The polarized state of our politics may be best expressed in terms of social media: As the election drew closer, most of us have unfriended, unfollowed, and unliked our ways to a stream of information that conforms to our own point of view. And who could blame you? Your uncle’s posts are truly idiotic.
As such, there’s a certain timeliness to the mission of Reunite U.S., a new Seattle-based group that hopes to mend the tattered nation with selfies. Particularly, they are calling on elected officials to take photos of themselves having coffee with members of the opposing party and post them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The idea: Celebrate collaboration, not polarization.
We hopped on the phone with Carrie Bogner, founder of Reunite U.S., to talk about how selfies can play a part in saving the union.
So what was the catalyst of this effort? As you know, things have been pretty polarized for a while. I’m originally from southwest Kansas, from Dodge City. And I was talking to my nephew, who is a farmer back there. He is very conservative and we love to talk politics, and he said, “Hey, Carrie, have you heard about the terrorist plot that they foiled in Garden City, Kansas?” And I said no. And so he explained that they had caught these three guys who had planned to bomb an apartment building that housed Somali refugees and had a mosque. And they were planning on doing that the day after the election. So with that and the whole bit about some folks saying that they wouldn’t accept the election results, it just cut me to my individual core, and I said wait a minute, this is not right, this is not who we are, and it’s the violence and it’s the media giving the violence—no offense, they get the headlines. I’m old enough to remember the movie Network, the one where the guy says, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Well, I’m mad as hell and not going to take anymore, but I want to do something that says no, let’s start working on this thing together. And that’s what started this. I got together with some of my friends and asked, “What can we do?” And so Reunite U.S. is the idea of asking our politicians to use social media to take a selfie and say, ‘We’re starting to work together,’ and post it, and be willing to post it. And that’s a start. We know it’s not a panacea, but we’ve got to start somewhere.
Right, this could come off as a bit Pollyannaish. I think it’s just a start. As one of my friends said, “Sure, it’s a show of starting to get together, but it’s better than the show we’ve been watching.” And I think that’s very true. The show we’ve been watching for the last season has been very negative,, and it’s really polarized us. We want to get the idea in people’s heads to say we can do this, and it starts with us. And part of that comes from when I go back to Kansas, we don’t talk politics red and blue and purple. We talk about values and things we want to do in common, and I think that’s where we need to get to.
Where do you think the polarization has come from? I think it’s been boiling for a long time and I think it’s been centuries of misunderstanding. We’ve gotten into this idea of not checking into some of the facts and just believing what we hear, on whatever medium we like to hear it on. And not being open to listening to other views.
This seems like an ambitious project. How do you hope to get traction? We’re focused on Washington right now—we’re hoping to get some of our local candidates to sign up to start to do this. I’ve talked with several campaign managers; their mind-set is the election. We’ve got some really positive responses that they like the idea, but talk to them after the election. And that’s fair enough. It is really ambitious. We don’t know how it’s going to go. As you know, sometimes things go viral, sometimes they don’t. I think that the biggest thing for me is to believe that each and every one of us can make a difference. We start with ourselves to say, “Let’s reunite this country, reach out to someone you wouldn’t necessarily talk to.” I was over in Cle Elum, I happen to be on a steering committee for a Nature Conservancy and we look at the Eastern Cascades. It’s a great group, and I sat next to a gentleman who is very conservative, and we talked about the environment and we talked about the Eastern Cascades and we’re working together on that, and so finding that commonality on things can we wornk on together, it doesn’t have to be so polar. If we each take a step to reach across party lines and understand another person’s opinion, that’s all good.