• Natasha Watts

I Just Talked About Politics Online and Didn't Hate the World Afterwards

(And you can, too!)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you should never try to discuss politics online. No one's going to change their mind, and you'll just spend an hour exchanging "sick burns" with some dude in Virginia with nothing to show for it but carpal tunnel and an ulcer.

But then we still feel the need to do it. At least I do, since I don't have the self-restraint of my father, who has maintained his rigid rule of not talking politics online during this election even though I can tell he really, really wants to. Bless him.

After the shocker that was November 8th, I found myself wishing there was a way to hear multiple sides of the story without being called a moron by my great uncle. Unlike that aforementioned dude in Virginia, I want to understand those I disagree with.

So I held a salon.

Salons were once held as "a regular social gathering of eminent people (especially writers and artists) at the house of a woman prominent in high society." I think my Target clearance rack outfits and inability to keep my house clean probably disqualify me from the "woman prominent in high society" cartegory, but I do feel like I have a smattering of smart friends from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. That would have to do.

I hosted the salon as a Facebook event to which I invited a very particular set of people. These were my requirements:

1. Willing to dialogue with people who held beliefs that went completely against theirs

2. Able to thoroughly and thoughtfully express themselves online

3. Had been keyed in to politics during the past year enough to talk intelligently about events, figures, and issues

This was an experiment, so I kept the guest list small - around 10 people. But within that group, there were people who were old, young, male, female, gay, straight, religious, atheist, liberal, conservative, and libertarian.

The salon was scheduled for December 6 from 7:30-9:30 PM.

A few hours before the designated start time, the discussions began. One guy posted about Evan McMullin and some of the former presidential candidate's opinions on Trump's potential for authoritarianism. Another started a thread on voter fraud.

People started commenting, and guess what! Facts were shared, personal opinions were voiced, and people actually used politicans' real names instead of things like "Drumpf" and "Obummer." It was glorious.

And, most importantly, I learned.

I learned about the issues with some of the Supreme Court's recent actions. I learned some of the pros and cons of voter ID requirements. I learned about why so many people were willing to vote for someone as icky as Donald Trump, because can't we all at least agree that he's icky?

There were some tense moments, but people used articles and statistics to back up their claims instead of caps lock. And instead of trying to change each others' minds, people listened and considered what others had to say.

If you get anything out of my little experiment, I hope it's this: True discussion and change can't come about unless you are willing to listen - really listen - and admit when you're unsure or just plain wrong. Nobody knows everything.

A few of the discussions went on for a day or two after the salon, but from what I could tell, they remained respectful even without me hovering around as the moderator. Those who I talked to afterwards said it was an overwhelmingly positive experience, and most expressed interest in doing it again sometime.

My final post on the salon's Facebook event page was a question: What next? What do we do to heal the rifts that this election season ripped open? I'm not sure if we figured out the answer. I think continuing to host discussions like this might be a good next step. And becoming more involved in your community (politically or otherwise) is always great. But I'd like to pose that question to you as well.

What next?


© 2016 by Natasha Watts

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