After graduating from college, Senior Fellow Sarah Freeman-Woolpert moved to Sarajevo where she learned about how nationalism and the scapegoating of ethnic minorities had contributed to Bosnia’s polarized political scene. “While living in Bosnia, I watched my own country’s domestic political scene becoming increasingly nationalistic, xenophobic, and fearful of the ‘other,’ and saw my social media becoming more homogenous with messages about ‘Unfriending’ people with opposing points of view.” Coming from a small, rural town in New Hampshire, many of Sarah’s classmates in high school had conservative political views; she was used to being surrounded by people with different ideologies. Now, she felt that if this country was ever going to heal the deep divisions evident in the 2016 Presidential election, people needed to start talking to each other and hearing a perspective different than their own.
“While living in Bosnia, I watched my own country’s domestic political scene becoming increasingly nationalistic, xenophobic, and fearful of the ‘other,’
For her project, Sarah wanted to address the lack of discourse between liberal and conservative Americans, particularly the young people from her local community in New Hampshire. “I wanted people to have a chance to talk with someone who disagreed with their political views in an open and respectful environment because I see it as a critical problem for our democracy and our communities that these spaces for honest dialogue have become so hard to find.”
“I see it as a critical problem for our democracy and our communities that these spaces for honest dialogue have become so hard to find.”
Sarah decided to reach out to local community organizations like American Friends Service Committee and NH Listens so she could reach out to a large network of people and bring together a cross-section of people who would otherwise not meet and talk with each other. With the help of AFSC local community organizers, Sarah brought together groups of youth in the local park for open discussions about politics, culture, religion, etc. Sarah helped to produce difficult discussions in a beautiful and comforting location.
With such varying opinions and different experiences, each discussion ended up lasting over 4 hours
Two of the participants, including the local organizer himself, talked about the reasons they supported Donald Trump’s candidacy for President. Several of the other participants were former refugees from East Africa; they explained their views on the Presidential race given their own experiences coming to the US. With such varying opinions and different experiences, each discussion ended up lasting over 4 hours and created a space in which young people could meet others from their community and talk to someone whose views and opinions might not be represented in the filtered content of social media networks or insular friend groups that share a similar perspective. After each discussion, the participants talked about how interesting it had been for them to hear everyones’ views and how they wanted to continue having more discussions.