A Weekend of Successes for Indivisible Berkeley

In what was one of Indivisible Berkeley's biggest weeks to date, our wonderful teams successfully organized and executed a quartet of actions.  On April 12, members of Indivisible Berkeley's Science & Environment team met with Barbara Lee's environmental staff lead, Xavier Johnson, at Representative Lee's office in Oakland.  They shared information about local impacts of proposed EPA budget cuts as well as pending anti-environment legislation, and Mr. Johnson committed to providing a response with Ms. Lee's position on those bills.  They are remaining in communication with Mr. Johnson and will meet again in the coming weeks.

Steering Team member Brandon Curtis at the SF Tax March.

Steering Team member Brandon Curtis at the SF Tax March.

Kicking off the weekend was the San Francisco Tax March, one of over 150 such events across the country urging Donald Trump to release his tax returns.  Indivisible Berkeley made a strong presence there amongst the thousands of demonstrators, carrying signs advertising our presence and wearing Resist t-shirts.  Speakers at the march included Representative Nancy Pelosi as well as San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, and the centerpiece of the demonstration was the thirty-foot inflatable Donald Trump chicken.

Then, on Monday morning, after a 25-year hiatus from public town halls, Senator Dianne Feinstein broke her streak of absence and met with constituents.  Five or six Indivisible Berkeley members trekked out to West Portal to hear what our Senator thinks of our concerns.  The results were mixed: Feinstein committed to opposing far-right rubber-stamp judicial nominees, but gave a noncommittal response when asked about frivolous wars, dismissively saying, "You're asking a single Senator to do something."  Though there were some hecklers, the audience was overall respectful yet persistent. For a review of all of the questions and answers, check out this compilation of our live tweets.

Closing the weekend was the highly anticipated "Reaching Out to Trump Voters: An Evening with Arlie Hochschild and George Lakoff" organized and executed by the Trainings Team.  The house was packed with nearly three hundred in-person attendees, with more than twenty thousand additional viewers of the live stream, from as far away as Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  Trainings Team facilitator Bob Burnett moderated the event and opened with an important address about the necessity for this kind of outreach to the other and the idea that outreach and understanding is itself a form of nonviolent action, and therefore at the core of the Indivisible Berkeley mission.

He then turned it over to Arlie Hochschild, author of the bestselling book Strangers in their Own Land, who talked about her experiences in Louisiana trying to understand the demographic that would eventually become the Trump constituency.  She described people that were well aware of the contradiction they present to the world, in which the states that need the most help from the government are the ones that disapprove of it most, and that the dissonance was irrelevant in their minds because it took a backseat to the desire to be heard.  She described a people who felt their concerns had validity, and the fact that they had a paradoxical relationship with the government was subsidiary in their minds because of the misrepresentation they feel the left has adopted of them.  Hochschild presented three options for the left: 1) Turn your back and refuse to engage, 2) React angrily and violently, or 3) Attempt to reach empathy with them.  The first two options were problematic because they bred resentment and denied the possibility of collaborating, and so, Hochschild says, the only option remaining is to be empathetic.  The difficulty in communication stems not from a disagreement over policy, but that, as Hochschild put it, "we inhabit different truths."  The way to overcome such a gap is not to claim that the other is wrong, but instead to discuss sources of information and to reach a point where the truth they inhabit is one of factuality.

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff then took the floor and put a decidedly scientific spin on the discussion.  He explained the structure of an individual's neural circuitry, and that their perception of reality is primarily wired through their experiences, thus a significant portion of understanding is done at the subconscious level.  As Lakoff described, information passes through this subconscious "neural filter" before the conscious mind considers it, thus creating the wildly disparate "truths" that Hochschild spoke of.

On the more practical side, Bob Burnett presented a list of considerations to ensure a productive conversation with the close Trump supporter in your life, including having the discussion in a private setting, leaving enough time for the discussion, starting with the intent and the energy to listen, and to recognize if you're being triggered.

The evening closed with a round of wonderful questions from the audience as well as via Facebook.  The link to the recordings can be found here.