Depolarizing America: Ending Toxic Polarization

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Should we be aiming for unity and ending toxic polarization? A top expert on conflict resolution weighs in.

When Joe Biden became president he wanted to bring Americans together, to forge unity. But maybe unity isn’t what we should aim for. Our guest this week says instead of focusing on that elusive goal, Americans need to concentrate on what’s damaging all of us: toxic polarization.

In this episode we look at what toxic polarization is and how to end it, person by person.

Peter Coleman has advised the Biden administration on how to detoxify America. He is a mediator and psychologist who specializes in conflict resolution. A professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, he is the author of the forthcoming book, The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization.

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Ep. 27-Depolarizing-America-Ending-Toxic-Polarization

Dr. Peter T. Coleman

Dr. Peter T. Coleman is a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University who studies polarizing, intractable conflict and sustainable peace, and whose next book titled, The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization will be released by Columbia University Press on June 1, 2021.

Dr. Coleman is a renowned expert on constructive conflict resolution and sustainable peace. His current research focuses on conflict intelligence and systemic wisdom as meta-competencies for navigating conflict constructively across all levels (from families to companies to communities to nations), and includes projects on adaptive negotiation and mediation dynamics, cross-cultural adaptivity, optimality dynamics in conflict, justice, and polarization, multicultural conflict, intractable conflict, and sustainable peace. Learn more.

 

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Women's History Month 2021

Celebrating the Role of Women in Shaping History…And Our Future

Women's History Month 2021

Women’s History Month, recognized each March, celebrates the vital role of women in shaping our history – and our shared future. As a citizen-led nonprofit dedicated to driving more progress and less divisions, we have been fortunate to explore some of our era’s most pressing issues with women who are breaking ground in their pursuit of democracy, truth and the creation of a thriving nation that upholds our common ideals.

As we pause to celebrate the accomplishments and progress of women, hear directly from seven iconic CGC panelists in these videos from our YouTube channel, featuring some of our most engaging forums and podcast conversations.

Condoleezza Rice

Born in Birmingham, AL, Condoleezza Rice was raised in the racially segregated South. A member of the Republican party, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve first as the country’s first female National Security Advisor and later as the first Black female Secretary of State. Along with former Secretary of State John Kerry, Ms. Rice was a guest panelist at our forum Finding Common Ground on America’s Role in the World. (For your reading list: No Higher Honor: a Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleezza Rice.)

 

Donna Brazile

As campaign manager for Al Gore, in 2000 Donna Brazile became the first Black woman to manage a major party presidential campaign and served twice as acting Chair of the Democratic National Committee. She is an author and contributor to Fox News. Along with former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, Ms. Brazile was a guest panelist at our forum Finding Common Ground on Government’s Role in Bridging Racial Divides. (For your reading list: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry & Minyon Moore.)

Susan Rice

One of the country’s most prominent diplomats, Susan Rice was appointed under President Barack Obama to serve as the first Black woman ambassador to the United Nations. She was later named National Security Advisor. Currently, she serves as director of the Domestic Policy Council for the Biden administration. Along with Gen. David Petraeus, (US Army, Ret.), Ms. Rice was a guest panelist at our forum Finding Common Ground on the New Cold War. (For your reading list: Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For by Susan Rice.)

Maggie Haberman

Maggie Haberman is a CNN political analyst and New York Times White House correspondent. One of journalism’s most influential voices, in 2018 she received a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Trump administration and alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. Along with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, Ms. Haberman was a guest panelist at our forum Finding Common Ground on Facts, Fake News & The Media.

Caroline Randall Williams

Harvard graduate Caroline Randall Williams is an award-winning author, activist and scholar. She is the descendant of enslaved people and the great-great-grand-daughter of Edmund Pettus, a Confederate officer and grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, for whom is named the bridge in Selma where the 1965 civil rights march known as “Bloody Sunday” took place. Ms. Williams appeared as a guest on our podcast episode My Body Is a Confederate Monument.

Ilyasah Shabazz

Ilyasah Shabazz is the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. She is an award-winning author, community organizer, social activist and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is passionate about promoting higher education for at-risk youth and interfaith dialogue to build bridges between cultures for young leaders of the world. Ms. Shabazz appeared as a guest on our podcast episode What Racism Means to Me. (For your reading list: Growing Up X: A Memoir by the Daughter of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz.)

Abigail Spanberger

Democrat Abigail Spanberger is serving her first term in Congress after defeating a Republican incumbent in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. Previously, she served as a federal agent and as a case officer for the CIA. Along with Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, a fellow member of the bipartisan Problem Solver’s Caucus, Ms. Spanberberger appeared as a guest on our podcast episode Seeking Common Ground in Congress.

Watch our full Women’s Series playlist and subscribe to Common Ground Committee’s YouTube channel to see new content as it is added.

Depolarizing America: Bridging Divides on Campus

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With American democracy in crisis, can college students save the day?

There is concern that American democracy is in crisis. For college students it can be frightening to consider the prospects for a better tomorrow. But addressing the problems in our political system will require the next generation to be more engaged and less polarized.

BridgeUSA was formed by college students to tackle the crisis head-on, with campus-based chapters at colleges around the country. This non-profit group hosts discussions and events, champions ideological diversity, teaches constructive engagement and aims to promote a solution-oriented political culture. BridgeUSA’s chief goal is to develop a new generation of political leaders who value empathy and the common good.

Our podcast guests are Manu Meel, a recent graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Chief Executive Officer of BridgeUSA, and Jessica Carpenter, a senior at Arizona State University, who runs brand management and communications at BridgeUSA.

Jessica Carpenter

Jessica Carpenter is the Marketing Director at BridgeUSA. She is a senior at Arizona State University studying journalism and political science. She is also a member of the BridgeUSA chapter where she works on social media and event planning. Growing up in a one-way political leaning household, Jessica found Bridge as an answer to understanding both sides of the political spectrum. She is passionate about finding solutions and understanding what motivates people to action.

Manu Meel

Manu Meel is passionate about empowering and elevating the impact of young people. Currently, Manu serves as the CEO of BridgeUSA, a national organization that is investing in the future of democracy. Through his work, Manu has contributed to several news outlets, advanced pro-democracy efforts nationally, and led the policy operation for a Baltimore mayoral candidate. In the past, Manu worked as an associate at the venture capital firm Amplo and at the Department of State as a political analyst in counterterrorism. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other media platforms.

 

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magnifying glass with bias text wording

Is Common Ground Committee Biased?

Magnifying glass with bias text words

We need to talk with you about something important.

We at Common Ground Committee (CGC) have taken some heat from time to time about an issue that cuts close to home. We’re coming right out and addressing it head-on because it’s something we care deeply about and strive hard to get right.

It has been suggested that CGC appears biased toward a particular political ideology based on the type of content it presents. For an organization that is wholly dedicated to bridging the divide between left and right, committed to the importance of active listening and dealing with objective facts, it is crucial to us and to our mission that we not have a political agenda, nor that we be perceived as having one. We can say without reservation that as an organization we do not have a political agenda. We lean neither right nor left, having purposely built a board whose members span the political spectrum. But sometimes people of good faith and discerning minds perceive that we are biased in some way. We have been accused of having a conservative agenda and at other times a progressive one.

Working through Biases

Let’s consider for a minute what it means to be unbiased. As a concept, and as an organization, Common Ground Committee has no bias. It was formed expressly in the service of shared communication, in hopes that shedding light on the issues that divide us—turning it in the light like one would a gem to see from all sides—so that we can better understand one another. While there is no guarantee, understanding can lead to common ground or compromise, and finally to progress on the issue. Certainly, it can lead to increased civility.

Individuals, however, have bias. Everyone, no matter how hard they work to behave with impartiality, has a way they naturally lean, a set of beliefs that influences their perspective, the decisions they make, and the votes they cast. The most impartial of journalists have the moment where they step into the voting booth and pull the lever. But it’s how aware you are of your biases, and how you work to recognize and handle them, that makes you effective at objective discourse and achieving common ground.

Sometimes the biases slip out. In a recent podcast, former Senate Secretary Kelly Johnston, a Republican and founding board member of the Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, discussed a moment of his own “intemperance” – a message he regrets tweeting in 2018 that fanned the conspiracy flames about left-leaning financier George Soros helping immigrants bound for the U.S. border.

“I did campaign work, 35 campaigns in 25 states. That’s combat. So my instincts and my experience and my work was all about doing battle. Then, when I got into the private sector about two decades ago, Rob Fersh (a Democrat and Co-Founder of Convergence) actually inspired me to look at bridge-building as a much more productive activity. And I realized that I was part of the problem because I was busy tearing other people down and fighting on issues, and I was accomplishing really nothing to advance the ball,” he said. “And I realized, ‘You know what? I would like to really solve some of these problems.’ Do I fall off the wagon on occasion? Yes, guilty as charged. But I try to get back on, which is important.”

This sticks with us from that podcast, as it is a tremendously good point. We each have our biases and they can surface from time to time. We know we have differences because that’s why one person is a Democrat and another is a Republican.

Occasionally, we have found that something as simple as a slight difference in the choice of words — for example, the murder of George Floyd, rather than the death of George Floyd; or equality instead of equity — signals bias to readers of different parties. Such is not our intent, and we appreciate hearing your feedback on the nuances of language.

We also find that, every now and then, referencing buzzwords that are commonly used to frame issues to appeal to the values of a particular party — for example, voting access versus voting security, or immigration reform versus border security — can serve as a dog whistle in and of itself. But that shouldn’t make the topic itself taboo in our journey to reach common ground. It makes it all the more important.

Continuing to Find Common Ground

We hope we’ve shed enough light on this question of bias so that you’ll accept that we do strive very hard to keep Common Ground Committee on a track that leans neither right nor left. We know words matter. You might read a “trigger” word or phrase in our content, but we hope you’ll recognize that we use it in our effort to build the understanding that can bridge the particular divide we are discussing, not to take a position. And should that happen, we invite you to partner with us in this process of discussion and transparency, by giving us feedback so that we can continue to build Common Ground Committee’s brand as an unbiased, nonpartisan organization. Our emails are bruce.bond@commongroundcommittee.org and erik.olsen@commongroundcommittee.org.

Thank you for listening to us on this question that is so crucial to our work!

Depolarizing America: Finding Common Ground in Congress

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With Congress rigidly divided, what can Washington insiders teach us about bipartisanship?

By almost any measure, Congress is much more rigidly divided along partisan lines than it was 30 years ago. Politicians run nationalized campaigns, not local ones, and frequently demonize the other side.

We examine ways to find common ground among lawmakers and those who work on Capitol Hill, with two deeply experienced Washington insiders.

Betsy Wright Hawkings served as Chief of Staff for four Republican members of Congress over 25 years and helped build bipartisan coalitions on a range of vital issues. She is now Managing Partner of Article One Advisors, a consulting firm focused on giving organizations strategic advice on how Congress functions.

Tamera Luzzatto served as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2009. Before that, she was on the staff of Democratic Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV for 15 years. Today, she is Senior Vice President of Government Relations at Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Ep. 25-Depolarizing-America:-Finding-Common-Ground-in-Congress

Betsy Wright Hawkings

Betsy Wright Hawkings served as Chief of Staff to four Republican House members over 25 years, including Congressman Christopher Shays, helping to develop coalitions to pass cross-partisan legislation like the Congressional Accountability Act, the 9-11 Commission, and legislation to implement its recommendations. The founding Managing Director of Democracy Fund’s Governance Program, she now heads Article One Advisors, providing support to entrepreneurial organizations seeking to foster dialogue across the ideological spectrum; promote more effective congressional systems, processes, and procedures; develop innovative programs to deepen leadership development for members of Congress and staff, and reduce incentives for hyper-partisanship and gridlock in government.

Tamera Luzzatto

Tamera Luzzatto is Senior Vice President of Government Relations at The Pew Charitable Trusts. She ensures that Pew’s wide range of nonpartisan policy work at the state, federal and international levels is effectively and accurately communicated to policymakers. She also oversees Pew’s distinguished advisors program.

Luzzatto served as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2009. Before that, Luzzatto was on the staff of Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia for 15 years, beginning as a legislative aide handling health care and other issues, then serving as legislative director and chief of staff. She was Sen. Rockefeller’s primary liaison to two major advisory panels that he chaired, the National Commission on Children, and the Pepper Commission on health care.

Luzzatto began her career working for ACTION, the umbrella agency for the Peace Corps, VISTA, and other federal service programs. With nearly three decades of experience in politics and government, she speaks regularly about Congress and public policy to academic institutions and other organizations throughout the country.

She currently chairs the board of the Washington Bach Consort, an acclaimed baroque choral group. She also serves on the Johns Hopkins Neurosurgery Advisory Committee and the personnel committee of the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church. In addition, she is a member of the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., and the Federal City Council.

Luzzatto earned a bachelor of arts degree in government from Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude.

The Case for Black Lives Matter: Hawk Newsome

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As the Black Lives Matter movement grows, are there opportunities for common ground and solutions?

“All lives will matter when Black lives matter,” says our guest, Hawk Newsome, in this passionate, challenging, and fascinating podcast episode.

The co-founder and Chair of Black Lives Matter Greater New York answers the skeptics and makes the case for a movement that has grown in scale and significance since widespread protests erupted last summer after the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

A devout Christian who has spent much of his life campaigning for racial and social justice, Hawk Newsome, discusses his views on love versus violence, systemic racism, and how he reached out to Trump supporters during a tense rally in Washington in 2017. The conversation transcends the simple designations of left and right and seeks to find meaningful solutions that respond to the realities faced by people and communities. This conversation is part of our podcast series that builds on the case for finding common ground.

Read more about Hawk Newsome and how he spends his weekends in this New York Times article.

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Ep. 24-The-Case-for-Black-Lives-Matter-Hawk-Newsome

Hawk Newsome

Hawk Newsome is a former candidate for New York City Council, a cast member on Cop Watch America on BET, and a political activist working at the forefront of the New Civil Rights Movement who has dedicated his adult life to the betterment of his community and our nation as a whole. Mr. Newsome previously served as Special Projects Coordinator at the Bronx County Office of the District Attorney, partnering with tenants’ associations and social service organizations throughout the Bronx. He is co-founder and Chairperson of Black Lives Matter Greater New York.

Depolarizing America: Building Consensus Step-by-Step

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These political veterans disagree on many issues…but agree that now is the time for bridge building. Here’s why.

Kelly Johnston and Rob Fersh disagree strongly on many issues, and voted differently in the 2020 presidential election. But they are friends and “agree on major steps that must be taken for the nation to heed President-elect Biden’s welcome call for us to come together.”

Both believe that constructive steps must be taken to help build trust among Democrats and Republicans, despite deep polarization and a firm resistance to bipartisanship from both ends of the political spectrum. They encourage open dialogue between sectors and interest groups whose views diverge in an effort to deal with divisive political discourse.

Read more from Johnstone & Fersh in an op-ed for The Hill: “We agree on almost nothing except how to solve problems across the political divide.”

Rob Fersh founded Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, and previously worked for Democrats on the staffs of three congressional committees. Kelly Johnston, also a founding board member of Convergence, is a committed Republican and former Secretary of the U.S. Senate. In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground produced in partnership with Convergence, we talk with both Fersh and Johnston about bridge building and why this work is so urgently needed in an era of political gridlock.

Click here for bonus audio: Rob Fersh describes the process at Convergence.

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Ep. 23- Depolarizing America: Building Consensus

Rob Fersh

Rob Fersh is a Senior Advisor and the Founder of Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, a non-profit organization founded in 2009 to promote consensus solutions to issues of domestic and international importance. Immediately prior, Rob served as the United States country director for Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution organization. While at SFCG, he directed national policy consensus projects on health care coverage for the uninsured and U.S.-Muslim relations.

In the 1986-98 period, Rob served as president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a leading NGO working to alleviate hunger in the United States. Rob also served on the staffs of three Congressional committees, working for U.S. Representative Leon Panetta and for Senators Patrick Leahy and Edmund Muskie. While a Congressional staff member and at FRAC, he was deeply involved in shepherding passage of bipartisan legislation to reduce hunger in the United States. Rob has held additional positions in the federal executive branch and non-profit sector. He was a 1994 recipient of the Prudential Foundation Prize for Non-Profit Leadership. Rob holds a law degree from Boston University and a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, where he has served as a guest lecturer and co-instructor of a course on collaborative decision making and public policy. He is married, has four children, and two grandchildren.

Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston retired from the Campbell Soup Company in October 2018 after a 16-year career as Vice President-Government Affairs. Previously, Kelly spent nearly 25 years in Washington, DC in several leadership positions within the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, politics, and the trade association world. He was Executive Vice President for Government Affairs and Communications at the National Food Processors’ Association (NFPA), serving as the organization’s chief government affairs and communications officer for nearly 6 years.

From 1995 to 1997, he was the Secretary of the US Senate, the Senate’s chief legislative, financial and administrative officer. Kelly has also served as Staff Director of the Senate Republican Policy Committee; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of Transportation; and chief of staff or press secretary to three Members of Congress.

Kelly remains active in the non-profit community. He is a founding board member of the Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communication at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. He also currently serves on the board of Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), which is dedicated to helping employers educate their employees on public policy issues of importance to their jobs. He is a former chairman of the Canadian American Business Council and former co-chair of the Congressional Management Foundation. He blogs on public policy issues, history, and politics at Against the Grain.

A native of Oklahoma, Kelly earned his B.A. degree in Communications in 1976 from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, where he has been named to the Alumni Hall of Fame. He attended Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Demography in Washington, D.C. He has guest lectured on politics, government, lobbying and communications at several universities, including Yale University, the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, George Washington University, Shepherd University, and Burlington County College in New Jersey.

He and his wife, Adrienne, live in Arlington, Virginia. They have two sons.

Depolarizing America: What Can We All Do?

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Finding common ground is more vital than ever. How can we reach across deep divides?

The important task of finding common ground in American politics became much more difficult and vital in the wake of the traumatic violence and mayhem at the U.S. Capitol. While most Americans viewed the pro-Trump crowd as thugs, many thought of them as patriots.

This podcast is the first in a new series that deals with the issue of polarization. We speak with professor Tania Israel, author of Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work. Dr. Israel is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and past-President of the Society of Counseling Psychology.

We discuss practical, concrete steps listeners can take to conduct meaningful conversations that reach across deep divisions. “One of the things I recommend is being curious. Try to find out more about what’s behind what somebody says,” she tells us. Join us as we examine the means and methods for de-polarizing America.

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Ep. 22- Depolarizing America

Tania Israel

Tania Israel is a Professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Israel teaches about helping skills, leadership, and community collaboration, among other things. She has facilitated educational programs and difficult dialogues about a range of topics, including abortion, law enforcement, religion, and sexual orientation. Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work (APA, 2020) grew out of Dr. Israel’s skill-building workshop that she developed and delivered to hundreds of participants following the 2016 election. It draws on her strengths as a psychologist and community organizer to prepare people to engage in dialogue across political lines. Dr. Israel’s honors include 2019 Congressional Woman of the Year (CA 24th District), Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Award for Excellence in Mental Health from the California Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, and Emerging Leader Award from the APA Committee on Women in Psychology. To learn more, visit taniaisrael.com or connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.

The Art of Compromise and Pragmatism

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In a fractured and anxious moment, what can we learn from “The Man Who Ran Washington”?

James Baker was at the center of American political power for three decades. His resume is exceedingly impressive — Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, and White House Chief of Staff twice. Baker’s accomplishments were far-reaching — he helped end the cold war, reunify Germany, assemble the international coalition to fight the Gulf War, negotiate the rewriting of the U.S. tax code, and run five presidential campaigns.

Quite simply he was “The Man Who Ran Washington,” which is the name of the highly-praised new book co-authored by our guests, New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker (no relation) and his wife, Susan Glasser, staff correspondent for The New Yorker.

In this episode, we discuss how Washington has become a more angry, anxious place in recent years, Baker’s steely pragmatism and remarkably successful approach to power and governance – an approach that stands in stark contrast to the fierce tribalism that led to violence in our Capitol this week – and why the art of compromise is crucial to almost any negotiation between powerful rivals.

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Ep. 21- The Art of Compromise

Peter Baker & Susan Glasser

Peter Baker and Susan Glasser are longtime Washington journalists who have written about the intersection of politics and the world. Baker is chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and an MSNBC political analyst. He has covered four presidents and is author or co-author of six books, including Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House. Glasser is a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of the weekly “Letter from Trump’s Washington” as well as a global affairs analyst for CNN. She previously was the editor of POLITICO and editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine.

Episode 20 - Let's Find Common Ground Podcast

2020 Special Moments: Our Search for Common Ground

Episode 20 - Let's Find Common Ground Podcast

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In a year marked by crisis, we look back at remarkable moments of hope, collaboration and healing.

From the tragedy and disruption of COVID-19 through impassioned pleas for racial justice heard across the country, to the deep divisions in our politics, 2020 was a year like no other.

In the first year of our “Let’s Find Common Ground” podcast, we’ve enjoyed a mix of thoughtful, personal and surprising conversations about some of the most important topics of our time. We revisit a few of the most memorable and special moments in this year-end episode.

Among the highlights: Houston’s Chief of Police Art Acevedo, and New York City civil rights activist and mayoral candidate, Maya Wiley, discuss ways to find common ground on police reform. Eva Botkin-Kowacki of The Christian Science Monitor talks about how environmental activists and farmers use different language to discuss the threat of a changing climate. Republican Brian Fitzpatrick and Democrat Abigail Spanberger reveal how they work together to pass laws and find solutions to controversial issues in a dysfunctional Congress.

We also listen to remarkable insights from an inter-racial couple, Errol and Tina Toulon, about their marriage and the story of Jordan Blashek and Chris Haugh, two young men with different political backgrounds who took a cross-country road trip across an ideologically divided nation  to explore an important question – how far apart are we really?

Join us for our special moments of 2020 in the search for Common Ground.

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Ep. 20- Special Moments