As president of the Lehigh College Democrats and someone with liberal values, I never thought I would be able to come to an agreement with a Republican, especially during this time and certainly not on Election Day.
Hawk the Vote, a political organization created for the purpose of petitioning to cancel classes on Election Day, held “A Day of Civic Involvement” on Election Day after the petition was denied. The first program of the day was entitled, “Things We Agree On,” where representatives from College Republicans and College Democrats came together to discuss issues and find common ground.
As one of the two representatives of College Democrats involved in the planning of this program, I wasn’t quite sure what the outcome would be and was even thinking it might be a bust.
Most political discussion we see today takes place online. Social media has made it easy for people to take an unwavering stance on issues and inform everyone about it; reposting and retweeting has created a way for people to categorize themselves without sharing an original thought or providing explanation and evidence.
Because of the polarized political climate we’re living in today, I didn’t have a lot of confidence that this program would go well, that we’d be able to get past the surface of the triggering issues and that we’d be left feeling more angry than inspired.
I was wrong. Toward the end of our discussion, we began to discuss women’s issues and gender inequality, specifically abortion, motherhood and options for working moms. I should add that all four representatives from both groups were women.
I held a firm pro-choice stance, feeling that women should be able to take control over their own bodies and lives, admitting the harsh reality that sometimes motherhood is deemed detrimental to a woman’s career and acknowledging that women currently do not have enough options and support to raise a child and be financially responsible for one, while also leading a life where they can take advantage of opportunities and pursue their dreams. Not to mention, criminalizing abortion leads to many privacy issues, which I believe are unethical.
College Republicans unsurprisingly took a different stance on the issue. One member emphasized the importance of teaching young adults about contraception and the ways to get access to it while another considered herself a major supporter of the pro-life movement and someone who has helped women directly through her church.
We shared our views. They shared theirs. There was no judgement, no interruption and no argument. We came to the agreement that women are not granted the job flexibility or support they need to succeed in a career while simultaneously raising children. We agreed we need to make steps toward providing working moms the support they need to take care of themselves and their children, like paternity care. And we agreed that we’d like to see less women in the position of having to choose whether or not to get an abortion.
When we started to debrief our conversation, we all commented on how surprised we were to have come to some sort of agreement on an extremely polarizing issue. Were us Democrats convinced enough to become pro-lifers? No. Were the Republicans expecting to convert us to being pro-life? Also no. We all even shared a laugh when we brought this up to them.
While we didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, our conversation gave me hope. It restored my faith in bipartisan discussion, it proved to me that respect and kindness still matter and it emphasized the importance of accurate representation — the way women feel about women’s issues matters. It felt empowering and inspiring to come to an agreement across party lines in a matter of minutes. I fear that, with social media being our main form of communicating political thought and beliefs, people won’t see the good in agreeing to disagree.
There’s a difference between reposting an image that states one’s political views without the expectation of a live response — or even a response at all — and sharing one’s beliefs backed by experience and knowledge with the expectation that the other person will respond. One situation may potentially result in understanding, the other in polarization.
I understand that forgiveness is a hard thing to give during these times, after what we’ve lost — lives, time, freedom, truth, decency, to name a few. But we can’t move on unless we forgive, and we can’t forgive unless we understand and we can’t understand unless we discuss.
And just because we forgive, doesn’t mean we forget.