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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Emily Costa
August 27, 2018

A scorching Wednesday a few weeks back sent me running for cover to my favorite air-conditioned Thai restaurant for lunch. I was dining alone so I could look out, observing everyone around me and hope to hear some of their conversations. I’ve long loved being a fly on the wall. Two white men in the corner caught my attention immediately. One Baby Boomer and one Generation X, they were in an intense discussion about our country’s politics and its leaders.

I planted myself harder on the seat and settled in. I figured it would be a great show. As I ate my nime chow, I realized something more astonishing about the two men: one was a Democrat, the other a Republican. In this politically obsessed decade, I have witnessed no peaceful encounters between politically opposed people who are discussing politics. I see many encounters where pundits attack each other on television. Or when social media explodes with one story and two angry sides. But in real life, I watch people get up and walk away when someone begins voicing their own conflicting belief. I do this myself under the guise of respecting others, although I know it’s just so I don’t get angry or feel uncomfortable.

As the men conversed, I became absolutely obsessed. The Baby Boomer brought up “the illegals.” The Gen X’er simply replied, “more people were deported under Obama than any other president.” They were disagreeing about politics though neither was angry. No personal insults followed. They were still enjoying their meals, eating and talking pleasantly, although agreeing on nothing.

I listened more as my own entrée arrived and while I ate. I disagreed with some of their viewpoints but I gladly obliged the lesson from them both. I didn’t need to put my headphones on. Or walk over and state my own opinion, whether it was fact based or not. I could choose to accept what I already knew. American citizens differ in their political views. What I learned that afternoon, though, was that we can disagree so fundamentally, yet find good in each other in the space between.

The primaries are less than a month away. My own neighborhood is adorned with signs on every lawn. I love local politics and I love the primaries. It feels like this is when candidates are the most raw and uncorrupted. They still see their policy choices as definitive. They also believe in their own abilities to follow through and fix things. In Rhode Island, like elsewhere, our policy choices are complex. While we move progressively, we also move very slowly (at the brink of inefficiency some would say).

Rhode Island candidates running for office mirror the two sides of national politics: One liberal, socially conscious, and environmentally friendly; the other a little more brash and populist; yet, patriotic and motivated. Even though we’re the smallest state in the union, towns will be divided up by party. Vehement objectors will exist no matter the side. We’re all still neighbors nevertheless. We pass each other at Whole Foods and T.J. Maxx. We beep at each other on the highway when we forget to use a blinker.

I’m sick of being the silent objector or the angry antagonist. I want to be able to coexist. I want to forgive the other side and stop blocking their viewpoint from my consciousness. I want the ability to accept the right of Americans to speak freely, upholding a cornerstone belief of this Republic. I have to try harder; I know this skill is not attained easily. This process also does not happen when I call someone out on the street or at a restaurant. The real power comes in my own, very private voting booth. This is the fundamental right we should be fighting for, especially since some of us do not exercise it nearly enough.

I look forward to the excitement of election nights. Watching local newscasters tallying the votes, I’m always wondering who they would want to win. When the maps come up on the television showing which districts are red and which blue, I will remember each district is filled with my neighbors, no matter the color. I will also remember the two men I watched at the Thai restaurant. They listened to each other respectfully. Neither man cowered in silence to the other. Their opinions were expressed and left to air out in the open. It didn’t matter who was right or wrong, it only mattered that they were eating lunch together in enjoyment. Democrat or Republican, they could still coexist. As an observer, I was utterly inspired to do better myself.


Author: Emily Costa is a Master’s in Public Administration Student at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. She currently resides in Providence. [email protected]

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