on a written guide to make their conversations more enjoyable and productive, and their input is later shared with members of Congress. More than 50% of participants in the most recent America Talks had never participated in an event like this. Virtually everyone said they’d like to take part in such an event again.
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Of course, one 90-minute event is just a start. Americans need easy ways to talk about their agreements and move forward together that can fit into busy lives. That’s where organizations like ours come in. Civic Genius and YOUnify are putting Americans back in the driver’s seat of our democracy.
Civic Genius provides easy-to-digest materials that break down public policy and gathers Americans from across the political spectrum in local communities to develop solutions. YOUnify provides support to organize Americans into neighborhood-based teams (or chapters) and makes it easy for them to raise their voices to decision-makers in concert with stakeholders from multiple sectors — turning those solutions into action. Put simply, together, Civic Genius, YOUnify and hundreds of other groups are reinvigorating people power.
There’s a doorway into this movement for you at America Talks and the National Week of Conversation. We hope to see you there.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism