Why I've left my liberal comfort zone – and found conservative friends

As the cofounder of Moveon.org, I'm steeped in progressive culture. I often hear the argument that we must overwhelm conservatives with greater numbers. But I ask my progressive friends to consider another approach.

Stephen Lam/Reuters
Two supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump are seen wearing U.S. flags during a "People 4 Trump" rally in Berkeley, California March 4, 2017.

In November I had a conservative friend tell me about being berated by a co-worker who thought she voted for Donald Trump. She didn’t actually say whether she had or had not voted for President Trump, but her co-worker blamed her for the election of Trump nonetheless. 

In progressive areas like San Francisco and my hometown Berkeley, conservatives tend to keep a low profile. It grieves me that so many people feel that revealing their political leanings would be dangerous and that their fears are reasonable.  

As the cofounder of Moveon.org, I am steeped in the progressive culture. I often hear the argument that we must win by overwhelming the conservatives with greater numbers. I admit that I’d be much more comfortable in a world where the voices of my progressive friends blaze our path forward, solving our shared challenges with or without the support of Trump voters.  

However, true progress requires stretching myself beyond comfort. There is another approach that I ask my progressive friends and everyone to consider – "love thy neighbor."  

Last week Nicholas Kristof wrote a New York Times op-ed about why we shouldn’t “otherize” Trump voters.  

Go ahead and denounce Trump’s lies and bigotry. Stand firm against his disastrous policies. But please don’t practice his trick of “otherizing” people into stick-figure caricatures, slurring vast groups as hopeless bigots. We’re all complicated, and stereotypes are not helpful — including when they’re of Trump supporters.

Mr. Kristof described the political cost of dismissing 63 million Americans, but there is a deeper cost. When we fail to recognize our common humanity we lose valued relationships. We also make our lives smaller, divide our communities, and fail to benefit from everyone's best ideas.

As the founding partner of LivingRoomConversations.org, I have intentionally sought out friends with very different political beliefs. With AllSides for Schools, I work to bring this practice to the next generation. I strive to better understand the political opportunities and challenges we face together. Despite the discomfort of challenging the progressive ideas that I hold close to my heart, I have found treasured friends who might seem like my polar opposite. 

By connecting around our shared human experience we are discovering that there are opportunities to improve citizen representation in government that satisfy conservative and progressive values. Left and right efforts on criminal justice work has already begun to reduced prison populations.

Even in the area of climate change, meaningful opportunities are multiplying. Efficiency, energy independence through renewable energy, “clean tax cuts” all show promise for moving us toward shared goals.

When we care about each other and want to meet each other’s basic needs, much becomes possible. Even though I have not persuaded my good friend Jacob that climate is a critical concern, he cares more now in part because he cares about me. Also because I did not insist that he accept my view of climate science.

Instead I noted that I don’t need proof that climate change is happening. Even if there is only a 10 percent chance that we are destroying the planet’s capacity to support future generations, I find that unconscionable. I don’t allow my children to play Russian roulette.

This gave Jacob the space to consider the possibility that climate change is an unacceptable risk rather than react to a demand. And Jacob has caused me to see that climate change is the progressive “end times” story. 

This is not a one-way exchange. I care about Jacob’s concern that as religious conservatives he and his community are becoming marginalized. We have remarkably different beliefs, but we are learning to hold the tension of our differences and listen to each other with humility. 

More and more of us are working to spark a movement of respect, using simple listening practices that open our hearts. I hope that honoring each other’s humanity will lead to more compassionate political discourse and elected leaders that we can all respect, even if they weren’t our first choice.

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