Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, left, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wait for the beginning of the taping of “The Kalb Report” April 17, 2014, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The Kalb Report is a discussion of media ethics and responsibility at the National Press Club held each month. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams want to get Coloradans to discuss issues with people of opposing political views.
Weiser, a Democrat from Denver, and Williams, a Republican from Colorado Springs, partnered with Unify America and America Talks to host three virtual events where people from across the state can discuss various issues.
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Unify America works to encourage Americans to work together and problem-solve and America Talks is an event that allows Americans to connect across political divides, according to the Colorado Unify Challenge website.
About the challenge
The Unify Challenge sessions are all virtual and take place on April 26, 27 and 30. Participants must be over the age of 18 and live in Colorado. Coloradans will answer questions when registering and then will be paired with a person who they probably wouldn’t interact with in their daily lives, according to Unify America. The system tries to pair people with opposing political views, but if that’s not possible, the system will pair people who live in different parts of the state.
Partners will discuss questions that are provided in a conversation guide about issues in Colorado, such as health care, housing, education and public safety. The personal information of participants is not shared unless the participants chose to do so in order to stay in contact after the conversation ends.
The sessions are an opportunity to have a “productive, open conversation” with a fellow Coloradan to find common ground, according to the website. It is not a debate.
The event website says that Unify America attracts people who are worried about toxic polarization and most of the participants have had politics divide their families and friends. “These are people who are part of the ‘exhausted majority,’” the website says.
Concern about trolls
The organization says that so far, no interaction it has organized has been disrupted by a troll.
People worry that they will be paired with a troll or someone who is combative, but in Unify America’s experience, “this simply doesn’t happen,” according to the website. If someone is paired with a combative person or with a troll, they can request help from a live support host, or leave the conversation and contact Unify America.
Live support hosts are employees of Unify America, Morgan Lasher, the director of marketing and community at Unify America, wrote in an email to Newsline. A live support host will communicate one-to-one with the participant who initiated the conversation, and can help the person find a new partner or reschedule them for another day if a problem arises. The support hosts can also help with technical issues, like camera or microphone problems, Lasher wrote.
Unify America uses a tool in the sign-up form that is designed to distinguish real people from internet bots, Lasher wrote.
The Unify Challenge is part of the Attorney General Alliance’s Ginsburg-Scalia Initiative, which was created to develop and celebrate the norm of respectful dialogue, and listening and learning from different points of view, according to Unify America.
The initiative refers to the friendship of the late Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who were known for being good friends despite being on the opposite ends of the political spectrum.
“From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies,” Ginsburg wrote in a statement after Scalia’s death in 2016. Ginsburg and Scalia traveled together and their families had New Year’s Eve dinners with each other for years.
Weiser serves as the chair of the Attorney General Alliance and the Conference of Western Attorneys General. The Attorney General Alliance held the first part of its conference in Colorado Springs in August, and the second part of the conference last month in Avon, where members discussed the state of discourse and polarization in the United States.
“The state of our democratic republic is not well,” Weiser said in a chair’s initiative statement. “Unlike the Supreme Court where Justices Ginsburg and Scalia celebrated engagement, welcomed reflection on opposing viewpoints, and maintained warm relationships even in the face of differences of opinion, the levels of disengagement and polarization in the U.S. Congress has risen over the last two generations.”
“By contrast, State Attorneys General still hold onto a tradition of dialogue, engagement, and collaborative problem solving with one another,” Weiser said. “To address the rising tribalism in our nation, we must renew and rebuild institutions that connect us to one another and foster empathy.”
Weiser’s Ginsburg-Scalia Initiative report from August says that the Ginsburg-Scalia Initiative celebrates respectful engagement and emphasizes that state attorneys general are stewards of the rule of law.
To address the rising tribalism in our nation, we must renew and rebuild institutions that connect us to one another and foster empathy
– Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, chair of the Conference of Western Attorneys General
The outreach team is working to connect with everyday Coloradans through newspapers, radio, social media and individual conversations. The experience is about listening and sharing perspectives on some of the issues that matter most in the state, Lasher wrote.
The experience isn’t about challenging values or changing minds, Lasher wrote. “It’s about understanding a new perspective and connecting with someone who might have different experiences — to both refine your arguments and inform your views — helping us get to better civic problem-solving.”
Earlier this month, Williams told The Gazette that he gets frustrated when he hears about families who won’t get together at Thanksgiving because they are voting for different people, which he says is a microcosm for what is also affecting the political dialogue.
Williams said that he and Weiser represent part of the Ginsburg-Scalia model, as they are in different parties and have very different views on multiple issues, but work together and are friends.
The challenge comes during a time of significant political polarization in the country. From fights over school district curriculums, voting rights and the validity of the 2020 presidential election, Colorado is not immune from the political divide facing the United States. Over a dozen people with ties to Colorado have been charged in connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The Unify Challenge could pair a farmer from Akron with a steelworker from Pueblo, or a professor in Durango with someone working in a coffee shop in Grand Junction, Weiser told The Gazette.
The community outreach has just begun, but about 200 people from across the state have signed up for a session, Lasher wrote.
“We need to condemn demonization and misinformation — and encourage dialogue, listening, and problem solving,” Weiser tweeted Monday. “That’s what our Ginsburg/Scalia Initiative does, explaining that we can disagree with one another without becoming disagreeable.”
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