Politics & Government

A recipe for civil dialogue started in a kitchen

Nancy Crown
Nancy Crown

A few weeks ago, Nancy Crown was pacing her kitchen bemoaning all the political acrimony in the country.

“What are we going to do?” she said to no one in particular.

“Well, what are you going to do?” her son, Sam, replied.

So the Charlotte bank executive did do something. With her sisters, she started a website called “BridgethePoliticalDivide.com” and posted an online petition for people to express their frustration.

Crown’s effort is just the latest example of North Carolinians trying to get beyond the vitriol that too often passes for political dialogue in North Carolina and across the country.

Charlotte’s Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, was part of the working group of the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform. She also started the Red Boot Coalition, designed to “engage in honest sharing and compassionate listening.”

‘Media cocoons’

Then there’s The North Carolina Leadership forum, now under the umbrella of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

The bipartisan group is bringing together liberals and conservatives to launch a dialogue about public policy. It started when former Charlottean Leslie Winner, former executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, reached out to John Hood of the Pope Foundation. Pope had written about people trapped in their own “media cocoons.”

“What we’re saying is there is clearly a political divide here in North Carolina,” Hood says. “Our goal is not to eliminate that divide. Our goal is for people to talk across that divide rather than yell across it.”

Winner put it like this in an interview for the Sanford School.

“The two of us got together and tried to think through what we might do together, coming from our different viewpoints, to at least create a place where people could receive the same facts, talk through their different interpretations of them, and learn to speak respectfully and also, more importantly learn to really listen, and really hear,” she said.

The 33 members include former Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, state Sen. Jeff Jackson, former Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker, Republican financier Art Pope and Rick Glazier, executive director of the liberal N.C. Justice Center.

The lessons of toddlers

For her part, Crown, 53, has high aspirations.

Her petition asks both national political parties to incorporate into their platforms a commitment to bipartisanship. It also calls on both major candidates to promote bipartisanship in their cabinets and make their administrations “work aggressively to find and build consensus around policy objectives whenever possible.”

On the advice of Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff, she produced a short video for her site.

“Starting when our children are toddlers, we teach them the importance of compromise and cooperation,” Crown narrates. “As they get older, we teach them that there’s a way to stay true to one’s principles and still arrive at a workable solution, even if it means you agree to disagree.

“Yet compromise is in very short supply in Washington, D.C. … If we want things to change we need to send a message to Washington. Let’s help our country once again become an example of democracy at its best.”

Crown knows there’s a lot of voices for bipartisanship and civil dialogue. She believes there’s a place for hers.

“What makes this different is it’s grassroots and we’re not advancing any agenda,” she says. “Life teaches us we have to compromise. It shouldn’t be OK to say, ‘It’s not my idea so it can’t be a good idea.’ ”