Tag Archive for: common ground

The Crucial Role of Political Centrists

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Does the future lie with politicians who appeal to the center? Learn why this former Congressman says yes.

The world appears to be one of political extremes, with the far right and far left denigrating each other on a regular basis. But could the future lie with politicians who appeal to a larger group?

Our guest on this week’s podcast says yes. Former CIA agent and Republican congressman Will Hurd of San Antonio won three terms in Texas’s 23rd congressional district, a district he was told he could never win because it was bright blue, while he was red.

He says he succeeded by engaging with everyone, not just voters who shared all his beliefs – and he believes others can do the same. Just don’t call them moderates.

“In the media in Washington DC…moderate means middle of the road,” he says. “But in reality, moderates are the ones that do the hard work and get things done because they’re the ones that are having to take a philosophy to people that may not identify with it.”

Hurd grew up bi-racial in Texas, which gave him early experience of finding common ground. In his book American Reboot he outlines how to ‘get big things done’ by focusing on policy, not politics. He also shares his thoughts on what Americans should be worrying about, including losing control of the technology on which we run our lives.

All in this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground.

Will Hurd

Will Hurd is currently a managing director at Allen & Company and former member of Congress, cybersecurity executive, and undercover officer in the CIA. For almost two decades he’s been involved in the most pressing national security issues challenging the country whether it was in the back-alleys of dangerous places, boardrooms of top international businesses or halls of Congress.

After stopping terrorists, preventing Russian spies from stealing our secrets, and putting nuclear weapons proliferators out of business, Will helped build a cybersecurity company that prepared businesses for the next domain of conflict – cyberspace.

While in Congress, Texas Monthly and Politico Magazine called Will “The Future of the GOP,” because he put good policy over good politics at a time when America was often consumed with what divides us rather than what unites us. He was able to get more legislation signed into law in three terms than most congressmen do in three decades – substantive legislation like a national strategy for Artificial Intelligence.

Will is a native of San Antonio and earned a Computer Science degree from Texas A&M University. Additionally, he is growing the US transatlantic partnership with Europe as a trustee of the German Marshall Fund, an OpenAI board member, and most recently served as a fellow at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. He is also the author of American Reboot: An Idealist’s Guide to Getting Big Things Done, which was released in March 2022. For more information, please visit www.willbhurd.com.

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Common Ground Podcast

Our Common Ground: What Polling Doesn’t Reveal About Americans

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Are we as far apart as polling suggests? What this research innovator found might surprise you on what polling doesn’t reveal about Americans.

All too often people in public life talk past one another. But what happens when we listen and give people the space to explain who they really are and how they view today’s most divisive issues?

On guns, abortion, government spending and even partisan politics, most people may not be as far apart as polling suggests.

For more than four years, our guest, entrepreneur and market researcher, Diane Hessan, conducted a remarkable series of conversations with hundreds of voters from all across the country. She checked in with them every week. What Diane found may surprise you, give you hope, and change the way you feel about your fellow Americans.

Diane Hessan

Diane Hessan is an award-winning entrepreneur and innovator in the market research field and a nationally recognized expert on the American voter. Since 2016, she has been engaged in an in-depth longitudinal study of the electorate, looking for trends, shifts and common ground. She has written more than fifty columns about her findings for the Boston Globe and her work has also been featured on CNN and NPR, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, and many other outlets. Her new book, Our Common Ground: Insights from Four Years of Listening to American Voters, was published in 2021 by RealClear Publishing.

She is the founder and Chairman of C Space, formerly called Communispace, and was CEO of the company during fourteen years of exponential growth, as C Space worked with hundreds of global corporations across twelve countries.

She received a BA in economics and English from Tufts University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School, and received an honorary degree from Bentley University.

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DEPOLARIZING AMERICA PODCAST

We’re Less Divided Than We Think

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Are we all Team Red or Team Blue? Here’s why this thought leader is sounding the alarm on a false narrative.

Every day on social media and cable TV, in newspapers and magazines, we’re told that we live in a red-versus-blue world of rigid divides. Our podcast guest, Tony Woodlief, begs to differ.

“In reality, most people fall somewhere in the middle, or else have a complex blend of views from both sides of the aisle,” says Tony. His new book I, Citizen uses polling data, political history and on-the-ground reporting to make the case that party activists and partisans are attempting to undermine the freedom of Americans to govern themselves and make decisions that have a direct impact on their lives.

Many people have fallen for a false narrative promoted by leaders of political parties, academia, media and government, that we’re all team red or team blue, he argues. In this episode, we learn a different perspective and discuss how all of us can find common ground in our local neighborhoods and national discourse.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 58 – We’re Less Divided Than We Think

Tony Woodlief

Tony Woodlief is Executive Vice President at State Policy Network, which advocates practical federalism and catalyzes thriving, durable freedom movements in the states. Previously he led the Bill of Rights Institute, the Market-Based Management Institute, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Prior to those positions, he worked for Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation.

Tony’s essays on politics, faith, parenting, and culture have appeared in The Wall Street Journal,  New York Post, Washington Post, and other publications, and he has appeared on Fox News, CSPAN, and radio programs across the U.S. His short fiction has appeared in Image, Ruminate, Saint Katherine Review, and elsewhere. An alumnus of the University of North Carolina, Tony holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan, and an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University. He is the founder of Intentional Fathering, which is devoted to helping fathers build better parenting habits, and the author of I, Citizen, a book about reclaiming American self-governance.

Want to hear more? Check out our podcast page to see all the discussions!

Depolarizing America: Building Consensus Step-by-Step

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These political veterans disagree on many issues, except 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.

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.

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Ep. 57- Depolarizing America: Building Consensus Step-by-Step

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.

Black History Month: Achievements, Change and Justice. Special Episode

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What can Black history teach us about the legacy & future of civil rights? Get insights from past guests.

Black History Month is a celebration of the remarkable contributions of Black Americans to our nation. We share some personal thoughts and stories about the lessons of history, with extracts from past podcasts and a Common Ground Committee public event. We learn about the legacy of the civil rights movement, and recent calls for social change, justice, reform, and respect.

This episode features “Let’s Find Common Ground” podcast guests: Professor Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X and the author of the memoir Growing Up X; Dr. Brian Williams, Associate Professor of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center; Hawk Newsome, Cofounder and Chair of Black Lives Matter Greater New York; Errol Toulon, Jr., Ed.D., the first African-American Sheriff of Suffolk County, New York; and Caroline Randall Williams, a poet, author, teacher and Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

We also share moving extracts from a remarkable conversation between Donna Brazile and Michael Steele for a Common Ground Committee forum in 2018. As the first Black chairs of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee, respectively, their views represented different ends of the political spectrum. But in tackling essential questions of race and governance, they found many points of agreement.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 50 – Black History Month: Achievements, Change and Justice. Special Episode

 

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How Problem Solvers Caucus Attacks Gridlock in Congress

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Is Congress as dysfunctional as it seems? Hear from two legislators in this candid conversation.

From the outside, Congress appears broken. Bills get bogged down in partisan fights, leaders openly smear each other, and animosity between members is at an all-time high. But our guests on today’s show demonstrate that if you look a little closer, you’ll find a group of dedicated politicians working together across the aisle to craft workable legislation and get things done.

Republican Congressman Don Bacon represents Nebraska’s 2nd District. Democrat Kurt Schrader represents Oregon’s 5th District. Each man is a member of the congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, a group equally split between Democrats and Republicans who are committed to finding common ground on key issues facing the U.S.

In this surprisingly candid conversation listeners get a peek behind the curtain at what’s really going on in Congress, how the infrastructure bill was passed into law, and the harmful effect the media has on Americans’ view of politics. On this episode of “Let’s Find Common Ground.”

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Ep 49 – How Problem Solvers Caucus Attacks Gridlock in Congress

Don Bacon

Growing up and working on a farm in Illinois, Congressman Don Bacon learned first-hand how the value of hard work and commitment contributes to the success of a small business. He moved from the family farm to attend Northern Illinois University, from which he graduated with a Bachelors of Political Science in 1984, the same year he married Angie, the love of his life. They have three sons, one daughter, and six grandchildren. One year later, he began his military career by joining the U.S. Air Force and serving nearly 30 years, ultimately retiring as a Brigadier General.

During his career in the Air Force, Congressman Bacon specialized in electronic warfare, intelligence, and reconnaissance. His career highlights include two tours as a Wing Commander, at Ramstein Airbase in Germany and Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska; group command at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona; squadron command in Arizona, and expeditionary squadron command in Iraq. In total, Rep. Bacon served 16 assignments including four deployments in the Middle East to include Iraq in 2007 to 2008 during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

Congressman Bacon’s military decorations include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, two Bronze Stars, two Legion of Merits, five Meritorious Service Medals, and the Aerial Achievement Medal. Additionally, he was selected as Europe’s top Air Force Wing Commander for his time at Ramstein Airbase, as well as recognized as a distinguished graduate of the Air Command and Staff College, Navigator-Electronic Warfare School, and Officer Intelligence School. Further, Congressman Bacon has earned two Masters Degrees, from the University of Phoenix in Arizona and the National War College in Washington D.C.

Upon his retirement from the Air Force in 2014, Congressman Bacon served as the military advisor to Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01), where he specialized in military affairs focusing on Offutt Air Force Base and the Nebraska National Guard. He also was an Assistant Professor at Bellevue University where he taught Undergraduate Leadership along with American Vision and Values (The Kirkpatrick Signature Series), until his 2016 election to Congress, representing Nebraska’s Second Congressional District.

Presently, Congressman Bacon serves on two committees within the House of Representatives: the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Agricultural Committee.

Kurt Schrader

Congressman Kurt Schrader is currently serving his seventh term in the United States House of Representatives. He represents Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, which includes all of Marion, Polk, Lincoln and Tillamook Counties as well as the bulk of Clackamas and small portions of Multnomah and Benton Counties. Before being elected to Congress, Schrader, a farmer and veterinarian for more than thirty years, established and managed the Clackamas County Veterinary Clinic in Oregon City and operated his farm where he grew and sold organic fruit and vegetables.

In 1996, Congressman Schrader was elected to the Oregon State House of Representatives. There he served as a member of the Joint Ways & Means Committee. Schrader was one of five legislators asked by their peers to guide Oregon through the budget crisis of 2001-2002. Schrader was elected to the Oregon State Senate in 2003 and was immediately appointed to chair the Joint Ways & Means Committee. He continued to serve in that capacity until he was elected to U.S. Congress in 2008.

Congressman Schrader attended Cornell University where he received his BA in Government in 1973. He received his veterinary degree from the University of Illinois in 1977.

Congressman Schrader currently serves as a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (E&C), which oversees a wide portfolio of issues ranging from health care to the environment. Prior to joining E&C, Congressman Schrader served on the House Committee on Agriculture, where he served on the Farm Bill Conference Committee that successfully passed a five-year farm bill, the House Committee on Small Business and House Budget Committee. In the 117th Congress, Congressman Schrader serves on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, the Subcommittee on Energy, and the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

Schrader is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, New Democrat Coalition, and the only bipartisan working group in the House, the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Want to hear more? Check out our podcast page to see all the discussions!

blue & orange chair representing discourse

How Can We Fix Polarization? Part 3: Dialing Back Division

As Congress and the American people have grown more polarized, legislation has become increasingly gridlocked and political rhetoric more extreme. Can the country’s “exhausted majority” be mobilized to lead the country back to common ground?

In this final installment of our three-part blog series on how to fix polarization, Common Ground Committee talks with co-founders Erik Olsen and Bruce Bond about what it will take to dial back division and get Congress back to work for the people.


There’s a level of emotion, call it heat or call it hate, that comes into disagreements about almost any issue these days. How can we dial back from code red to code orange or yellow?

Erik Olsen: Well, what’s implicit in the question is, why is that the case? We’ve had differences of views in the past, but we haven’t had the degree of antipathy towards one another that we have today.

First of all, I would take the position that the way Washington conducts itself right now exacerbates that problem because it tries to say to the voting base, “We have to have our way on everything we want, or you’re not going to get anything you want.” So they have to have a majority in everything in order to get the agenda in office that they want to get accomplished.

That’s where I think looking to congressional representatives who come to the table with different perspectives makes a difference. One is a Republican. One’s a Democrat. And they say, “We come to the table with different perspectives. Let’s share those perspectives and see how we can craft legislation that finds at least a measure of agreement on each side.”

Also, there are issues that I think are presented in a polarizing manner that don’t need to be. Vote-by-mail is one of these. Vote-by-mail is intended to allow more people to vote. If one party has a problem with having more people vote, then the problem is not with the voting process. It’s with the message that they’re getting out to people. That’s what they need to focus on, not, “How do we get less people to vote?”

Bruce Bond: And there are a lot of voters who are supporting mechanisms that need to be addressed. We’ve got gerrymandering, that’s a problem, and you’ve got the money that goes to PACs, the propaganda out there that’s so negative toward opposing candidates, and that kind of thing.

So those are some things that need to be addressed. The executive order system just goes back and forth like a ping-pong, that the Republican executes some executive orders, and then the Democratic successor reverses them and vice-versa. And that just continues to cause anger, if you will, between the different parties. That is happening right now with the former and new administration.

So how do you convince an electorate that’s tired of all the anger to get up off the couch and care again, to vote?

Bond: Like I said, I think that shift from the silent majority to the exhausted majority is profound in that we now have an emotional element in the issue that we didn’t have before. The silent majority was sort of like, “Yeah. I don’t care,” if you will, they were apathetic. But when you have an exhausted majority, people are saying they’re fed up. They don’t want this anymore. They want change, and that’s the soil in which the good seed can grow.

Olsen: That’s the point, that changing voter behavior or influencing voter behavior is the most effective thing to do. The NRA’s influence, for example, is based on their effectiveness in reaching their members and saying, “Your right to own a gun is in jeopardy, and here’s what you need to do about it.” Experienced Congresspeople on our panels have stressed their educated view that this is the most effective thing that goes on in Washington – how you encourage people to vote the way you want them to, how you influence them to vote.

Bond: What you really need to do is get people out to vote for the candidates who are going to support those positions they have in their protests. So it’s all well and good to go out and protest and be with your friends and feel good about doing that. But it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if you don’t get people to actually vote the way you want them to.

Olsen: Our view of the election results is that there was a huge turnout. It’s the largest voter turnout in 110 years or something like that, and it was a very close election. But what was significant is that Donald Trump lost, and yet Republicans generally, and Republican issues generally, won.

What that indicates to us is that, first of all, the country is pretty evenly divided in terms of their interests, and number two, that Republican voters, at least, were willing to split the ticket and support a polarizer–if I can use that term that way–like Donald Trump who’s just making the entire situation worse. He’s not interested in common ground. They were willing to vote him out of office, and also to reduce the Democratic majority in the House, because their interests of a right-of-center policy remain fairly strong.

It’s likely the Republicans might have kept the Senate had President Trump not pushed his view that the election was rigged and tried to intimidate state officials. So, unless you can sit down with people and say, “Let’s figure out how to work together to craft legislation,” you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re just going to continue to be in gridlock.

Bond: You can tweet Congress as much as you want, but you have to drive the cultural change, which is where we’re focused—we’re not focused on things like gerrymandering and all those other things. If you drive the cultural change where voters stand up and say, in so many words, “You know what? We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore,” then they’ll start supporting candidates that are common grounders.

There’s critical mass in this country where enough of the population says, “We’ve been doing this, and it’s wrong. We shouldn’t be doing this anymore.” And that becomes the culture of the nation. That number, research suggests, is 11 million people.

We have 330 million people in this country. So 11 million is not that large a number. It’s not inconsequential, it’s not just a drop in the bucket, but it is interesting how that’s a tipping point in cultural change. So, if we can help people get there—and our work suggests that we can, and we are doing that—we’re getting people to see that these things are possible, that they should expect other than what they’re getting from their leaders, now you’re on to something.

Don’t miss the earlier installments of our three-part blog series on how to fix polarization, with a look at the current political dynamic and strategies that can lead to more progress and less division.

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!

How Can We Fix Polarization? Part 2: Implementing Strategy

Despite President Biden’s vow to unify America, legislation in the new Congress appears poised to continue along strictly partisan lines. Is common ground really possible – and what will it take to get there?

In this second installment of our three-part blog series on how to fix polarization, Common Ground Committee sat down with its co-founders Erik Olsen and Bruce Bond to talk about strategies that can lead to more progress and less division.


Your work focuses on inspiring the exhausted majority to seek common ground. Once you’ve gotten their attention, what do you do from there?

Bruce Bond: There are lots of different things. There are a lot of groups out there, including us, that have put out positions on, “Here’s how you have good, productive conversations with people that you disagree with.” We can really look into moving the ball forward when it comes to finding a solution or, at the very least, engaging with people to understand what’s really involved in solving a problem.

You have these conversations with people you disagree with to understand what their position is and why they have them. And when you do that, you learn a lot, you have a certain empathy for the people that you’re speaking with, and it just puts you in a completely different position to have a conversation.

We explored this dynamic in a recent podcast episode with two young men from different sides of the aisle who took a cross-country roadtrip together. Ultimately, their commitment to connecting at a human level transcended their differences.

So knowing how to have the conversation is a key element in solving the polarization problem. It’s been said “It’s hard to hate up close.”

Does this apply to the general population, or the leadership?

Erik Olsen: Both. That is the next thing: what we can do from a leadership level? How can we convince our leaders at the top, particularly at the federal level, who really set the tone for this? If you can solve the problem of Congress in particular being so divided, then you would see a much different view by the public about the value of Congress, and the value of engaging in productive debate — as opposed to debate to win the argument.

So, you’re talking about getting folks to value productive debate instead of the art of winning, or the art of the food fight. Does that also mean electing people who have that mindset already?

Bond: Yes. Along these lines, we developed the Common Ground Scorecard, which is a tool that helps voters identify the person running for office that are most likely to reach across the aisle and find common ground with those that are the other side of the aisle, so to speak.

On paper, these are little things, but they are significant. If you can learn to have a conversation, and you can keep an eye out for people in or seeking office that are likely to work to find a solution rather than win an ideological argument or not engage in the debate for fear of being primaried, for example, which is a problem that we have now.

If you can get those leaders to say, Finding common ground is a better way, now you’re on to something. Leaders tend to fear the voters more than anything else. If the voters start voting with favoritism toward those who are common grounders, as we like to call them, you start to see some change.

Olsen: We’ve been offering new members of Congress the opportunity to take a pledge we call the Common Ground Commitments. And they’re saying, “Yeah, we do want to make these commitments,” because they’re now interested in trying to make Congress more common-ground-oriented.

They need to somehow deal with the leadership on this, and I don’t know exactly how that will happen. But one way that it will happen is if people, representatives, and legislators who are in power have more interest in returning Congress to a more balanced body. They see that polarization as not acting in their best interest.

Congress needs to be returned to a governing body that recognizes that the best interests of the country lie in finding legislators who are willing to work together to try to find common ground. And they’re more likely to stay in office because they’ve worked to solve the problem instead of just creating more problems.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our three-part blog series on how to fix polarization, with a discussion of what it will take to dial back America’s political division. Coming soon!

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.

Read the Episode Transcript

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.