Posted in Communicating for Social Change, Political communication

Political Discourse Across Differences

Last night, I attended in Roanoke, VA, one of the more than 3000 organizing meetings held across the country for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. The meeting was energizing and framed for me once again the importance of communicating across differences, even (or especially) in politics.

In the address to all of the people at all of these meetings, streamed live, Senator Sanders emphasized that ordinary people could still be powerful in a democracy, and in fact could create a political revolution, if enough of them stand together on key principles and resist the forces that would divide them by race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, age, and so on.

In the prelude to Senator Sander’s speech, many of the approximately 90 people who attended the Roanoke event took the microphone to share why they came to the event. They voiced heartfelt concerns about social and economic justice that foreshadowed the issues that Senator Sanders later outlined as his platform:

  • Income & wealth inequality
  • The costs of higher education
  • Climate change & the environment
  • Institutional racism
  • Getting big money out of politics
  • Immigration reform
  • Health care as a basic human right
  • Rebuilding the country’s infrastructure
  • Creating jobs

I was struck by the frankness and passion in the Senator’s speech. I appreciated his focus on the big problems our society faces today and the creativity of his proposed solutions. This is what I want to see in political discourse — honesty, problem identification, and creative solutions. I am not interested in the circus of lies, misinformation, name-calling and bomb-throwing that is American politics. It is a cynical, childish, and carefully crafted distraction from the real issues. Likewise, I am frustrated with the equally cynical media focus on which candidate has the most money, as if all we are doing here is handicapping a horse race. All I learn from these comparisons of candidates’ war chests is how powerful the influence of big money is on politics, and how easily it can wipe out the votes of ordinary people like me. I am not impressed. I want to hear about issues, solutions, and plans.

What really struck me in the room last night, though, was the overriding sense that these were people who wanted everyone to do well, who understood the need for building community, creating a more just society, and caring for the well-being of each other and the planet. I can stand behind that kind of political discourse.