Friday, November 26, 2004

Polarized? Not in my backyard | CS Monitor

By Brad Rourke

According to clever analysts, political America is now "polarized." It is divided into the heartland and the two coasts, fighting like the Bloods and the Crips. City and country. Various maps floating around the Internet show an America split into two nations, two tiny Blue islands, and a large Red one. The rhetoric remains harsh, and includes calls from the Blue side to secede, and from the Red side to "curb stomp" the Blues. The common thread is that the enemy is somewhere else. ...

Zealotry was the coin of the realm. In today's political landscape, riddled by a kind of gang warfare, it's the same way. Partisan zealots have taken over public life. Fancy talk of "working together" has been curb-stomped.

Walking my children to school, on the Thursday after the Tuesday, we passed handfuls of folks. We smiled at them, waved, and nodded. To some, those we know by face or name, we said, "Good morning."

There are some whom I'm certain disagree with me, as I do them. They, too, got a smile, and gave one back. We didn't stop to hash out gay marriage.

This silence is not the silence of the stifled. It's a good thing. We live together. The needs of our community are closer to home than the vast questions about who voted for whom nationally. Here at home, there are safety problems as people speed through the neighborhood avoiding congestion on larger streets, there are homeless shelters that need my support, there is my school trying its best and fighting a losing battle to keep up with all the demands we've heaped upon it.

I live with these people. I talk with them. What will it take for us to be able to work together?...

What it will take is the kind of thing that happens on the streets every day, if only we will see it. What it will take is for people to confront and address their differences in a way that allows for neither simple escape into stereotypes nor for escalation into shouting matches.

Sound naive? Impossible?

As I sat outside with neighbors one sunny afternoon last week and discussed our school, as our children played, no one was talking politics - at least not the kind of politics you read about in the daily papers. These are the same people I waved to on my walk. We were talking about grades, and homework, and why our kids have to work so hard at such a young age.

We didn't agree on what should be done. People felt pretty strongly. But no one got up and stalked off. And we began to get somewhere. We all know we'll still be here together tomorrow, so we stick with it.

Maybe that's where it starts - with a walk through my neighborhood, and a wave or two.