"We must unite! The fate of the country depends on us. We must not divide in the day of adversity. Huzzah!" I wrote this on Facebook five years ago as part of a meme to make a cliché movie speech. Ironically, it rings true today – we need to talk with our fellow members of humanity and unite over shared ideals.
The earliest beginnings of democracy, the birth of liberty which we hold dear, began in the coffeehouses of Paris and London. The Protestant Reformation kindled a desire in the hearts of the people, first in Germany and later throughout the entire world, to challenge the status quo and introduce new ideas into society.
No longer were we to be a despotic society ruled according to a top-down approach with a priest on top. We were to be the people deciding things for ourselves, critically thinking, and questioning ideas.
U.S. history, unfortunately, has had a bad trend towards political violence – from the tarring and feathering of the 1770s to Congressman Preston Brooks beating Senator Charles Sumner with a cane because of an inflammatory speech Sumner made on the Senate floor. The U.S. has had a long history of people attacking others through violence to prove a political point – this led to a society that stopped talking politics altogether in the 20th century in an attempt to appear unified during the Cold War.
This attempt to hide political division is like covering up a volcano – you know the tensions are brewing under the surface and will blow. If anything, covering up an issue will lead to even more dire consequences.
When people do not discuss their ideas and viewpoints with others who are different, prejudices and stereotypes grow. If you never met a liberal Democrat, but somebody told you Democrats were out to destroy your culture and all you hold dear, you may believe this stereotype.
But if you knew Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, etc., you may realize they are just as human as you and have the same goals and ambitions of making the world a better place – they just have different ideas about how to do it.
I will exempt Fascism from this because Fascism inherently believes in the superiority of another race and dismisses all those who are not part of that race as having "inferior ideas." What I am referring to is normal, everyday conservatives and liberals who see problems in this broken country and want to fix them.
The key to creating an open democratic discussion and society lies in the next sentence:
Talk politics and religion!!!
Many people of my generation are already doing it: we gather in coffeehouses, just as people in the early 18th century did. We discuss not only Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire, but also the latest Odyssey "pamphlets" we just read, or we compare news from CNN and Fox. This is very much millennial culture, in a way reviving the coffeehouses of 18th-century Paris and London. Unfortunately, many people do not know how to "talk politics." We need to first evaluate ourselves and our own presuppositions. Everybody lives in a bubble. Are you working class? Are you not? Are you white? Black? Whatever your bubble may be, we are all brought up around people similar to ourselves. A cosmopolitan upbringing in the suburbs of D.C. with a frequent interaction of cultures that aren't your own would be very different from growing up in northern Pennsylvania where the nearest Walmart is three hours away.
We need to acknowledge that our experience isn't the only experience and that other people have experienced different parts of the human story, and we need to talk it out. The more we talk, the more we hear from people who are part of different religions and races, and the more we realize that what may seem like the "right way" to us may harm another group or have unintended consequences. Go to coffeehouses with as many people as possible and delve right into the elephant in the room – the biggest political problem of the day. Instead of seeing it as a debate that should be won, examine it as an opportunity to hear and listen to another person, a friend who also has ideas on how to change the world and make it better. Listen to the stories, hear the examples, and realize that the right answer probably lies in between you.
This is how to preserve democracy – a Greek word meaning "people's rule." We must talk to the people and hear people's opinions. This isn't a government of one, and this isn't an oligarchy of "people who are similar to me in culture and upbringing." This is a country full of many people who have different backgrounds and ideas and who are trying to make things better.
Our economy may be mercilessly competitive, but this does not mean you have to be. Remember, a democracy needs to be the voice of the people, so talk to as many people as you can with different cultural upbringings.
Read about the plight of African Americans next time you see somebody make a comment about "Black Lives Matter." Learn about the history of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.
Next time somebody mentions "all those Spanish people," why don't you go eat at an (authentic) South or Central American restaurant and think about the culture and hear about people's traditions in those countries?
If you have a friend or a neighbor of a different ethnicity, invite them to a coffeehouse!
Next time you hear a snarky comment about how "Americans are so stupid – they don't know geography," realize that these comments are targetting the working class and lower classes where people do not have the money to travel or afford a good education. The upper classes in U.S. society created the stereotype of "stupid Americans" to make the working class feel guilty and isolated. Seek out the working-class girl or boy down the street who did not have the money to attend college, talk to them, and take them to a coffeehouse.
Create more mobility with both those who have values and experiences similar to your own and with those who are very different – and you will be creating a better democracy.
Hatred of other people groups does not always come in obvious forms such as the Nazis marching down the street; hatred can also result in the snarky jokes people make about "stupid Americans" or people laughing at an immigrant's accent. This is all fueled by ignorance. The only way to end this is to talk.
We talk about political polarization as though it is something we cannot control, and many people feel tempted to go back into the turtle shell of "no politics and religion."
My friend, this will only make our problems worse. Talk, but also listen. It is a two-way conversation in a coffeehouse, and the more you speak with those who are different and listen to what they have to say, the stronger democracy will be.
Do not be afraid of finding out you are mistaken and do not be afraid of somebody for being different. When you listen and build relationships, in the long run, you are building a democracy – a country of the people – and eventually, we shall be a world of the people.
A world where the nations come together as friends and share their cultures, a world where people listen and appreciate education: this world can be built through those simple coffeehouse discussions. And gradually, we will find others more willing to listen, and this will have a lasting impact on our government.
Let's work together to end the problems the world faces, instead of blaming another group for the problems. Over a simple grande latte, you may open a heart and a door to creating change. Alas, I must go, but I hope to hear from you, my readers, your ideas for building relationships and preserving democracy and the open exchange of ideas.
Long live democracy!