American Politcs Are Broken, But One Filmmaker is On a Quest to Fix Them

A few months ago, my 17-year-old son accused me of being “the most intolerant person” he knows when it comes to politics. He said that whenever someone’s politics don’t agree with mine, I dismiss what they have to say. I was shocked and offended. I pride myself on being inquisitive and open-minded. That said, my son’s comment had a bite that wouldn’t let go. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he had called me out on something that I, and many people I know, refuse to recognize. We are guilty of the same narrow-minded assumptions as people on ‘the other side,’ whatever side that might be.

That kitchen table conversation with my son gave rise to an ambitious video project called Bring it to the Table. My three-member crew and I are traveling across the country and literally inviting people to sit down at our small star-spangled Table and share their political views on camera. Over the next six months we are bringing our table to public places like bookstores and barbershops, public parks and county fairs, and giving ‘ordinary’ citizens a chance to speak their minds. These Table Talks will be edited into webisodes that will appear across media platforms and on our own website, where the online community can help shape the conversation and determine the questions we should ask at the Table.

We’ve started shooting in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, and already had more than 40 people sit at our Table. Their views are complex and sometimes conflicted, because people are rarely monolithic in their outlook. One of the most interesting questions we ask is: ‘What part of your belief system crosses the partisan line?' Every individual has one. There is always a part of our ideology that doesn’t fully jive with the party we’ve adopted, but often we suppress that part of ourselves for the 'good' of the party.

The most surprising reaction I have gotten over the past few months is from people who reject the entire premise of the project. I was shocked at first. Why would anyone object to listening? I am not advocating that people abandon their political beliefs or their party affiliations. I believe that our political parties offer very different solutions to social and economic problems, and it's critical to stand firmly behind our beliefs by supporting leaders that best articulate them. That said, neither party expresses our beliefs 100 percent, but we don't dare say that out loud for fear of diluting the base.

While at the Table, I don’t push back with facts or insert my own politics. Instead, I try to ask the questions that others at the Table have voiced in a thoughtful moment. I am mining for the roots of people's beliefs.

As an example: Last week, a woman at the Table told me she supports robust social safety net programs because no one wants to live on welfare. She was a well-dressed, well-heeled, self-professed liberal. I asked her whether she had any personal experience with people on welfare, which I doubted she had. It turned out she was an obstetrician at a low-income clinic and deals with women who receive welfare regularly. Her opinion gained much more weight, and when infused in the context of Bring it to the Table, can offset someone who has passed judgment on welfare recipients but has never dealt with them.

I'm hoping that by forcing people to look at their personal perspectives, our Table participants will gain a better understanding of why they believe what they believe. Once they do that, there is room to deal with real issues from a more productive vantage point, rather than merely through a partisan lens. My team and I hope that our project can inspire people to think a little deeper and engage more broadly.

To learn more, please visit us on Kickstarter here.


American Politcs Are Broken, But One Filmmaker is On a Quest to Fix Them

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Julie Winokur

Julie Winokur is a writer and documentary film producer whose work uses the power of visual media to catalyze positive social change. Her work has appeared on PBS, National Geographic Magazine and Discovery online, as well as in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, and MSNBC.com, among others. Her latest film, Firestorm, will air on the Documentary Channel and was nominated for a Northern California Emmy Award. Her passion for social advocacy has produced multi-year projects including the one-hour film Aging in America: The Years Ahead, and its companion book and traveling exhibition, as well as Denied: The Crisis of America’s Uninsured, which won the Jury Prize at the Media That Matters Film Festival and was featured on MNSBC.com.

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