Activist tip of the summer: how to talk about politics to anyone

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by Marit Vike; image courtesy of Olivia Chow

This past November, friendships ended, nasty words were spoken and there was no moving forward. These actions regrettably paved the way for 2017 to be the year of not talking about politics. So listen up, all activists out there. Here are some tried and true tips on how to overcome the discomfort and talk to a family member, coworker, neighbor or friend about politics this summer.

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From the beginning, keep an open mind and avoid the prejudgment involved in issuing blanket statements such as “all Republicans are evil.” If you want to talk about politics, you are likely passionate about a topic (say public education). Remember to stay away from professional jargon and politicalspeak. Your passion can help keep the conversation personal and intimate, but only if you avoid attempting to patronize or embarrass the other person and respect his or her viewpoint.

Once you have entered into a conversation, there are two general guidelines.

  • Tell your story. Share the reasons for your passion (whether it’s students, your neighborhood public school or your students’ families). It can be the impact of a bill on your life, your love of the education profession or maybe a story about a student affected by budget cuts.
  • Ask questions and LISTEN for the other person’s personal stories and passions. Point out common interests and values. Politics may seem like a dangerous topic, but vulnerability and honesty about values can make these some of the best discussions you have ever had.

So go into a conversation with an open mind, share your stories, ask open-ended questions, listen and learn about the other person’s passions. Maybe the conversation will end with agreeing to disagree, or maybe you found a new advocate for public schools. Either way, political conversations can have amazing benefits and carry very little risk.

Next activist tip of the summer post: Using town halls to your advantage.

Reader Comments

  1. Regrettably, both of our major political parties have chosen to be rude and uncivil to those that have differing political from our own. There was a time that even though someone held a different view than our own, we respected that person and their right to hold that opinion ( even if it differed from our own beliefs) and we remained friends or continued to respect that person. Alas, I fear that for the most part those days have passed.

  2. Wise words. I ran for School Board this past spring and was able to keep the race focused on issues and draw support from both sides by pointing out that we all agree on the goal of quality education for our children.

  3. This type of advice cannot be coming fast enough. State Fair time is coming up and those of us who have the smallest amount of courage have for years attempted to get other like minded educators to join us in political party booths. It has not been easy even to talk among ourselves at times. Over the years we have seen people attending state and local fairs
    who make nasty remarks or one even spit at me in the booth. I was not being an aggressive advocate and have always tried to make the booth informative regarding importance of public welfare issues. I primarily volunteer there to defend public education which has literally saved this country in hard times. Mine was when my mom was widowed when I was 12 and yet because she had a college education she was finally able to find a job and support the 3 of us. We had something to eat and a house that was paid for because of a Republican father who did not believe in credit and paid off the house right before he was killed in a plane crash on the way to work. Other people in this state/country are not as lucky as we were as we had an educated mom. She is now 97 and legally blind and using a walker and in another state and refusing to leave her home which she paid for as a working widow who found a job with the Federal Government (as she did for a while in WWII).
    My task now is to help her, from a distance and frequent costly visits, not spend through her hard earned savings as she gradually looses her ability to make wise choices. My siblings are not in the state and are trying to support their families. I still volunteer for the Democrats as I think of my family’s sacrifices during WWII when all of them willingly enlisted or went to work in Federal endeavors and all had a public education. Pensions are just as important as Social Security, FHA loans, scholarships, fellowships, public health, transportation and the military and other additional governmental efforts to help people lead a productive life. Verbal sniping won’t help the situation. Thanks for your column.

  4. I am the lone democrat in a sea of elderly republican voters. Among them are many friends. We get along because we do not talk about politics. On the occasions that we have, each of us was referencing an entirely different, even opposing, set of facts or would-be facts. It is as though we are not in contact with the truth at all, only the political feed we choose.

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