A new national dialogue | March 2021

“It's the worst that it's been since the last time it happened
It's happening again right in front of our eyes
There's updated footage, wild speculation
Tall tales and hearsay and absolute lies.”

- Long Violent History by Tyler Childers

In a meeting shaped by the still lingering pandemic, a remarkable thing happened earlier this month. High school students from across the American South spoke candidly and passionately about the struggles, divides, and nascent social changes taking place in their communities. And adults actually listened.

In an event called “Across County Lines,” supporters of Millions of Conversations came together to hear the hopes and frustrations of teenagers from Tennessee, Texas, and Alabama – specifically about the divide between rural and urban America. It was simultaneously an act of bravery and love of community by these young people, to enter a national, public platform and speak so honestly about their home towns.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the dialogue that developed that day was that despite their differences – race, gender, locale, accents – these young people were not very different from one another. And neither are we.

One looks at the current zeitgeist in the U.S., the constant posture of division and outrage, and wonders how we got here. Truth is we’ve had a lot of help.

Major institutions that dominate our national dialogue are designed in many ways to emphasize division and tension while confirming our biases. Both major political parties are guilty of this as are media outlets large and small. Consumer internet and social media companies are at the top of the list, serving us content that only reinforces our preexisting worldview about each other.

That is why work like the event Millions of Conversations hosted with that thoughtful group of high school students is so vital to the future of the republic. In order to heal the divisions gripping and ripping the fabric of this country, we must push past the accepted channels of communication and information. Social media companies, legacy media, and political parties certainly still have much to offer us as a country. But we, the people, can no longer allow that to be the only way we understand each other.

Outside the centers of power, people are people in America. What does that mean? It means we all pretty much share the same basic concerns and priorities. We want to pay our mortgages. We want our kids to get a decent education, grow up healthy, and find happiness. We want quiet weekends where we can spend time with family, maybe worship as we please, and quietly spend a few hours with the people that matter the most to us.

Despite the seemingly endless narrative pushed on us from every quarter that we are somehow very different from one another we actually are not. Our resources, privileges, education, origins, skin color, and religions might be different. Our sense of place might be radically different. But in the end, we are all people simply looking to make our way in the world.

At Millions of Conversations, we ask you to pledge to listen to one another. But that also means asking the right questions. Start with something more like, “How’s your momma and them?” or “How is your day?” People are people. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Having that conversation with someone different than you is the most important part.

Take the #PledgeToListen

Clint Brewer


Will you join us on April 11th?

 

Join Millions of Conversations in our third event of the 2021 Conversationalist Series! We will screen the short film, PURPLE, and host a discussion for all participants. At a time of immense division, PURPLE tells the story of Americans with opposing viewpoints confronting their disagreements and discovering the concerns and humanity that lie behind each other’s positions. This film is a result of a collaboration between Resetting the Table, a leading political mediation organization, and Landon Van Soest, an Emmy-award winning filmmaker.


EADJ Spring Season

Vanderbilt University’s Engine for Art, Democracy and Justice initiative has announced its spring programs, which will feature works by African American composer Julius Eastman and Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama. The lineup includes a panel of leading experts discussing Eastman’s impact on artistic activism, a Vanderbilt Blair School of Music performance highlighting Eastman’s music, and a large-scale installation at Fisk University by Mahama.


EADJ’s trans-institutional partners are Fisk University, the Frist Art Museum and Millions of Conversations.



In Conversation with the Aspen Institute

21st century American democracy is struggling amid deep polarization, and the divisions we see today have undermined trust in the foundational institutions of the United States. While disagreement is the oxygen of democracy, not since the Civil War have so many Americans held such radically different views not just of politics but of reality itself. Months ago, Vanderbilt scholars began to explore how we could play a productive, active and meaningful role in helping heal our national fissures and seek a path towards a more united states. How do we get there? The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy will examine these moments in history as evidence and elevate the role of research and evidence-based reasoning into the national conversation. Join the Socrates Program for this webinar as we discuss the polarization and inequity in the 21st century in the United States.


Join Cordell Carter, Socrates Program Executive Director in conversation with Bill Haslam, 49th Governor of the State of Tennessee, Samar Ali, Research Professor of Political Science and Law at Vanderbilt University, and Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winning historian. 



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