Earlier this afternoon I had the pleasure of watching Mayor of Tallahassee and Democratic Candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum speak at my university. Despite being quite late (oops) I got to hear quite a lot about his platform and his vision for Florida. Though I personally disagree with his platform in a few areas, I admired his great talent for public speaking and the great answers he had for the questions people asked him, he is unafraid to confront tough issues and ask difficult questions, and has proposed solutions.
I asked him about what I think is the biggest problem in our nation, the growing partisan divide:
Me: “Florida is famously one of the biggest swing states in the nation, and thus is pretty representative of both sides of the political spectrum in America, and in recent years it has become very apparent that hyper-partisanship is tearing our country apart, you can see it in Congress and in day to day relations between people. That being said, what will you do to help bridge the growing partisan divide in the country?”
Andrew Gillum: “Yea, it is deep, and it is increasingly being built off of what I would like to consider the ‘otherizing’ of Americans. We used to have partisan divides based off of real issues, I may have a different approach to how we should guide the future of education policy in this state, somebody else might have another belief around how to do that. What we are seeing largely from the federal Government on down is the dividing of people based off of things we really can’t change about ourselves. I could scream from the rafters as much as I want to that I’m white and you can look at me and tell that I’m not. We have a President who is unabashedly willing to blame brown people for the reason white people don’t have work, saying that because we have immigration problem you aren’t able to make a wage to take care of your family with. Now, I don’t know what he knows, but I think most of us who know better know that that’s an oversimplification of what’s real and what is happening, but he understands well enough that if you draw that line and you make that the ground upon which we have to fight, that you can keep us as separated, and you don’t have to do the work, its already done, we’re not going to come to consensus, we’re not going to eat together and break bread together and try to get to know each other on a more humane level, because our politics have now suffered I think a very, very deep blow to what I think we as a country have enjoyed for a long time, and that has been our ability to reach across race and across gender, and I’m not romanticizing the history of this country, it’s a difficult one, but I think, how do we go from a President Obama twice-elected to a President Trump? I can’t even explain that, that isn’t partisanship, that is I am a proud American and I’m embarrassed to see what’s happening, and I’m embarrassed for what the rest of the world is seeing, I’m embarrassed by the President’s response to Charlottesville, I’m embarrassed by our response here in this state to what that looks like, we’ve now divulged into a fight over the Confederacy, and over supremacy, over a hundred-plus year old Civil War, that’s where we are right now, we aren’t debating whether or not your economic platform or mine is the one we ought to go with, I think that’s unfortunate but I think that we have both leaders who have calculatedly devolved politics to that place because that’s a place where people are still angry, and what we have to do is show that that is not a winning place, a winning place is talking about what we’re going to do to improve education and the economy, and address science and climate change, and all these other things that I think folks are much more willing to have fair discourse around.
One of the things that I’ve done as the Mayor of the city of Tallahassee is we started this effort called “The Longest Table”, and while it wasn’t intentioned around bringing the left and the right together, it was intentioned around how do you bring people who have very different living experiences in our community to the same table where, I’ve never been to your neighborhood, I don’t know what it’s like, I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as you, but maybe by sitting down and breaking bread together instead of being judging of me you make a choice to be more curious about what’s different. And through that curiosity maybe there’s growth, maybe there’s exchange, maybe there’s a deepening of humanity. I don’t think a meal by itself does that, but what we’re trying to do is break out of our own silos, our own superficial differences and superficial barriers to see that we actually have a lot more in common than we do that separates us. I’d love to scale that up, in fact, we’ve been contacted by folks from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Jacksonville has already duplicated our effort, we’ve shared it with other cities, in an effort to get everybody moving in this direction of breaking bread together. Our first event, we built an uninterrupted dinner table down a downtown street in my city, no frills or thrills, a runner that ran the length of it, and we asked people to talk about the questions that affect our community, what do you love about where you live, what would make where you live better, what do you think are the biggest challenges confronting our community, how do you address race in your household. Those are the kinds of things that allow people to on their own go as deep into the surface or as superficial as they want on it, until they got comfortable with deep, then we put together smaller households, a dinner table between six and twelve people, and we ask people to go a little bit deeper in those conversations. So not a complete panacea, but at least it expresses a value, a value around community, a value around togetherness, a value around curiosity about what’s different rather than judging and choosing to go to the side of the otherizing of each other, I think that is what is more destructive to our society, not necessarily my position on the environment or education or the economy, but some of those frankly stimulating issues where you basically say because that person has, I don’t, and because that person is different than me we have nothing in common. I think that’s been hugely destructive to the body politic, and I think that we are coming very, very dangerously close, as evidenced by what we saw in Virginia, to really deepening those divides to a really irreparable place for a huge segment of our society, and I think that’s very, very dangerous.”
It was a pleasure to attend this event and to hear Mayor Gillum speak. Here is a link to his website if you are interested.