Do you feel disheartened by the current political environment? Does the hyper-partisan, two-sided narrative feel overwhelming? Do you want to get involved in a political cause important to you but you don't know how?
Well, you are not alone.
That was the latest theme for the League of Women Voters of San Diego's (LWVSD) Sips and Civility. The League hosted the event Tuesday night at the Central Library in downtown San Diego, with special guest Joe McGovern, an independent documentary filmmaker.
Image: Independent filmmaker Joe McGovern, who made "The Other Side: a liberal democrat explores conservative America," co-produced by IVN and the Foundation for Independent Voter Education (FIVE).
Tuesday's Sips and Civility was hosted by the League in collaboration with the Foundation for Independent Voter Education (FIVE, a co-publisher of IVN along with the Independent Voter Project), and other local organizations. Organizers offer a forum through these events for a civil discussion on important political topics, from election reform to grassroots organizing, while offering attendees free food and beverages (beer or wine).
"Our entire committee is so proud of the event," said Amanda Berg, LWVSD Director of Voter Service. "This was the most engaged audience we've ever had. While the discussion time is never long enough, I hope that attendees will be inspired to continue the conversation. If we want to have real change in this country, we need to listen to and learn from each other. That's what our whole series is about."
Berg introduced Joe McGovern, the mind behind the documentary, The Other Side: a liberal democrat explores conservative America. The Other Side follows McGovern as he travels across the US, from California to New York, down to Texas, and more, conducting over 80 interviews with conservatives on a variety of hot-button topics. He partnered with FIVE and IVN in July 2015, and was able to raise $50,000 to cover production and travel costs.
Joe showed the first 1o minutes of his film to attendees. He then answered questions about his journey to understand how the other side truly views the world around them. McGovern said he went into the project with one goal: he was not going to try to persuade anyone; he was just going to listen. The experience was life changing.
Watch the trailer for The Other Side:
You can watch the full documentary free here.
"It is possible to have productive conversations with people you disagree with, but it's not, according to conventional wisdom, by looking for common ground," said McGovern.
"To have productive conversations with people you disagree with you must do two things. First, avoid using hyperbole. There is no empathy, no understanding in hyperbole. Second, when the person you're speaking with uses hyperbole, and they almost certainly will, you must resist admonishing them, correcting them, or responding in kind." - Joe McGovern
McGovern adds that people should look for valid concerns beneath the hyperbolic rhetoric, or keep asking questions until a valid concern is identified.
"If you do those two things, you can create a productive conversation with anyone, no matter how nuts or crazy they, at first, sound to you," he said.
"I'm so glad Joe was able to join us and share some of The Other Side documentary. Attendees really appreciated hearing the lessons he learned, especially when he explained the idea of admitting when someone who disagrees with you has made a good point. It's not easy to do, but it is one of the keys to compromise," said Berg.
The conversations that followed McGovern's presentation echoed that sentiment. Attendees took part in a lively and substantive discussion on the biggest hurdles in engaging in political discourse, from getting beyond ideological differences, to "fake news," to sheer anger. Everyone had an opportunity to weigh in on how they felt.
In the end, many attendees agreed that both Joe McGovern and the League of Women Voters were on to something. Getting people involved in an open, civil forum at the local level is an important first step. And, having the courage to let go of personal biases for a moment to listen to what the other side has to say can move the conversation much further than where it is today.
The next Sips and Civility event is planned for the fall. A date has yet to be determined.