One of the main reasons I am a trade union true believer is that unions must be democratic, transparent and produce results. The other reason is that to be a union member one only needs to work in a union workplace, there is no loyalty test politically. Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents all work under the same collective bargaining agreement. All have the same opportunity to participate or be apathetic. All have easy access to where their dues money goes, and all have an equal voice to participate in the candidate endorsement process.
A union workplace is the ultimate common ground.
Union members represent the community because they are the community. They are not activists.
A movement is nothing without organizing and political parties and candidates rise and fall based on their ability to out-organize the other side. The internet and cable television have become for better or worse America’s town square. But they are tools not foundations.
One of the reasons I chose to be a part of the Family of Labor was the harassment my family suffered as supporters of Jimmy Carter against the newly organized religious right’s candidate Ronald Reagan. We were not just shunned by our church we were accused of being apostates. It was as a student at Oral Roberts University that my foundation of faith crumbled against this barrage as a young man. I hasten to add that ORU at that time did not have that environment at all.
Now as I peruse my Facebook wall I find that most of my progressive activist friends are obsessed with groups like Media Matters for America and Right Wing Watch. While there’s nothing wrong with monitoring the news media for bias; if it becomes the foundation of an activist’s guiding principles it is destructive for the movement they claim to want to build.
This is also true of right wing Christians and others who turn to groups like NewsBusters and the Media Research Center. So when I see a Facebook friend call Christians ‘dimwits’, or conservative Tea Party activists ‘TeaBaggers’ I cringe. First because Christian believers are as likely to be intelligent as non-believers and second because thanks to John Waters we know calling someone a TeaBagger is akin to calling them gay. That progressive pro-gay rights activists feel comfortable using a gay reference as an insult is beyond reprehensible. But in the current scorched Earth political rhetoric environment it is common place.
When Ted Kennedy died I recall some posted that conservatives should support health care legislation as a tribute to the late senator. I don’t recall these people saying similar things when Strom Thurmond died. What we have is a disconnect.
So I propose a simple self-examination.
Over the next thirty days keep a diary of how many occasions you read or watch commentary that is primarily anti-the other side. MSNBC and Fox News are the great offenders, so if you are progressive and an hour of Fox News drives you crazy then find a way not to be like them. If Rachel Maddow is obsessed with Chris Christie make a decision to walk away and find more nourishing sources of information.
My other proposal is a simple one: talk to your neighbors, read your local paper and reach out to those with whom you disagree; not to persuade them but to humanize them. If your neighbor or co-worker is a fundamentalist Christian GOP activist or a Tea Party supporter would you teach your children to call their children idiots or TeaBaggers? Of course not.
If your neighbor has an Obama bumper sticker or is an Greenpeace activist would you teach your children to call their children Communists or Anti-American? I hope not.
You can disagree with what I believe without hating who I am. The line between I hate unions, as expressed by a supervisor where I work, and hating me is razor thin. We must find a way to nourish our political souls and to build movements locally based on common ground. Where the sides are simply fundamentally too different we must find ways to humanize and appreciate the individual despite our different opinions. No one ever won an election with a flier that said ‘I think you are an idiot, vote for me’. No one ever won a friend by saying ‘I hate what you believe and what you represent.’
As Americans we are blessed with the right to have a voice and we are blessed with the right to be unreasonable. But we also have the right to do as we are admonished in Isaiah 1.18 which reads “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD…” Now I’m not a Believer but that makes a lot of sense.
Now get to work on that self-examination then go to the library and read the works that represent the foundation of your beliefs. Then read the other side's. You may not be persuaded but you can have enlightening conversations with friends, enemies and neighbors who are all members of your community. You might even change a few minds and your own in ways that will surprise you.