Civil Conversation group to discuss bipartisan politics

Nov 16, 2012


Participants will discuss "Bipartisanship in a Post-Election America: Can We Work Together?"

Gatherings are open to the public and all are encouraged to join the conversation from 7-8:45 p.m. at Loutit District Library, 407 Columbus Ave. in Grand Haven.

It’s time to stop fighting and start fixing

Now that the 2012 elections are finally over, we can all pause and take a deep breath. With negative campaigning from both sides of the political spectrum over, it’s time to set the rancor aside and focus on how we can move forward together to solve the problems facing our nation.

This past summer, Joe Klein — a renowned journalist and reporter for Time magazine — took a road trip covering the 2012 campaign. He met with several members of the West Michigan Civil Conversation Project in Grand Haven and met separately with Tea Party members from Kalamazoo.

After meeting with both groups, Klein urged them to get together and have a conversation. Both parties seemed most agreeable to do so. The point he made is to not have a debate with winners and losers, but to sit down, learn and appreciate the other’s point of view — learn to cooperatively work together. We agree.

Let’s start with where we agree, not where we differ. We believe that people across the political spectrum love their country and want it to be the best it can be for all. But solving our nation’s problems in not the work of one party or the other — it’s our collective work.

Over time, we have become so detached, removed and uninvolved that things have gone amok. Left to their own devices, Congress doesn’t seem to know what their employers — we who hired them — expect from them. They seem to be listening to their parties and their funders before their constituencies, and that is increasing the partisan divide.

So how can we make a difference?

First, we can become more engaged and involved in the political process — at the village, city, township, county, state and federal levels. Volunteer to serve on a commission, attend local meetings, and share your opinions and concerns with your elected officials.

Second, we can improve the civility of our own discourse. Look for common ground. Listen. Eschew labels. Practice civil conversation.

And third, we can require our elected officials to reach across the aisle, to work together and to make their commitment to this ideal known. The fast-growing national and statewide citizen movement called No Labels — currently 600,000-people strong and growing — is making headway on this issue and gaining respect for its promotion of bipartisanship.

Right now, some U.S. congressional leaders are coming together to form a No Labels-sponsored Problem Solving Bloc, to be unveiled in January, led by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman(R), and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

If you’re wondering whether your representative has signed on as a Problem Solving caucus member, look for the No Labels seal of approval on their website. If they haven’t signed on, get in touch and make your call for bipartisan progress heard.

It can be done. Just as a local example, consider the recent agreement between the Grand Haven Area Public Schools and the local teachers union that created a savings of $1.4 million. I’m sure there were Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the negotiating table. But isn’t it amazing when both sides bargain in good faith, keeping an eye on their constituents — the students and future leaders of our community?

We are in need of big change in the way our elected officials work on behalf of the country. But like all change, it starts at home.

Join the West Michigan Civil Conversation Project on Tuesday night to get engaged in the dialogue about how we can begin working beyond labels and encourage our elected officials to work across the aisle to solve the dire problems facing our nation. It’s time to stop fighting and start fixing.

This month's perspective for the West Michigan Civil Conversation Project was written by Jill Rahrig and Phil Leech, who are members of the Michigan Citizen Leaders of No Labels, a grass-roots organization of Democrats, Republicans and independents united in the belief that we need to help move America from the old politics of point-scoring toward a new political climate of problem-solving. Find out more at



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