Turning political noise into do-it-yourself Democracy

This presidential election, we're bound to hear a lot of things designed solely to win an election. But there are other voices to listen to.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
A costume head of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump sits on the pavement as protests take place outside the Republican National Committee in Washington May 12.

When we wake up on Nov. 9, we will face the reality behind this crazy election year. 

After working for years with members of the United States House of Representatives, I know there are good people on both sides of the aisle. But for that basic American goodness to shine, we need to stop keeping score of who won or lost, but focus on the health of our democracy. 

Nothing illustrates the hollowness of our politics more clearly than the speeches we are likely to hear at the party conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Despite the differences in political philosophy, both presidential nominees will give speeches that are largely predictable. 

“I am right, my opponent wrong.”

“I almost never make mistakes; he/she makes nothing but mistakes.”

“I protect America; he/she endangers it.”

“I strengthen America’s economy; he/she weakens it.”

“I am strong and have courage; he/she is weak and will be pushed around.” 

“You can trust me, but not him/her.”

“I tell the truth, but he/she is a liar.”

“Elect me, and our greatest days are ahead of us; elect my opponent, disaster will soon follow.”

Election after election, this is the repetitive refrain. And so, on the day after the election, gridlock is likely to continue – and perhaps even worsen.

Unfortunately, this is not a Broadway audition. This is the process by which our country makes decisions about its future: about where our sons and daughters are sent to war, who gets health care and who doesn’t, and what quality of education our children will receive.

Instead of using our differences to truly listen and learn from each other, we are letting our differences divide and polarize us. Instead of a thoughtful, innovative, catalytic debate about issues like terrorism, for example, we are playing political games. We are mortgaging our future to inter-party warfare.

Rather than being manipulated by politicians into polarized armies, let’s choose to learn from each other. Despite politicians’ claims in every election cycle that they will be “uniters, not dividers,” they have rigged the system against problem-solving – and we have been their enablers. So whatever issue most concerns us, whether it’s the economy or national security, it’s time to reach out across the divide ourselves.

A one-stop shop for “do it yourself democracy” is the Bridge Alliance. You will find a range of more than 40 organizations that allow each of us, as concerned citizens, to find our own way of building bridges. On Capitol Hill, NoLabels is working to forge a cross-party caucus that is challenging members of Congress to work together in the national interest.

So we don’t have to wait until Election Day to have our say. We can get involved right now in reuniting America. We can show the candidates, both national and local, that we are not waiting for them to find the courage to reach out to their adversary. We can do it ourselves.  

Mark Gerzon, president of Mediators Foundation, is the author of "The Reunited States of America; How We Can Cross the Partisan Divide."

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