"Bring It To The Table": Starting A Political Conversation

"Bring It To The Table": Starting A Political Conversation

            A yellow flower, a rickety table, a star-spangled tablecloth, and two chairs: the stage for over a hundred honest conversations about politics, between documentarian Julie Winokur and Americans from all walks of life. Her goal? To simply listen.

            Bring It To the Table is about finding common ground. The 40-minute documentary asks us, as deeply polarized citizens, whether we can engage in a meaningful political conversation without resorting to rhetoric or name-calling. It is a question Winokur asked herself after her own son called her the most intolerant person he knew. She did not set out to change other people’s minds. Instead, she simply wanted to find out where people’s beliefs came from by listening to their stories. Perhaps Bring It To the Table raised more questions than it answered. But, as Americans trapped in yet another election cycle, they are questions worth revisiting.

            Why do some people consider themselves liberal and some conservative? What do these categories really mean? Are these really the only two options?

            No 40-minute film can easily answer these open-ended questions, but Bring It To the Table reminds us that to not address them honestly and with an open mind is to neglect our American identity. Our country is founded on conversation. As many pundits and politicians forget, half of a conversation is listening, not just waiting for the other person to finish talking. I often forget this. When talking politics with my family, I sometimes dismiss things they say out of hand, without asking why they believe what they do.

            I found myself sickened when one woman told Winokur that she did not believe in government intervention in healthcare because she had a sister with cancer who went “the natural way” within five years by never accepting treatment. She was never a burden on the system, the woman said. What the hell? I whispered to myself. Yet, as she kept telling her story, I had to listen. From just listening, I gained respect for what she had to say. Not that I agreed with her at all – but respect for another’s story is the foundation in which Winokur is trying to build. I would have never heard her story had Winokur not asked.

            We do not often allow ourselves to be so vulnerable. Winokur’s film shows us that we should allow this of ourselves by asking these hard questions – of others and of ourselves. It shows us that just asking can reveal a humanity or a story behind an opinion that we thought intolerable. Bring It To the Table is a baby step toward tolerance, but a step that needs to be taken.

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