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Can We Find Common Ground on The Justice System? – Part II

With severe polarization dividing America, it has become increasingly difficult to find common ground. But data shows bipartisan support for key justice system policies. 

As the American population grows in size and diversity, we are continually affected by those around us. Those closest to us help shape our creation of thought. Perhaps unintentionally, trusted people and information sources in our lives may keep us from seeking out and understanding other perspectives.  

Nowhere is this problem more severe than with a political messaging machine that urges its base to see issues only in terms of red or blue, obscuring the fact that Americans do actually agree on many important issues. An ongoing research study by Voice of the People, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing the majority opinion to light, is attempting to bridge this gap by surveying a diverse subset of American voters to inspect similarities in thought and opinion between the right and the left.

Through in-depth surveys in which respondents receive briefings on key policy proposals and evaluate pro and con arguments, the study has to date identified 185 common ground positions on a wide range of policy issues.  

And despite how polarized Republicans and Democrats may seem on justice system issues, the following policy proposals show high levels of bipartisan support.

Limiting Negative Consequences of Criminal Records 

A national sample of 2,487 registered voters were asked to respond to several proposals on limiting the consequences of criminal records. The data indicates that 60% or more Democrats and Republicans agree: 

  • Employers and licensing boards should limit the use of certain criminal records as a basis for rejecting an applicant or firing an employee 
  • To provide protection to employers who knowingly hire individuals with criminal records 
  • To limit the use of certain criminal records from being used as the basis for rejecting an applicant or evicting a tenant from public housing 
  • Criminal records can be sealed for a minor cost for arrests that do not result in convictions 
  • To automatically seal records for nonviolent drug offenses five years after the offender completes their sentence

Learn more about policy proposals and survey responses.  

Reducing Incarceration Rates through Sentencing Reforms

A national sample of 2,417 registered voters were asked to respond to several provisions on the Next Step Act. The data indicates that 60% or more Democrats and Republicans agree: 

  • To reduce the mandatory minimum sentences for one-strike drug offenses 
  • To create a new sentencing category for those who store or transport illegal drugs or drug money, that comes with no mandatory sentence 
  • Early prisoners, convicted as juveniles and those who have served at least 20 years of their sentence could be given the opportunity to be released early at the discretion of judges  

Learn more about policy proposals and survey responses. 

What does this data mean for the American people? 

The study shows that, while we live in a time of great division and opposition, it is critical that we not lose sight of the ways in which we can all come together. Findings from this study open the possibility that the right and left may find agreement on other polarizing topics.

Perhaps by parting the red or blue curtain clouding our vision, we can see more clearly just how much common ground we share as Americans. From this shared foundation, we can push forward together to create real change for the next generation. 

Let’s talk! Reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tell us which policies you would like America to #findcommonground on this year. 

 

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Can We Find Common Ground on The Justice System? Part I

It may seem America’s political parties are more sharply divided on the justice system than nearly any other issue. Yet data shows we’ve already found common ground. 

It is perhaps universally accepted – one may even say expected – for the American people to disagree. We are a country that came together swiftly. Public opinion may break apart just as fast. 

Yet a political dynamic that urges citizens to view all issues through the lens of red or blue obscures the fact that Americans actually agree on many important issues. Now, an ongoing research study is attempting to bridge this chasm.  

Pioneered by Voice of the People, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing the majority opinion to light, the study surveys a diverse subset of American voters to inspect similarities in thought and opinion between the right and the left. Through in-depth surveys in which respondents receive briefings on key policy proposals and evaluate pro and con arguments, the study has to date identified 185 common ground positions on a wide range of policy issues.  

And, despite how polarized Republicans and Democrats may seem around justice system issues, the following policy proposals show high levels of bipartisan support.

Improved Treatment of Prisoners

A national sample of 2,487 registered voters were asked to respond to several proposals to reform the treatment of people in prison. The data indicates that 60% or more Democrats and Republicans agree: 

  • To limit rates that prisons and jails can charge inmates for phone calls 
  • Restrict the use of solitary confinement 

Learn more about policy proposals and survey responses.

Police Reform

A national sample of 3,226 registered voters were asked to respond to several proposals on police reform.. The data indicates that 60% or more Democrats and Republicans agree: 

  • It should be made a duty for officers to intervene in cases where another officer is using excessive force 
  • To recommend that all officers wear body cameras and keep them on when dealing with a suspect or responding to a call 
  • To create a national registry of police misconduct available to the public and all police departments 

Learn more about policy proposals and survey responses.

Study results to date show promising signs that American’s right and left can find agreement on polarized topics if conversation and thoughtful proposals are fostered. And data collected shows bipartisan support for even more areas of justice policy. Stay tuned for a look at common ground positions that go beyond policing and prison, to criminal records and sentencing reform.

Let’s talk! Reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tell us which policies you would like America to #findcommonground on this year. 

Opinion: Laws should unite, not divide

In this piece written for The Hill, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen make the case that laws should unite, not divide. You can also listen to a behind-the-scenes conversation with the authors below.

For the past decade-plus, we have made it our mission to improve political discourse through our nonprofit, Common Ground Committee (CGC). That mission hit a speed bump with Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8). As heads of a non-partisan organization, we don’t take a position on whether abortion should or should not be legal, but we recognize the strong moral concerns held by both sides. We even understand how it is that the Texas legislature would think this legislation is a good idea. But SB 8 sets a dangerous precedent and unnecessarily adds even deeper divisiveness to an already contentious issue.the hill logo

By putting enforcement into the hands of private citizens, and offering a significant financial incentive, the Texas legislature is effectively weaponizing disagreement.

Other states are following the Texas lead — Florida just introduced its own SB 8-inspired abortion bill. If this strategy proves successful, what would stop liberal-leaning states from passing similar restrictions on gun ownership? We wager that supporters of SB 8 would not approve.

Disagreement is fundamental to a healthy democracy. But when lawmakers are determined to take whatever means necessary to achieve their outcomes, we end up with laws like SB 8.

If we are to function as a healthy society, all citizens — no matter their political leanings — should speak out against laws that are designed to pit citizens against each other. We have plenty of laws that by their nature generate passionate debate. But deliberately designing into legislation the ability for citizens on one side of an issue to economically hurt fellow citizens on the other side will almost certainly inflame factional conflict and deepen even further the divisions that plague our nation.

To be sure, it is an open question as to whether the Texas law will stand, despite the Supreme Court’s “shadow docket” ruling, as evidenced by the ongoing court battle. But even if the Texas strategy is ultimately deemed unconstitutional, it did not occur in a vacuum; rather, the bill reflects a wider tendency by legislators to craft laws that reflect only the viewpoint of the majority. In short, it’s exactly what James Madison and the Founders were fearful of when they spoke of “tyranny of the majority.” It’s how we wound up with legislation like the “For the People Act” or the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017” — laws crafted with no input from the minority that effectively encourage bitter debate by the very nature of their partisan leanings, even if they aren’t signed into law.

Turning citizens into the enforcers is a natural evolution of this trend.

If Americans took the time to talk to one another, they would find the people they demonize are not morally bankrupt. In fact, they might have more in common than they think — even on issues as divisive as abortion. A 2016 poll from Gallup found that a majority of pro-choice and pro-life Americans agreed on 9 of 17 points, including making abortion illegal in the third trimester and making it legal in the case of rape and incest.

This doesn’t mean Democrats and Republicans will suddenly abandon their principles on abortion — for both sides it will always be a question of right and wrong born out of deeply held values. But conversation lets us see the other side as actual, reasonable human beings who arrived at their beliefs through their own experiences. Laws like SB 8 can only exist when legislators stay in their own bubbles and see a difference of opinion as a moral flaw. We need to burst those bubbles and elect leaders who are open to the idea that their perspective is not the end of the discussion.

Prior to the 2020 elections, we released the Common Ground Scorecard, a tool to help Americans see how likely members of Congress and candidates were to find common ground. The average score for all of Congress is 29/110. To put that into perspective, the average score for members of the House Problems Solvers Caucus is 55/110. As primary season fast approaches, these are the types of legislators we need doing business in Congress.

“If we took the same approach to our personal relationships that some members do to Congress, we wouldn’t have any functional relationships in our lives,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a member of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, in a past episode of our podcast series “Let’s Find Common Ground.” Fitzpatrick’s Democratic counterpart Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), said she has no interest in voting for a law that is everything she wants but has no chance of passage. For these two legislators, collaboration means progress, and progress overrules party.

SB 8 is a preview of what could come if politicians continue to let partisanship dominate the legislative process.

We are on a dangerous path, but it’s not too late to change course. We as citizens must stand up and push back against legislators who seek to divide us with laws and, if necessary, replace them with those who seek to unite us by finding the common ground that enables good legislation.

– This article was originally published in The Hill on October 15, 2021.

Working together community

What’s New in the Bridge Community: September 2021

Bridging the divides that separate Americans with different politics and world views can’t be accomplished by one single organization. Change takes a community, working together towards a common goal.

That’s why we are honored to be part of a robust and growing national movement of bridge builders that are working to reduce incivility and toxic polarization.

How Our Movement Grew In the Past Month:

Common Ground Committee is now part of Citizen Connect, a non-partisan platform that shares civic events from 400+ member organizations working to heal divides and fix our politics. Explore the tool.

Living Room Conversations partnered with us to produce a Universal Basic Income discussion guide, featuring content from our “Finding Common Ground on the New Economy” event with John Kasich and Julián Castro. Download the guide.

CGC is a streaming partner for “Our Declaration: An Evening With Danielle Allen.” This conversation with a Harvard political scientist will stream live on our Facebook page on Thursday, September 30, 2021, at 7 pm ET. Learn more.

Together, we can accomplish more. If you haven’t already, make sure to connect with Common Ground Committee across all our channels to see upcoming conversations, partner content, and opportunities to make a difference as we continue to grow this movement.

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An Evening with Danielle Allen

Tune In! “Our Declaration” Livestream with Dr. Danielle Allen

Can the Declaration of Independence, a centuries-old document written in a time of slavery, provide a roadmap for a modern, multiracial democracy?

Common Ground Committee is partnering with The Village Square and Florida Humanities to offer “Our Declaration: An Evening with Danielle Allen” on Thursday, September 30th at 7 p.m. ET via Zoom.

At a time when the future of American democracy is under threat from across the political spectrum, and when a disturbingly high number of citizens seem to no longer believe in the American project, this Harvard professor’s body of work “thrillingly affirms the continuing relevance of America’s founding text, ultimately revealing what democracy means and what it asks of us.”

Learn more and register, or follow Common Ground Committee’s Facebook page to catch the program live stream!

 

Infrastructure bill won’t end Washington’s problems. Neither would ending the filibuster

In this piece written for Roll Call, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen make the case that the only real way to fix America’s political system is to focus on electing leaders committed to bipartisan solutions. 

Proponents of common ground — like ourselves — received some welcome news earlier this month with the Senate’s passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. It’s the largest investment in infrastructure since the 1950s, and it passed with 19 Republican votes. It’s a rare sight to see major legislation pass on a bipartisan basis, but, unfortunately, it does not necessarily signal a change in Washington.

Democrats seem intent on going it alone, using the budget reconciliation process to push a separate multitrillion spending package, partially due to the threat of the filibuster. For such a hotly debated rule, it’s notable that the filibuster was essentially created by accident. As vice president, Aaron Burr argued in 1805 that a Senate procedure allowing a simple majority of legislators to end debate and move to a vote was redundant and should be removed. He got his wish when he left office, and the filibuster was born.

Whether or not a political party is in favor of the filibuster seems to hinge on its position of power in the Senate.

Before he called it a “relic of Jim Crow”— and it must be acknowledged that the modern filibuster was a favored tool of opponents of civil rights legislation — a young Sen. Barack Obama argued passionately in favor of the procedural maneuver when his party was in the minority. President Donald Trump wanted Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell to eliminate the rule in 2018 to easily pass his agenda — much in the same way Democrats are now pressing President Joe Biden. Opponents of the filibuster say it’s an affront to how the Founders intended government to work and silences the will of the people. Proponents say it’s the one tool legislators have left to force bipartisan solutions and that its elimination would give the majority complete control to force through its agenda.

As heads of Common Ground Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing political polarization, we welcome any tool that would encourage Democrats and Republicans to come together and find solutions. But the filibuster is neither the solution nor the problem. What needs to be changed is the mindset of our leaders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House wouldn’t vote on the infrastructure bill until the Senate passed the  reconciliation measure. (In an agreement reached with Democratic moderates, both bills are now expected to receive votes in the House by the end of September.) In the Senate, McConnell has threatened “zero input” from Republicans if the filibuster is eliminated. We cannot afford this prioritization of conflict over solutions any longer.

We’re at a critical juncture as a nation.

If the filibuster is indeed removed or reformed, there will be little incentive for Democrats and Republicans to work together. If it remains, it will continue to be used as a tool to block legislation and stifle debate. Reforms such as a proposed plan to exempt voting rights laws from the filibuster would only slap a Band-Aid on the problem. The only path forward is to change the culture in Washington.

While there is evidence Americans want to see their leaders compromise, that sentiment isn’t reflected in who we elect to office. Prior to the 2020 elections, our organization released the Common Ground Scorecard, a tool to help Americans see how likely members of Congress and candidates were to find common ground. The average score for members of Congress and governors was only 25 out of a possible 110. There are exceptions, such as members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, but when the vast majority of our government leaders are incentivized to pursue partisan agendas, it’s clear we as citizens have not done enough to encourage them to work together. Our votes give us the power to make them listen.

It’s time to end this back-and-forth on the filibuster and put governing back in the hands of the legislative branch.

Rather than pressure our elected leaders on a Senate mechanism, we should focus our energies on backing candidates committed to bipartisan solutions — members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, for example. Tools like the Common Ground Scorecard and the Bipartisan Index from the Lugar Center can help voters identify those candidates.

The best policies are those that include the input of multiple points of view, that won’t be reversed when there is a change in power, and that are representative of the majority of Americans. That requires bipartisan work and support. Until elected officials feel political pressure to work together, we will fail to make that kind of badly needed progress on the most pressing issues facing our nation, regardless of whether or not the filibuster exists.

The filibuster may have been created by accident, but it’s now become a favored tool of whichever party is in the minority. Its elimination will not end the dysfunction in Washington. That will only happen when we as citizens decide we’ve had enough of fighting and gridlock, and support politicians who put country over party.

– This article was originally published in Roll Call on August 25, 2021.

American Bipartisanship

Introducing: Spotlight on Common Ground

Polarization makes headlines. But what about the hard, yet hopeful work of finding shared solutions? We’re excited to introduce Spotlight on Common Ground, a new initiative that highlights instances of bipartisan cooperation across the nation, and the individuals who made them possible.

August Honorees: Infrastructure Bill Legislators

The first honorees of Spotlight on Common Ground are the 10 U.S. senators who helped craft the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed in the Senate 69-30. After months of negotiations this bipartisan group of senators — composed of five Democrats and Republicans — helped shepherd through a bill that could easily have been derailed given ideological differences and the forces driving the nation’s divided politics.

These legislators were among those included in our Common Ground Scorecard, which ranks candidates for office and elected officials on their likelihood to work with the opposite party. The 10 senators have an average score of 49/110, higher than the average score of 31/110 for all current U.S. senators.

Their individual scores are as follows:

  • Susan Collins (R-ME): 60/110
  • Rob Portman (R-OH): 50/110
  • Mitt Romney (R-UT): 25/110
  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AK): 50/110
  • Bill Cassidy (R-LA): 59/110
  • Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ): 57/110
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV): 75/110 (15th highest in the country)
  • Mark Warner (D-VA): 47/110
  • Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH): 34/110
  • Jon Tester (D-MT): 42/110

“Too often, politicians are more focused on scoring political points than finding real solutions for the American people,” said Bruce Bond, co-founder and CEO of CGC. “These 10 senators reminded Americans what good can look like in the legislative process. We’re hopeful the Senate’s passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act can be a foundation for future cooperation between the two parties.”

Follow #SpotlightOnCommonGround on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay up to date on future highlights.

Jenna Spinelle

Spotlight on The Democracy Group

The Democracy Group is a consortium of podcasts founded in March 2020 by Jenna Spinelle, Communications Specialist for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State, who also co-hosts the Institute’s podcast, Democracy Works.

What was the motivation behind forming The Democracy Group?

The McCourtney Institute started the Democracy Works podcast in 2018. We created The Democracy Group in March of 2020 as a structure for cross-promotion. In the podcast world, cross-promotion is a big thing. The best way to find out about a podcast is by hearing an ad for it, or hearing someone else recommend it on another podcast. I’d been doing a lot of one-offs partnering Democracy Works with other shows and wanted to find a way to put some structure and process around promotion. You know, rising-tide-lifts-all-boats sort of thing. The second reason we launched it is that there’s this whole landscape of organizations tied to democracy reform, news organizations like The Fulcrum, and groups like the Bridge Alliance. And I noticed there was no audio component to any of them.

Is there a unifying principle that defines what shows you take on as a good fit for The Democracy Group’s network?

It definitely has to be focused on the themes of democracy and civic engagement and civil discourse. And educational in nature, so not like political punditry. There are lots of podcasts out there that do that, and certainly nothing against them. But we’re really trying to be educational for people who want to take a deeper dive beyond the headlines or sound bites you hear on cable news, to really get at the heart of—frankly, what’s not working so well in our democracy. And more importantly, how we can fix it, how we can all work together to make things better. Different podcasts take different perspectives. But if you take the network as a whole, I think we try to represent the variety of the political spectrum.

Can you give us an example of the range of podcasts?

There are several shows that are produced by universities in the network, so they’re very academically focused. I would put Democracy Works in that category. We have different political perspectives, like In the Arena from the McCain Institute, and Our Body Politic, which looks at the experience that black women have in our democracy, and 70 million, which looks at criminal justice reform. Shows like Let’s Find Common Ground tends to bring in a variety of different political perspectives. Our shows recognize the range of all these various systems and things that go together to make our democracy and look at it through different lenses.

 How many podcasts have you done for Democracy Works, and what’s your podcast’s lens?

We’ve done 175 episodes, give or take, usually weekly. The McCourtney Institute’s motto is that we’re partisans for democracy. That means we don’t take a side in terms of Republican or Democrat—in fact, I don’t know that it’s always helpful to think of things in those terms. We look at it like, How can we use politics as a way to strengthen our democracy? I think sometimes there’s this perception that in order to really make progress, you have to be completely nonpartisan. And I think we would say that that’s not exactly the case. You just have to figure out how partisan interests see themselves as legitimate opposition, and that democracy is the continual struggle between those competing interests. Sometimes one party wins, sometimes the other wins. But as long as you recognize each other as legitimate, that’s really democracy working at its best.

How do you determine if a show is right for The Democracy Group?

In terms of looking at new members, I think it’s about a landscape of perspectives. What are they bringing to the table that we don’t already have? We’ve also done some listener surveys and focus groups with our subscribers, and one of the things that we’ve heard is that they like shows that feature people who are experts, whether they’re academics or practitioners or policymakers or politicians. And I think it should be a two-way street. What can your organization bring to our consortium? And what can we bring to them?

Do you have any new projects in the works, COVID permitting?

We’ve been working to create resource guides on topics like gerrymandering and misinformation. Those are all available on our website. And we are working with external partners to help bring their expertise to our audience and integrate content for people in other formats. We’re also starting to do some virtual events. We’re doing one on August 24th at 4 p.m. about the promise and peril of free speech in podcasting. We’re always looking for new topics, and the landscape is endless.

Common Ground Committee’s bi-weekly podcast, Let’s Find Common Ground is part of the Democracy Group.  You can learn more and listen HERE.

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How to Take an Active Part in America’s Democracy

When we think of being a good citizen, the obvious things that come to mind are aspects of community benevolence: Take your turn at four-way intersections. Pay your taxes. Clear your portion of the sidewalk. Participate in town fundraisers. Buy local.

But being a good citizen goes higher than local. It means voting, from local to national. Knowing who your representatives are. Voicing your opinion on both issues. Introducing or supporting ballot measures in your town or city.   In short, being an active citizen in our democracy.

At Common Ground Committee, we realize that understanding how to be an active citizen can be difficult.  Elected officials come and go.  It can be hard to keep track.  Sure, you may also like to pick up the phone on an issue to let someone know what you think. But maybe you don’t know what to say or do.

Read on for our guide that will help you.

Find your local representatives

Not sure of your congressional district or who your member is? This government site matches your ZIP code to your congressional district, with links to your member’s website and contact page.  You can find your senator at this site too (live link to U.S. Senate: Senators)

Contact your Representative or Senator

When you really care about an issue under consideration, how and where do you express yourself? In a letter (or email) to your Senator. Many, many people sign petitions, which while useful, are not the most impactful. An individual message is a uniquely effective bullhorn. Remember to consider the urgency of timing. If you are writing concerning a pending vote, email is your best option as security screenings may delay receipt of a physical letter by up to three weeks. Bear in mind that unique and moving messages can be shared more widely with the members of Congress.

Here’s a sample model for a letter to a Senator.

Perhaps you would prefer to call?  You can either call the Capitol’s main number at (202) 224-3121 and be connected or for House Representatives, you can look up the number at Find Your Representative | house.gov.  For Senators, you can use this link U.S. Senate: Contacting U.S. Senators

When you do make a phone call, it is useful to remember the following:

  • Be prepared to offer your name and zip code
  • Be courteous. Staff members are always willing to hear your point of view but polite communication will be welcomed (even if you disagree with your rep’s stance on an issue).  go a long way.
  • If you are calling about a specific piece of legislation have the details handy such as the name.

You may also wish to sign up for Issue Voter where you can easily see what legislation is underway and quickly support or express that you disagree.

Step Up to the Podium

If a stint in politics appeals to you, but you haven’t zeroed in on the position that you’d like to run for, start with your city, county, or state’s election website. It will have information about specific roles, rules for campaigning, and requirements for holding office. While you’re there, check residency, age, and other requirements for any role you’re considering. What are the incumbent’s circumstances? Do you believe you could offer the community more? This article in Kiplinger outlines Kathy Tran’s successful path for the Virginia state legislature when her previous political experience was PTO president. Also, a number of panelists in our public forums have encouraged the audience to run for office but to start locally, for example with a position on the town council. It’s hard to break into politics at higher levels and even if you win an election for such an office, you won’t have relationships in place that you will need to be successful in the position.

Register to Vote

Whatever your political preference, your right to vote gives you the chance to be heard and impact the direction of our country. According to data from the U.S. Elections Project in 2016, 43 percent of voters did not fill out their ballots. Why? Many Americans don’t know enough about the voting process, how to register, or are unaware of registration deadlines. Rock the Vote provides an easy link to get started on your registration in moments. Vote411 from the League of Women Voters Education Fund can also help you check your registration status, get registered, and find information about the issues.

Help at the Election Day Polls

Election workers are essential to ensuring that elections are a success. With each election, millions of Americans dedicate themselves to sustaining the backbone of democracy – our election process. EAC encourages those interested in becoming election workers at the polls on election day to learn more about what is required and how to sign up to work with your local election official.

With freedom comes responsibility.  Each of us has unique views and cares about a variety of issues.  When we all participate as active citizens, America’s democracy is stronger.

Learn more about Common Ground Committee and stay up to date on important issues.

Healing Extremism Webinar

Healing Extremism

How does a white supremacist go from hate to healing, from extreme division to unity?

This was the subject of Common Ground Committee’s most recent webinar, “Turning Racism & Extremism to Hope and Healing,” on June 14, featuring Daryl Davis, a musician and race reconciliator, and Ryan Lo’Ree, an interventionist and former supremacist.

The webinar was a kickoff to the National Week of Conversation, a series of discussions aimed to shed light on what individuals can do to help heal divisions in our society. Below are some excerpted highlights of the event, moderated by Wendi C. Thomas, founding editor and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, an award-winning, nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power, and public policy.

 

WT: We’re joined by two extraordinary human beings tonight who have devoted much of their lives to confronting racism and extremism head-on to help bring harmony and healing to our society. Daryl is an accomplished boogie-woogie and blues piano player who has shared the stage with legends such as Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and B.B. King. He’s also spent over 35 years using the power of human connection to convince over 200 people to leave white supremacist groups and renounce racism. Daryl’s work has even taken him to KKK rallies—this is a brave man—complete with chanting and burning crosses. And because of his efforts, over two dozen Klansmen have actually given him their robes, and some have even become close friends. Daryl was even invited by the KKK’s Imperial Wizard of Maryland to be the godfather of his daughter. Now let me introduce Ryan Lo’Ree. Ryan is a former white supremacist who turned away from hate. He grew up in the very poor community of Flint, Michigan, where many children end up in gangs or prisons. And both of those actually happened to Ryan. He came home after serving in the military, found himself broke and was drawn into a group called the Rollingwood Skins. After counseling and self-education, he is now with Light Upon Light as an interventionist. He’s working to deradicalize others who have been lured into extremism and white supremacy.

WT: Daryl, let’s start with you. You’ve convinced hundreds of white supremacists to renounce racism over the course of decades. Are you surprised that these groups are on the rise? And how do you think we got to this point?

 

DD: Okay, well no, I’m not surprised. Yes, they’re on the rise, but they’re not on the rise as most people would perceive it. Because they’ve always been here. In recent years they’ve come out from under the carpet, out from the closet. You know, they– they’ve felt emboldened. What you’re looking at is two decades from now, in 2042, two decades, this country’s population will, for the first time in our history, become 50/50 — 50% white, 50% non-white. And while there is a large segment of the white population of this country that welcomes that, there is a certain segment that is becoming unhinged about it. They feel that their identity is being erased. They call it the browning of America, or white genocide through miscegenation. When I first started this kind of work about 37 years ago, there were the Ku Klux Klans and neo-Nazi groups and some white power skinheads. Now you got those same three, plus the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, on and on and on, the alt-right. You have all these groups saying, “Come join us. We’re gonna take our country back.”

WT: Ryan, I want to turn to you. To help us understand what’s going on in this country, can you explain how you became a part of a hate group?

 

RL: Yeah, I was in a very tough economic position in my life at the time. I was just getting out of the military. It was hard to find a job living in the city of Flint. My family– going generations back have always been General Motors workers and many of my friends. And so, when General Motors struggles, so do they. So, I was in a very tough economic situation. I had an uncle who just got out of prison. He was actually part of a hate group while he was inside. He came to me, knowing that I was hurting at the time, like many hate groups do– to vulnerable people, and said he had some people he wanted to introduce me to. And because I had just got out of the military, I believe that I was still looking for that, like, that brotherhood. And you know, they lured me right in. Did I believe all the philosophy right away? No. But I think a lot of what they were playing on was my anger, my anger with the U.S. government– my anger with the fact that you know, I was a veteran and couldn’t get a job.

WT: How did you get out? How did you manage to extricate yourself?

 

RL: So, with me, is that I was incarcerated. And through that incarceration, I was able to separate myself from the group. I had other people that had come to me, friends of mine from before I’d ever joined these groups, that said, “Hey, I still love you, I still care about you. “I know that you made these mistakes. I know that this isn’t you.” And that was very, very important for my transition and for my transformation. It’s very important for us, too, when we do our interventions to be the same way. Daryl has said this many times, you can be empathetic without being sympathetic with the person. And having that empathy just allows them to actually sit down at the table with you so you can start a conversation, to even begin to understand whether or not you can deradicalize this person or not. Because not every case is a success story.

In mine, though, it was. I had the support of my family. I had a support system of friends that were still there for me. And I had an inmate at the time that actually was very understanding of my past. We grew up in the same city. And he turned me on to some different civil rights leaders that he had read books about, one of them being Dr. Cornell West. So, there was education. But there’s a lot of psychology that comes into it, and it doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s definitely a long process. And it’s a process that’s really underfunded in this country to help with intervention work.

DD: When I was a kid there was the saying, “a tiger does not change its stripes.” “A leopard does not change its spots.” So, when I first got involved in this, you know, I just thought, “A Klansman, is not going to change his robe and hood. That’s who he is. That’s who she is.”

But I learned something. What can be learned can become unlearned. And yes, a tiger and leopard do not change their stripes and spots. But that’s because they were born with those stripes and spots. A Klansman is not born with his robe and hood. It is a learned behavior. And what can be learned can become unlearned. But we must put in the time. A missed opportunity to dialogue is a missed opportunity for conflict resolution.

WT: Ryan, talk to me a little bit about the work that you and Daryl have done together.

 

RL: There are different tactics and ways that you can intervene, and different types of situations. Sometimes it’s helping somebody to get over someone who passed away, and who they found out had something like this go on in their life. Or a family member whose son joined a hate group and they want to know what can they do to help pull them out.

DD: We give them support. Because coming out of these types of groups, there is a stigma attached. And even after an extremist quits the group and pays their debt to society or whatever, it’s still hard to shake. So, when these people truly give it up, here’s the irony,

they get very little support from those who wanted them out in the first place — because they’re always leery and suspicious. “Oh, you know, I don’t know if I can trust him.”

Well, when they don’t find that support, then where do they go? They can’t go back to the group they just left, because they’ve betrayed that family. But they’ll find some other group that will accept them. And so, this is why it’s really important for people to provide that support so that they can stand on their feet, work their way through the criticism, and have people accept them back into society again.

WT: Let’s talk about George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement. One thing that stood out about these demonstrations is there were a lot more white people participating than there ever had been. Daryl, is that a positive sign to you?

 

DD: Absolutely, absolutely it is. At the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, when the power structure looked at those protests and marches, they saw an ocean of Black people with a few white people mixed in. Now fast forward to 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd lynching. What did the power structure see? They saw an ocean of Black people, and an ocean of white people, marching together for the same cause. We had never seen that before. The ripple effect is happening. Places like NASCAR banning the Confederate battle flag. Food brands like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s changing their labels. Legislation being passed to remove Confederate statues, to change the names of buildings named after slave owners. We’ve never seen things happen that fast [snaps fingers].

WT: Ryan, in white supremacist and extremist groups, what were the reactions that you heard to the Black Lives Matter rallies last summer?

 

RL: With movements like BLM, you’re always gonna have another movement on the hate side that tries to counter that. Like Daryl had said earlier, hate groups have always been here. But there was an uptick in different types of hate groups that started to come out. With BLM I’ve only seen very peaceful marches, never anything violent. But there are certain factions that aren’t peaceful, and it only takes one sour apple. It gave a lot of these white power groups a way of trying to recruit. “Look, they’re destroying their communities, they destroy your communities. They don’t care.”

WT: Has it become harder to extract people from hate groups since George Floyd was killed?

RL: Yes, honestly, it has. I don’t want to say cancel culture is the reason why, but closing down the extremists’ sites and banning groups from Facebook but, when we cut off anybody’s voice in this country, there’s a reaction. When we start to take away their ways of speaking to each other, you’ve basically created the lone wolf terrorist, the domestic terrorist.

WT: Ryan, because of the work you do, did you– did you ever anticipate something like the January 6th insurrection happening?

RL: Oh, I saw it happening. Ten, 20 years ago, even when I was part of the group, this is something that was talked about. They had talked about the race war of 2020 for years—before we ever started looking at 2040 as a date.

 

DD: And as we are approaching that date, that 50/50 point, we’re gonna see more and more of these lone wolves. Take our country back, make America great again, all that kind of stuff. People join these groups. But then when the group fails to take it back or whatever, they say, “You know what? The Klan can’t do it or the neo-Nazis can’t do it. I’ll do it myself.” And that’s when someone like Dylann Roof walks into a Black church, and boom, boom, boom. Or Robert Bowers goes into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and murders 11 Jews. And this is why it’s so important to address this issue now. You know, they’re looking for what’s called RaHoWa. RaHoWa, R-A-H-O-W-A, it stands for racial holy war, or for short, the race war.

Every time they raid one of these lone wolves’ home or property, what do they find? They find a cache of automatic weapons that they’re stockpiling for RaHoWa.

WT: I want to pivot and talk about solutions, takeaways for the audience. Both of you have emphasized the importance of listening and discussion. Give us some things we can do, how you convince others to turn away from hate. What is it going to take to end the notion of white supremacy?

RL: It’s empathy. I don’t necessarily have to be sympathetic with what somebody is doing to be able to sit down at the table with them. But if I can show them empathy and saying that look, “I understand that you’ve made some mistakes. I understand that you’ve learned what you’ve learned here. But I think that maybe you’ve been taught the wrong way.” You don’t start the conversation about race and hate and anger. You start the conversation on some things that maybe we have in common, or what may be one of my Black friends has in common with them. Then they see that person, and have to think, what is it I’m hating? It’s all about educating that person to get them away from that ignorance. But the intervention comes in many different ways. We have a hotline that’s set up that people can call into, and some people are okay with talking to you on the phone. Some people didn’t want any type of conversation at all, and it takes a year or two of just discussing stuff with them on the internet or through email before you’re able to actually get this type of conversation.

WT: Daryl, how do you change the mind of a racist? I know you have a really specific process.

 

DD: As a child, I traveled a lot because my parents were U.S. Foreign Service. So, I lived in different countries during the formative years of my life. And now as an adult musician, I tour all over the world. And all, that is to say, is that I’ve been exposed to a multitude of ethnicities, colors of skin, religions, persuasions, ideologies, beliefs, et cetera. And all of that has helped shape me. And what I’ve realized is this: that no matter how far I go from this country, whether it’s next-door to Canada or to Mexico, or halfway around the planet, and no matter how different the people maybe who I encounter, I always end up concluding that we all are human beings. And as such, we all want these basic five core values in our lives. We all want to be loved. We all want to be respected. We all want to be heard. We want to be treated fairly. And we want the same things for our family as anybody else wants for their family. If you employ those five values, when you find yourself in a society or a culture in which you are unfamiliar, people are willing to sit down and talk with you, and there is a chance to plant that seed.

RL: Be empathetic enough to listen to them and try to get an understanding of why they got to that point in their life in the first place. We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. But we all can be redeemed.

Check out the Let’s Find Common Ground Podcast for more information on finding common solutions to today’s vital issues.