By Julie Winokur, Executive Director of Talking Eyes Media
A few months ago, my 17-year-old son accused me of being “the most intolerant person” he knows when it comes to politics. He said that whenever someone’s politics don’t agree with mine, I dismiss what they have to say. (His criticism was accompanied by a puckered mouth and bulging eyes, which only worsened the blow.) I was shocked and offended. Obviously, my son hadn’t met enough people yet…and certainly none who were truly closed minded—otherwise, I had a problem.
As a filmmaker, news junkie, and avowedly tolerant person, I pride myself on being inquisitive and open-minded. That said, my son’s comment had a bite that wouldn’t let go. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he had called me out on something that I, and many of my liberal friends, refused to recognize. We are guilty of the same narrow-minded assumptions as people on the right. Surely they are the ones who foment divisive politics, not us.
That kitchen table conversation with my son gave rise to an ambitious project called Bring it to the Table. While I would love to sit at other people’s family dinners and hear them discuss their political beliefs, I figured it would be easier if I brought my table to them. My production team and I decided to take a small star-spangled Table across the country and invite people to sit down and share their political views on camera. Over the next six months we are bringing our table to bookstores and barbershops, public parks and county fairs, giving ‘ordinary’ citizens a chance to speak their minds. These Table Talks will be edited into webisodes that will appear across media platforms and on our own website, where the online community can help shape the conversation and determine the questions we should ask at the Table.
The goal is to create a safe space where people can speak openly and authentically, without having to defend themselves against attack. There’s no ranting, no rhetoric. Just honest opinions and deep-seeded beliefs. The project provides a chance for the rest of us, as viewers, to actually listen to what other people have to say, so we can start to engage across party lines.
The reality in America today is that people who have different points of view simply don’t talk to each other about politics. That is not a good bellwether for a healthy democracy. Studies suggest that at a time of increased communication, we have become more isolated in our views. The Internet has further polarized society by making it easier to seek only the information that affirms our existing beliefs. It has also made it much easier for people to make ugly public pronouncements without any accountability. Segregating ourselves into political silos is toxic to democracy.
Bring it to the Table aims to reclaim the rightful place of healthy discourse by encouraging people to listen. While we don’t expect to change anyone’s political affiliation or belief system, we do hope to make politics an acceptable topic for dinner conversation again—especially across party lines.
To learn more, visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/246621527/bring-it-to-the-table-0
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Julie Winokur is founding director of Talking Eyes Media, a non-profit, non-partisan visual media company. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, Discovery, PBS, The Documentary Channel and many other outlets. Her work has been recognized with two Emmy nominations, and multiple awards from the World Press, Pictures of the Year, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the National Press Photographers Association.