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Nathan Bomey

Depolarizing America: Bridge Builders. Bringing People Together.

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How can we bring people together in a polarized age? A journalist explores stories of hope.

Common Ground Committee is part of a robust and growing national movement of bridge builders, who are working to reduce incivility and toxic polarization in America today. We look in-depth at this diverse, vital coalition: Who are they and how are they tackling racial, cultural, and political schisms?

Our guest, Nathan Bomey, is a reporter for USA Today, and author of the new book, Bridge Builders: Bringing People Together in a Polarized Age. In this interview, we hear more about people from many walks of life who are building the structure of a new, more united America.

“Despite its transformational qualities, bridge building often attracts considerable resistance,” says Bomey. “In many cases, that’s because bridges promise to disrupt the status quo for people who previously benefited from or preferred social isolation.”

This episode looks at a way forward.

Learn more about the bridge-building groups mentioned in this episode:

  • The Everyday Projects uses photography to challenge the stereotypes that distort our understanding of the world.
  • Be the Bridge is a Christian group led by Latasha Morrison that seeks to empower anti-racist bridge builders.
  • Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project creates bridges of communication, understanding and support between Americans and Iraqis in response to decades of sanctions, war, and occupation.
  • Common Ground Committee is a member of Bridge Alliance, a community of more than a hundred organizations across the country.

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Ep. 39: Depolarizing America – Bridge Builders. Bringing People Together.

Nathan Bomey

Nathan Bomey is a reporter for USA TODAY and the author of three nationally published nonfiction books, including most recently Bridge Builders: Bringing People Together in a Polarized Age (2021, Polity Press). Bridge Builders features insights from Americans who are overcoming their differences, whether it’s politics, race, religion, class or culture.

Before joining USA TODAY in 2015, Nathan was a reporter for the Detroit Free Press and several newspapers in his home state of Michigan. His first book, Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back (2016, W.W. Norton & Co.), chronicles the saga of the city’s historic bankruptcy. His second book, After the Fact: The Erosion of Truth and the Inevitable Rise of Donald Trump (2018, Prometheus), explores the implications of the misinformation age.

A graduate of Eastern Michigan University, Nathan is the winner of several national journalism awards, including the National Headliner Award and various honors from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. You can follow him on Twitter @NathanBomey.

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Depolarizing America: #ListenFirst and America Talks

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How can we push back against toxic polarization? Explore lessons learned by two brave leaders.

We examine two brave and successful attempts to get Americans of differing backgrounds and political convictions to engage in personal face-to-face conversations.

America Talks and the National Week of Conversation, both held in mid-June, were part of ongoing efforts to push back against deep divides and toxic polarization.

In this episode, we discuss lessons learned, insights gained, and the vital difference between talking and listening. Our guests are Kristin Hansen, Executive Director at Civic Health Project and Director at AllSides; and Mizell Stewart, Vice President, News Performance, Talent & Partnerships for Gannett and the USA Today Network. Both were involved in this new initiative.

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Ep. 33: Depolarizing America – #ListenFirst and America Talks

Kristin Hansen

Kristin Hansen is Executive Director at Civic Health Project, Director at the media technology company AllSides, and Lecturer in Management at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. She contributes her executive skills and experience to the movement across the United States to reduce polarization, improve civil discourse, and restore democracy. Kristin serves as an advisor for AllSides’ online civil discourse and dialogue initiatives including America Talks and AllSides Connect.

Mizell Stewart III

Mizell Stewart III is Vice President, News Performance, Talent & Partnerships for Gannett and the USA TODAY Network. He is the former Chief Content Officer of Journal Media Group and former VP/Content of the Newspaper Division of The E.W. Scripps Company. Earlier in his career, he led newsrooms in Akron, Ohio; Evansville, Indiana; and Tallahassee, Florida.

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new political party

Does America Need a Third Political Party?

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How can we fix our broken politics? Here’s why one former Congressman says it’s time to rethink the system.

Growing numbers of voters are fed up with politics as usual. In a recent survey, 62% of Americans say a third party is needed — up 5% from September of last year, and the highest it has ever been since Gallup polls first asked the question nearly twenty years ago.

Our podcast guest, former two-term Florida Congressman David Jolly, says it’s time to reconsider the system that reinforces the entrenched power of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Last year, Jolly was named Executive Chairman of the Serve America Movement (SAM), a growing organization that exists in some states as a third party, and in others as a non-partisan political reform group that backs office holders who work across party lines.

SAM calls itself a big tent political movement that brings people together who have different ideologies but shared political principles. In this episode, David Jolly makes the case for his movement’s ambitious goal: fixing our broken politics in America.

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Ep.29-Does America Need a Third Political Party?

David Jolly

David Jolly served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2014 – 2017.  A student of the institution, Jolly has held virtually every position in Congress, from intern to Member, and has worked outside the Congress as an attorney and political consultant, as well as in specialty finance. Today, Jolly serves as Executive Vice President of Shumaker Advisors Florida, and as a Political Analyst for the networks and media platforms of NBC Universal.

Known for his fierce independent streak and bipartisan approach, Jolly was first elected in a nationally watched special election in Florida, a Republican winning a Democratic-leaning district.  It was his first run for elective office and became one of the most expensive Congressional races in U.S. history at the time.  It made Jolly a fierce campaign finance reform advocate and his resulting legislative effort to prohibit Members of Congress from directly soliciting campaign contributions was ultimately featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

Jolly’s work has been published in Time, USA Today, Roll Call, the Washington Post, CNN.com, NBCNews.com, NewsMax, the Washington Times, and the Tampa Bay Times.

One Washington Post columnist penned, “Jolly speaks the truth.” The Tampa Bay Times, “It’s refreshing to hear someone take on the system.” And upon leaving Congress, one columnist wrote, “Farewell to the one Congressman willing to compromise.”

Jolly received his Bachelor of Arts from Emory University in 1994, and his Juris Doctor Cum Laude from George Mason University in 2001.

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Bridging the Rural-Urban Divide

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Can a former urban liberal learn how to appreciate the perspective of rural conservatives?

She lived in liberal Seattle and covered science, climate change, and the environment for NPR for more than a decade. Then in 2018, journalist Ashley Ahearn made a big jump, moving with her husband to one of the most conservative counties in rural Washington State.

In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground, we hear about the profound rural-urban divide in America, and what Ashley discovered about her new neighbors and herself when she switched from the city to the country, now living on a 20-acre property with a horse and a pickup truck. We also discuss how politics and views of the land and climate differ greatly according to where people live.

Recently, Ashley Ahearn launched her 8-part podcast series, Grouse, which looks at life in rural America through the lens of the most controversial bird in the West — the greater sage-grouse. One of her great passions is storytelling, and helping scientists better communicate their research to the broader public.

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Ep. 28-Bridging the Rural-Urban Divide

Ashley Ahearn

Ashley Ahearn is an award-winning public media journalist who has covered science and the environment for NPR and member stations for more than a decade. She co-created, hosted, and produced the national climate change podcast, Terrestrial, in partnership with the NPR Story Lab and KUOW in Seattle. Ashley’s stories have appeared on Marketplace, All Things Considered, Here and Now, The World, and other NPR shows.

She has a master’s in science journalism from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and has completed reporting fellowships at the Knight Center at MIT, the Vermont Law School, the Metcalf Institute at the University of Rhode Island, and the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources. A few years ago she moved to rural Washington State and started her own podcasting company, Ahearn Productions, which released an eight-part series about sage grouse in partnership with NPR member stations across the West. Grouse was listed as one of the top 20 podcasts of 2020 by the Atlantic Magazine. In her spare time, Ashley rides motorcycles and moves cows on horseback or plays in the sagebrush with her husband and dog.

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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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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.