We are humans before we are liberals or conservatives

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By Cameron Swallow, The Journal Times

I am a liberal. I have to own the category now, though I spent years trying to convince the world and myself that I was apolitical.

My efforts to avoid political allegiance were born from recognizing as I grew into adulthood that I was not the good Republican my parents had raised me to be.

I tried valiantly not to have any partisan opinions at all, imagining that staying out of the liberal camp would be some compensation for leaving the conservative one. But forced neutrality was a false hiding place, and as the nation became ever more polarized, it became increasingly clear which side I belonged on in the American Great Divide.

With that increasing distance there developed a separate, more disturbing trend, the idea that anyone who holds even one liberal view is logically equivalent to the most extreme activist on the left. And a parallel liberal tendency grew as well, to note a single characteristic of a conservative individual and draw immediate connecting lines to fascism.

Here is where Better Angels offers a way out of these patterns of thought that lead us to believe that success can only be defined as the elimination of the other side.

At its national convention in St. Louis in June, I met delegates from all 50 states, identified by red or blue nametags, all eager for civil engagement, learning, and productive work across partisan differences.

Better Angels doesn’t ask anyone to stop being liberal or conservative. It doesn’t recommend that members refrain from political activism, trying to get certain candidates elected, certain positions advanced. Its aim is not to create ‘Purples’ from the ‘Reds’ and ‘Blues’ it brings together, but to remind the Reds and Blues that the other side is composed of human beings.

It reminds us that those across the divide have backgrounds and motivations and good reasons of their own for the beliefs they hold; they are not simply evil or stupid as our culture encourages us to think.

We are humans before we are liberals or conservatives, and it is a grave error to let our categories become more visible and more important than our humanity.

The vast majority of us are neither evil nor stupid, and we can learn from each other and work together for the common good, but only if we see each other as human beings first.

Cameron Swallow, a former school teacher, is married to John Swallow, president of Carthage College in Kenosha. She has recently accepted the role of Wisconsin state coordinator for Better Angels, an organization uniting Red and Blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America.

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