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Healing the divide through listening and understanding.
What I Learned At My First Town Hall Meeting

What I Learned at My First Town Hall Meeting

By Marilyn Utz

As the founder of United and Together, a non-partisan community that helps unite Americans by encouraging interactions that begin with listening to each other and getting to know one another as people, I am constantly looking for ways to strengthen and build this growing community. When I saw an ad for Assemblymember Evan Low’s Town Hall: State and Community Response to a Divisive National Climate, I knew I had to attend.

I’ve never been to a town hall meeting before, so I had no idea what to expect. Evan Low is a Democratic Assemblyman in Northern California. He invited a panel of speakers which included the following organizations: Council on American – Islamic Relations (CAIR), Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN), Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) . I recognized that most of these groups are generally seen to be more left leaning, and wondered if I might meet folks with a more conservative viewpoint there or not. I am glad to say that I did.

Why does this political diversity matter to me? Well, I am a very moderate democrat, living in a largely democratic state. As the founder of a non-partisan community designed to bring people together from both parties, different religions, and different backgrounds, I really enjoy meeting and talking with folks who are either from the republican party or have some other wonderful qualities that are different from my own.

I arrived early and was second in line, proudly wearing my United and Together t-shirt, with our message of unity “Listening to each other. Working together.” A woman in line ahead of me asked right when I walked up to tell her about United and Together. What ensued was a very happy and encouraging conversation between myself, this lovely woman, her husband, my niece, and my friend. I found out that she was a Trump supporter, and I was delighted. I told her I was a democrat. We started by talking about the importance of listening to each other. She, like others I have read about, had felt strain in some of her relationships with friends over differing political views. Happily, she and her friends have remained friends. Good for them! We talked a bit about the election, the media’s often skewed portrayal of events in our country, but we also talked briefly about our children. We both have kids learning to drive, and there isn’t one person with a child learning to drive that doesn’t have several hair raising and funny stories to share. We were getting to know each other as people. This, I think, is the key to strengthening our unity in America. Politics are very important, government is very important, but our families, our values, what makes us who we are is also VERY important. We need to see the entirety of each other.

Once we entered the building, we happily talked a bit more and then chose seats that happened to be a few rows apart. The meeting held many surprises. The biggest surprise was that there were a group of folks who held very conservative views, which was good and welcome at the event, but their way of sharing their views was hard for me. They often yelled over the person speaking, regularly shouting negative comments at the speaker and when people in the crowd asked them to quiet down, occasional shouting occurred on both sides. I was a bit heartbroken. These folks clearly felt that they had not been represented, and that they were not heard and not included. As I mentioned before, the speakers did seem to have a more democratic leaning. So, I see their point. However, constant yelling and interrupting the speakers, to me, solved nothing and it created a very palpable tension.

Both Evan Low and the individual speakers handled the situation with great calm and poise. And I don’t know that I could’ve handled it as well as they did.

But, here is my takeaway from the entire event. We are only going to be able to strengthen our relationships with each other, and thereby strengthen our nation, if we reach out to each other individually and start having these sometimes hard, and often uncomfortable, conversations. I thought about the incredible difference between my conversation with the woman and her husband before the event, and the heated interactions of some folks during the event. Sadly, I did not have the courage to approach the folks that were unhappy during the event. I did not know what to say or where to start. I’ll have to work on that, but I can tell you, all conversations will be easier if we don’t come out swinging. If instead, we listen first, and maybe like my new friend and I did in line, we add in a few stories about ourselves, like how our children are learning to drive, we can begin to build bridges of understanding. We are all more than our political viewpoints, and together we can help unify our nation, even if it’s simply one conversation at a time.

Please join our United and Together community; we need you, and would love to hear your stories.

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