Better Than Hate: Speakers From Opposing Viewpoints Discuss Healthy Political Dialogue

Aja Rayburn, Brandon Calhoun, and Trever Lane organized and presented the Better Angels event. (Photo by Caleb Barber)

On Tuesday, May 21 speakers Ciaran O’Connor and John Wood Jr. stood about a yard apart on the stage of the Russell Tripp theater, speaking to a diverse audience about a familiar, yet difficult topic: having productive conversations despite partisan differences.

This isn’t the first time the Russell Tripp has hosted this kind of event. Last fall, the Civil Discourse Club hosted two mothers with opposing political viewpoints to discuss how their relationship is able to persist despite obvious political tension.

As the speakers finished up, the Civil Discourse Club led the audience in a short survey to gauge the effectiveness of the speaker’s message, and convened after the event to discuss its effectiveness. Brandon Calhoun, current president of the CDC, compared the Better Angels to a similar event they held last year.

“Red Mom Blue Mom had a better turnout, but I think our audience was more engaged and better impacted by the speakers we had today,” said Calhoun.

This was the first time the duo spoke at a community college as representatives of Better Angels, and they noticed some novel differences from their usual settings.

“Obviously, students at a community college are going to be a variety of ages,” said Wood.

The audience was composed more of curious community members rather than active students, which isn’t uncommon for events like these. The Red Mom Blue Mom event held last year by the Civil Discourse Club had a similar ratio of students to retired community members.

“Students on university campuses tend to be more politically active and engaged than community college students,” Wood said. “With that said, a community college audience is a better representative of the actual community in which you are. Universities bring students in from all over, but a community college is a geographic, circumscribed location, with its own unique demographics and culture.”

Michael C. Huntington, a retired physician turned national public health care advocate, was one attendee who was devoted to encouraging civil discourse in his community. Much of the debate surrounding whether to implement public healthcare has been enveloped by partisanship, and Dr. Huntington is seeking to change that.

“There are those that feel strongly that [national public healthcare] is a human right, and other people that feel strongly that it isn’t, and that their rights instead are being infringed upon,” said Huntington.

Huntington and the Physicians for a National Health Program have been going door to door, asking random groups of Oregonians what their concerns about public healthcare are, and how easy it is for people to get the healthcare you need.

One of the organization’s primary concerns, Huntington said, are late stage cancer patients who don’t qualify for healthcare. They wait for long periods of time for their healthcare to become affordable, meanwhile their cancer continues to grow more dangerous. Huntington hopes that a civil, non-partisan discussion between people from both sides of the healthcare debate will be the best way to bring about more positive change.

“We focus on listening carefully, then telling our story in a way that honors their story,” Huntington said. “Maybe we can give them some insight, and by the same token they can return us some.”

Story by Caleb Barber

%d bloggers like this: