How to Hold a Political Salon
A few weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, and after I'd calmed down enough to be rational, I held a salon. I wanted to figure out a way to talk about politics online that would allow people of strongly differing opinions to actually listen to each other. Anyone who went online in the duration of 2016 knew this was almost impossible to find.
Now I want to continue the experiment. If you, too, are searching for a way to have productive conversations about the emotional, frustrating maelstrom that is current US politics, consider hosting your own political salon.
This may take any form you want. I used a Facebook Event Page to host mine, but this could also work in a Facebook group, a private subreddit, or possibly even a Twitter chat if you're brave. In fact, I'd like to hold a salon in my own home sometime, as talking face to face provides its own advantages and disadvantages that would be interesting to explore.
Holding a salon can be an immensely rewarding experience. Here's my guide to making it a success.
1. Set an Objective
What is your purpose in holding a political salon? For me, it was to figure out what regular, reasonable people could do to heal the stark divides that were opened by the 2016 election. I didn't want to just talk about politics - by the end of the salon, I wanted an actionable checklist for me (and others) to complete.
I'd encourage you to set a similar objective. Your goal shouldn't just be to talk politics - and it definitely shouldn't be to try and sway anyone's opinion to your own. I can't stress this enough. We have enough conversations like that everywhere else. Make your salon's objective different.
2. Set a Date, Time, and Venue
Choose a 2- to 3-hour span of time in which you'd like to host your salon. Even if it's online, this will allow you to moderate the conversation to ensure everyone's keeping to the rules and having a positive experience.
It also allows participants an out if they want to leave any particular discussion without looking flaky.
I held mine on a Tuesday evening for two hours using a Facebook Event Page. People commented on the page to start a discussion, and then others continued the discussion in the comments. Though a little clunky at times, it worked well for what we were trying to do.
3. Invite Participants
This is the hard part. It's essential that you invite the right people to participate. That sounds elitist, but honestly, you're holding a salon. You've already galloped down that road at full speed.
But seriously, be picky about who you invite. Choose friends and acquaintances from across the political spectrum who keep up on current events enough to have intelligent discussions. Try to spread out the age range as well as the racial, financial, and ethnic backgrounds if you can. Most importantly, invite people who you know will be able to have reasonable, respectful discussions even when they strongly disagree with someone.
4. Set Rules
The advantage of hosting your own salon is that you get to set the rules. When I held my first salon, these are the guidelines that I set down for the discussion. (I apologize for my rambling. I was excited, all right?)
Feel free to tweak these rules for your own use. Your goal with these rules is to ensure a positive, productive experience for everyone involved, so use your best judgment when setting them out.
To me, the most important rule is number 3 on my list: "If you're wrong, be able to admit you're wrong. If you don't know, be able to admit that too." So many angry arguments online wouldn't happen if people kept to that guideline.
5. Hold the Salon
When the time comes, begin your salon. As the host, start things off with a thought-provoking question. I held mine a month after the election, so this question was a hot topic.
As the salon progressed, others posted their own discussion topics, including voter fraud, American Muslim voters, and former independent candidate Evan McMullin. When you hold your own salon, pay attention to what people seem to want to talk about, and guide the discussion accordingly. Every group will want to discuss different things.
6. Ask: "What's Next?"
As your salon winds down, post one final discussion question. Ask your participants, "What next?" Get their feedback on what worked about the salon and whether they'd like to participate again in the future.
In addition, seek out ideas for what all of you, as regular people, can do to make change in other avenues--should you call your representatives? Should you attend town hall meetings? Should we all just give up and cry in the corner? (Hint: Probably not, though it's tempting at times.)
Hopefully, your salon turns out to be as positive an experience as it was for me. My dream is that holding respectful discussions like these will begin a shift in the way people talk politics, if only on the small scale of your personal life.
This past election proved that shouting down opinions you disagree with--even if they are objectively wrong--can silence and stifle but rarely sway their proponents.
Here's to a new era of politics: the era of listening.