One America's Andrew Hanauer on the Power of Doing Something
Updated: May 22, 2019
“We are so quick to assume that people from the other side of the spectrum, whatever that is, are motivated by negative things,” said Andrew Hanauer, director of One America, on This Is Civity Radio. “This voice needs to be out there in the public calling for respect and inclusion, calling for people to not assume the worst motives of the other side. So, as much as possible, we want to build that.”
Hanauer and other faith and community leaders founded One America following the 2016 election as a potential solution to the divisiveness and polarization that has seeped into seemingly every corner of American discourse.
“This is really a critical time. It's a really scary time in some ways. It's a really depressing time in certain ways. I mean watching the news right now is sometimes very difficult. I think a lot of people feel that way. But it's also a time of amazing opportunity, and I think we have an opportunity to really transform our country and not just tread water,” Hanauer said. “If you have someone who you think is demonstrably wrong about issues, the best way to change their mind is not to yell at them on Facebook. It is to engage them and have non-confrontational conversations.”
The issue is that society has retreated into silos and bubbles, seeing those outside as “other.”
For example, said Hanauer, “if I'm pro-choice, then everyone who's pro-choice is that because they love women's rights and everyone who's pro-life is because they hate women's rights. And, of course that's not the truth. The truth is that we're very bad at understanding the motives of people who disagree with us. And so, we draw those lines.”
One America seeks to heal these divisions.
“What we really want to do is get out anywhere talk to anyone, meet with anyone, engage anyone, and really heal this country by refusing to draw the sort of narrow lines that we are so quick to draw, where you say anyone who believes this or thinks this is isn't untouchable,” Hanauer said. “And I'm not talking about Nazis when I’m talking about this stuff. I'm talking about – we draw those lines around people who simply disagree with us on basic issues.”
One America brings people from different sides of issues together to engage with each other, often while doing a community service project together and then sitting down together for a meal. Neuroscience research has shown this type of model involving physical activity can help people re-discover each other’s shared humanity.
The community service project “gets people doing something positive, seeing their shared values lived out in front of them. It’s also been shown a lot of times that racism, bias, prejudice, all those things reduce dramatically when you are doing something active together, when you're solving problems together,” Hanauer said. “It's not a surprise that when you're doing something positive for your body, like exercise, you're also positively impacting your brain in a way that can allow you to open yourself to other people.”
People have responded positively.
“People really feel the need for this,” said Hanauer. “They really see the brokenness in our country right now. I think they intuitively grasp that now is the time to go out and engage and not retreat into our bubbles.”
Breaking through those bubbles can be a challenge, especially for groups who feel left out of the conversation.
“One of the things that we've been really happy about is that we've been very effective so far at positively engaging people across really the far ends of the spectrum,” Hanauer said. “We've been able to build very good relationships with, for instance, some of the more conservative evangelical pastors who have felt not as welcomed or not as engaged in previous interfaith work.”
Hanauer views the work as multi-faith with every perspective welcome. “We are not asking people to come together to say they are all the same. We're asking people to authentically show up as who they are. That's an important distinction.”
When asked why he and his fellow One America founders chose to take on such a monumental task, Hanauer said the alternative was just not working.
“Getting up and doing something about it is a lot more fulfilling than yelling at cable network television or arguing with people on Facebook,” he said. “Doing this makes you a happier person. We have so much fear built up. We build up so many walls around our hearts, around our bodies, around our communities to keep the other people out. When we when we let those walls down and really go engage people and actually meet them, a lot of that fear goes away, because we realize they’re just people like us.”
If you would like to join the One America movement, go to WeRepair.org/OneAmerica to get information, start a chapter, or plan a project for your community.