Courteous conversations between bitter enemies? One group violently opposing the issues of another — three or four on each side quietly sitting down to talk things over?
Often, these days, it happens thanks to the Public Conversations Project, or to local conflict resolution nonprofits like San Francisco’s Community Boards. Still, it’s hard to believe.
I recently participated in a teleconference with Joan Blades, however, and Blades can make you a believer. With her husband Wes Boyd, Blades founded MoveOn.org in 1987. That was the year everybody said, “Yeah, it’ll never go anywhere…” More recently she started MomsRising. No organizational structure, no venture capital, but as its website explains, just “a handful of women (who) came together, and then that handful became hundreds, the hundreds became thousands, and through friends telling friends, MomsRising is now more than a million members strong and growing.”
All of which makes it difficult to tell Blades that one or two people can’t get together and make a difference. I asked if she thought any sort of reconciliation could ever happen with reproductive rights, given the polarization, emotionalism and widespread misinformation that separates the pro-choice and anti-abortion forces.
Actually, Blades replied, it did. “I was not a part of it. But at the height of the violence against abortion providers in the 1990s, a group of pro-choice leaders sat down with anti-abortion leaders in an attempt to stop the violence. After that, the level of violence was reduced.” A 2009 Huffington Post blog by Mary Jacksteit explains how that went. Jacksteit is currently involved with LivingRoomConversations.org, which says on its home page: “We need to have collaborative solutions. Adversarial solutions are not working.”
Small groups, courteous conversations, two or three people on one side listening to two or three people on another — these may not change any minds, or change the world tomorrow. But don’t tell Joan Blades or Wes Boyd or Mary Jaksteit it’s not worth trying.
And for that matter, I plan to keep trying myself.