America Amplified episode 6: Healing America will take more than an election

  • By Kathy Lu/America Amplified

Heading into the election and in the days afterward, national discussion has centered on how divisive the country feels. Supporting one candidate — and a political party — has been enough to drive friends and family apart.

This sentiment came up in an America Amplified listening session on November 10. We begin our final episode of America Amplified: Election 2020 with excerpts from that conversation. :

  • From Julia Crabb of Minnesota: “How I can start a conversation with somebody that tells me that my Black Lives Matter bumper sticker, that I should be in trouble for that. Nevermind that Black lives do matter.”
  • From Pamela Perkins Carn of Atlanta: “Where I draw the line is when your beliefs make me less than human or suppress my ability to pursue the promise of America. We say things like we need to get to healing, but we’re not ready to take that journey. … That means addressing racism. That means addressing disinformation and misinformation. It means addressing all of those things that are breaking us apart and understanding the hurts that have been inflicted.”

Our hosts Rose Scott of WABE in Atlanta and Ariana Proehl of KQED in San Francisco then turn to Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta.

Scott asks Meeks why, in light of the comments, Meeks doesn’t use the term reconciliation in her work.

“The reason why I don’t talk about reconciliation is because I think people use it in a way that mitigates against really working toward healing, which means you’ve got to dig into the wounds and look at them and own them and tell the truth about them in order to move forward,” Meeks explains.

Catherine Meeks is executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta.

Submitted photo

Catherine Meeks is executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta.

“I do think that we find ourselves in a moment where we’ve really got to stop and take a deep breath and decide: Do we want to try to live on this planet together or perish, as Dr. [Martin Luther] King said, together as fools.”

Meeks says she doesn’t believe the election has revealed anything new about the state of our country.

“I don’t really think that America is any different from the way America has always been. …

Underneath the facade of being halfway civil, we’ve always been divided. We just haven’t been as ugly about it.”

But all is not beyond hope. Meeks says in her decades of work on dismantling racism, she’s never had a session where people become violent. It comes down to having respect for others.

“You are entitled to think what you think, but you’re not entitled to abuse another person,” Meeks says. “You do have to be willing to allow me to be a human being on this Earth and have an opportunity to be whoever I was put on the Earth to be.”

She adds that faith communities should be the first groups to take the lead on this work.

“We claim to believe in something beyond ourselves. That claim needs to help us be able to stand in the middle,” Meeks says. “Polarization never works.”

Are we ready to heal?

So are people feeling like they’re ready for this kind of open dialogue?

We next hear from Ben Barto and Dylan Hellebrand, who appeared in our first episode about our divided country.

Barto, 68, is a Republican who voted for Donald Trump.

Hellebrand is a college student who calls BIden one of his heroes. Producer Andrea Tudhope brought the pair back together to discuss the aftermath of the election.

Barto says he’s disappointed by the results, and he’s uncertain of what lies ahead.

Hellebrand says he’s looking forward to seeing how Biden will work with “both sides.”

Barto recalls how he felt when Barack Obama was elected. “I went through about a week of disbelief and then everything just mellowed out.”

And he hopes he’ll eventually feel the same after this contentious election.

“I would hope that with this election, if it is determined that there was no fraud, then I will probably settle in just like I did with Obama and accept it. Just say well, we got 4 more years.”

Their conversation leads our panel of guests into a discussion about whether this openness to hearing from people across the divide can be replicated across the country.

Elisa Batista is the campaign director for UltraViolet, a nonprofit that fights sexism. She says she has friends who support Trump and she reached out to some immediately after the election was called for Joe Biden.

Elisa Batista of Berkeley, California, works to fight sexism through UltraViolet.

Submitted photo

Elisa Batista of Berkeley, California, works to fight sexism through UltraViolet.

“I approached it from humor, like, ‘I still love you. It’s going to be okay.’ And he laughed. And he said the same thing, too,” Batista shares. “I don’t think we’re as divided as we think we are. I think we live in silos and we’re not talking to each other.”

Kendall Stephens, a Black transgender woman in South Philadelphia who advocates for LGBTQ rights, says more work needs to happen for her to feel like there’s healing.

“We have not been kind to each other. We have not been civil to each other,” Stephens says. “You need radical revelations to see healing. So I’m just not quite ready to bust out the champagne and party hats.”

For Cecilia Johnson, a conservative in Kansas City, the revelation must happen from both sides of the political spectrum.

Johnson was a guest in our second episode about the American Dream.

“I’ve been a Black conservative for 12 years and I get a lot of hate from the left, who claim to be above all of these things. I get a lot of disrespectful words about my gender, my background, my weight,” Johnson says. Fortunately, her family life has taught her how to deal with the negativity. “My family, we joke a lot. We talk a lot of smack. So I am used to being able to hear somebody say something about me and just, you know, keep it moving with life.”

Batista says that as an organizer, she works to find the common ground. As a Cuban and Puerto Rican, she says she grew up with both Democrats and Republicans and “heard a lot of arguing at the table.” And she has seen her family change and adapt to their new culture.

“I don’t fear the country falling in a civil war. I just don’t because well, human connection. And I believe in people’s innate goodness, I really do.”

It’s more difficult for Stephens to imagine that kind of connection when her gender has been politically  weaponized.

“At what point do we pick up some humanity while laying down the mechanisms of divisiveness that has plagued our nation since the birth of our democracy?” Stephens asks. “People have to atone. They have to admit the pain that they caused for so many people – marginalized people, vulnerable communities. We had no voice, no visibility, no power.”

Johnson agrees that there needs to be atonement – from all sides of the divide.

Kendall Stephens is an LGBTQ advocate in Philadelphia.

Submitted photo

Kendall Stephens is an LGBTQ advocate in Philadelphia.

 

“I do disagree with the rhetoric … that only conservatives are racist, which is by far not true,” Johnson says. “There are going to be people that are always going to disagree with you. … But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have the right to feel that way or to view things that way.”

All three plan on continuing their advocacy work for their communities.

“We’re the ones that need to be in the room, making the policy, not career white man politicians,” Batista says. “We need to be in the room. And that is how we’re all going to have policies that we all agree on and lift all people.”

Pandemic, climate and freedom

Our final guests turn the focus to the future, to what else is important to their communities.

Tim Ramos, who was a guest in our pre-election episode, says he will continue to advocate for freedom. As the vice chairman of the Republican party in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he has dealt with people who don’t want to compromise.

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Tim Ramos lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

“I always argued from the perspective of freedom … I believe in your right and your freedom to exist,” Ramos says. “My experience is that I’m always accepting and giving when I deal with individuals who dissent from my opinion. But when that feeling is not reciprocated … what I end up coming against is a kind of militant attitude and like, ‘Nope, we don’t agree with you. We need to shut you down and figure out how we can eliminate you from our community.’”

In New Mexico’s Navajo Nation, Allie Young says her community is expecting to be involved in discussions around climate change. Young is the co-founder of Protect the Sacred, an effort to educate and empower Navajo and Indian youth.

She adds that having Kamala Harris as the vice president-elect is especially exciting.

“For the first time in the highest office of the federal government, we’re going to have the male and female energies. And to us that is balanced,” Young says. “We think that that’s the kind of energy that is needed to heal this country.”

The climate is also top of mind for Valencia “V” Gunder in Miami. She has been involved in Hurricane Dorian recovery and pandemic relief efforts.

“When you’re dealing with disaster, at least locally, people don’t usually talk politics around that.

People are like, my neighbor needs help. I’m going to assist my neighbor,” Gunder says. “We see a need and fill a need, and that’s just how the community functions. And I wish we all functioned like that on every level throughout America.”

When asked to respond to a recent Harvard Kennedy survey that found that more than two thirds of Americans say they have more in common with each other than many people think, our guests have different opinions.

“That does surprise me because … I think we are in complete disagreement right now,” Young says.

“In Florida, just based off of my lived experience, you can definitely see the divide, feel the divide,” Gunder says. “I think when it comes to maybe race, when it comes to gender, when it comes to class, we may have more in common, but when it comes to politics, I definitely think that it’s a huge gap.”

Ramos feels this in his heavily Democratic city, where he’s had to reproach adults for being disrespectful toward his children because they were wearing Republican pins.

“I am like the unicorn in any room I go in. I’m the Republican and immediately the environment and climate of the room changes and becomes adversarial,” Ramos says. “I see people making gods out of men. …  And they’re worshiping ideologies. If we focus on freedom and we focus on your freedom and my freedom, and not creating problems for each other to live free, then we won’t have these problems.”

Young says her optimism is still strong, despite the stereotypes she’s faced.

“I’m a strong believer in cooler heads prevail and that we’re going to continue, no matter the stereotype, no matter the harsh words that are thrown our way, we’re going to rise above,” Young says. “And I will continue to speak on behalf of my people to mark our place in this country and to say, ‘Hey, we’re still here.’”

Gunder agrees: “When it comes to serving, when it comes to preparing for storms, when it comes to facing climate change, I’m going to support all people.”

Audio postcard: Gospel singer Isaac Cates

Kansas City gospel singer Isaac Cates grew up hearing his grandparents humming the traditional gospel song, “Hold On.”

His group, Isaac Cates and the Ordained, released the song in 2017 in response to tragedies that year. It was featured in a KCUR story by producer Andrea Tudhope.

She revisited with Cates to talk about how the spirit behind the song is just as relevant three years later.

“2020 has been such a challenging year for so many people,” Cates says. “I think being able to say, hold on just a little bit longer, gives you hope everything will be alright.”

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