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A group of Sedonans attempted to bridge the political canyon that is dividing the nation at a gathering at the Sedona Public Library on March 9. The meeting was hosted by the League of Women Voters Greater Verde Valley in partnership with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

OLLI facilitator Paul Friedman delivered a short introduction. He said, “There’s such a partisanship about issues these days, it’s getting scary and is of some concern.”

Because of political divisions, people seem to either avoid political discussions at all costs or get into heated arguments about them. Friedman deplored that such arguments usually only scratch the surface of the issue, which is exactly what the meeting attempted to counter.

Friedman said that “our futures are intertwined, and we need to understand each other, respect each other.” Speaking about core values, instead of concrete political issues, should show that people have more commonalities than they think, and help people to understand where others are coming from and why they hold certain beliefs.

Four speakers were invited to share their political views and explore where these views originate in their life.

n Philip Terbell, who is an associate broker at Century 21 Sexton Realty in Cottonwood, talked about growing up on a farm in rural Iowa to be a hard worker. He considers himself an independent thinker and likes to question things and seek other alternatives before making a decision.

He opposed the growth of government influence on people’s lives and thought the nation was becoming too dependent on government aid. For the future, he would like to see a society that can find a middle ground despite polarization.

“How did we become a society where we can’t agree to disagree and just move on anymore?” he said.

Curt Ireland, former history teacher at Camp Verde Middle School, identified three sources for his beliefs: His long years of work as a trial attorney in South Dakota, his Quakerism and a general empathy for other human beings. He talked about the importance of checks and balances in government and expressed relief for the fact that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judiciary’s check on the president when it opposed President Donald Trump’s travel ban earlier this year.

As a Quaker, Ireland believes in peace through diplomacy, not through war. He was concerned about Trump’s proposed military budget increase, which would result in cuts for the State Department and foreign aid — key pillars of American diplomacy.

Thirdly, Ireland talked about undocumented Mexican friends of his and the fear they are experiencing due to the White House’s recent stances on deportations. “They are hard-working, loving, patriotic, law-abiding people,” he stressed, and sharply condemned Trump’s previous remarks about Mexican immigrants.

Mike Schroeder, co-founder of Consumer Satellite Systems, grew up in Indianapolis and watched his parents work hard, which inspired him to work hard all his life. He tried out various jobs until he started his satellite dish company and built a big business out of it.

However, when he looks at today’s situation, he finds there are too many restrictions and regulations. “I wouldn’t start a business today,” he said.

To Schroeder, starting a business is the most fun thing one could ever do, but he thought that governmental requirements such as Social Security are putting too many people out of business.

“Generational poverty and dependence is killing this country,” he said.

He also stressed that he wants his children and grandchildren to succeed like he did, but sees lacking opportunities for them.

Andrea Houchard, founder of the Philosophy in Public Interest program at Northern Arizona University, said she believes that democracy is the best political system, as it relies on the participation of the people, their dignity and autonomy, and creates a civil space for the exchange of reason. She disapproved of today’s political climate, in which too much is generalized and painted as either right or wrong.

She stressed that people need dialogue, even if it leads to disagreement.

“We should embrace disagreement, because that’s when it gets interesting,” she said.

She also pointed out that agreement and disagreement are usually partial, and that common ground can actually be found most of the time. As an example, she said that she thinks the government helps more than it harms, however, she also agrees with some points that are made for the opposite stance.

Houchard encouraged the audience to not shy away from talking politics anymore. She said talking politics is their right and duty, that they should listen to other opinions and expect to be challenged.

“So go forth and talk politics,” she concluded.

Friedman wrapped up the statements by reminding the audience of the core values that were presented by each of the speakers, such as independent thinking, hard work, peace and compassion, hands-on problem solving, as well as communication and deep analysis. He asked the audience to think about if they could subscribe to these values during the small-group discussions that ensued.

For these discussions, the audience considered a list of questions about the roots of their own political beliefs, such as “What should be America’s most important values?”; “What concerns you most about the future of our country?”; or “What qualities do you look for in a political candidate?”

After the discussions, the groups were asked to share some insights of their conversations. One group was surprised how often they found themselves saying “I agree with you,” even if that statement was followed by a “but.” Another group discovered that they all basically shared the same values, and it was only the relative weight that they attributed them with that determined their different political stances.

A third group mentioned that they were all concerned and fearful for the future, but realized that political involvement and educating oneself on important issues was crucial in these times.

The attending Vice Mayor of Sedona John Martinez summed it up.

“Get involved, no matter where you come from,” he said.


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