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Bridging the Divide Gathering

Organizing a “Bridging the Political Divide” Gathering

  1. Connect with at least one other person who has different political views than you. This is likely the hardest part for many interested people, because many of us hang out only with people on our “side.” Ask around and talk up your interest with your friends to get leads on people of other political views.
  2. Meet with 1-2 people from each side to discuss details of potential group meetings.
    • How many people will attend? We found that about a dozen was enough to have a diverse set of ideas, yet small enough that everyone could participate fully.
    • Who will invite the attendees?
    • Where and when? The meetings we’ve held were at the homes of those who initiated them. We discussed using a restaurant or something similar, but felt that there would be too many distractions. The library is another option for public meeting rooms.
    • How long will the meeting last? Our meetings have been 90 minutes. We probably could have used a little more time. I would like to try two hours for the next meeting.
    • What is the format? At our first meeting we started with 1-2 minutes for each person to have the floor to insure everyone could have a chance to participate. The next meeting was a little less structured and got into a more open discussion right off the bat. We had two topics and 30 minutes allowed for each one.
    • Who will lead the discussion? The host led each discussion that we’ve had.
    • How strictly will the format be followed? Structure for the meeting is definitely important, especially if most of the participants don’t know each other. However, allowing some flexibility also allows the discussion to get much deeper—beyond talking points, which is the whole idea.
    • Do we want refreshments? Many participants will be willing to bring snacks to share.
    • What will the topic(s) be? Our first meeting began by each of us discussing some things that we felt were misconceptions about our “side.” This was a great way to break the ice and immediately open the conversation up to topics that are typically hard to discuss. The next meeting, we had two defined topics, with the intent of looking for shared concerns and common ground.
    • How much time will be spent on each topic?
  3. Invite roughly equal numbers of people from each “side” and ask for RSVPs. If attendance will be lopsided for one side, invite more people to create a sense of balance.
  4. Send attendees the format and/or topics for the meeting ahead of time.
  5. Send attendees some guidelines for sharing at the meetings. The goals are: (1) To understand why someone has a different opinion, not to try and change their opinion for your own beliefs; and, (2) Ultimately find solutions that incorporate ideas from both (all) sides. We can articulate our personal beliefs more vibrantly when questioned by someone with opposing ideas. Some best-practices:
    • Speak your truth, but accept that others will not agree.
    • Don’t interrupt someone who is speaking.
    • Don’t make a personal statement with an implied criticism.
    • Repeat back what you heard someone say and ask questions to clarify.
    • Avoid generalized, polarizing, “headline” or “bullet-point” statements.
    • Admit the flaws in the position of your “side.”
    • Use terminology such as “I believe…” rather that stating something as fact that may be disputed.
    • Don’t argue. Use terminology like “Another view of that is…” or “I read an article that had a different perspective on that…”
  6. Send reminder emails or phone calls to assure attendance.
  7. At the meeting, discuss the willingness of attendees to share contact information for any follow up discussion, future meetings or other events that might be of interest.
  8. Toward the end of the meeting, invite participants to share any new insights or surprises about the other “side” they had during the discussion. Explore interest in another meeting. Try to get a general idea of days and times that are best for those interested. One protocol is to rotate the host, then have the host set the topic, and send out reminders.

Have a question or want more information about holding/attending a “Bridging the Divide” gathering? Fill out the form below.