Presidential debates tend to bring out some of the worst aspects of American politics. Already, this election year has witnessed its fair share of vitriol. But activists Parker Palmer and Carrie Newcomer are out to show Americans a new way of engaging in political discourse.
Palmer, a seasoned author and educator, and Newcomer, a folk musician, have teamed up to create a series of events they hope will get Americans talking about politics in a new way.
Named after Palmer's 2011 book Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, the events are part concert, part spoken word presentation and part roundtable discussion. The goal of the show is to introduce the audience to a kind of spiritual political discourse "characterized by thoughtfulness, realism, vulnerability, good humor and hope," according to the event page.
The pair, accompanied by pianist Gary Walters, have presented the concert at various community centers, schools and nonprofits around the Midwest over the last few years and are offering their next one at the end of February at St. John Lutheran Church in Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
In a spiritual community, we try to live our life centered in love and not in fear.”
During the show, Newcomer plays folk songs aimed to instill hope in those who may be cynical about American politics. Palmer shares readings from his book and stories from his life as a community organizer. Halfway through the show they invite the audience members to turn to one another and have a conversation about their beliefs, values and life stories.
"Right now there’s such a longing in our culture for a conversation that is civil, that has the common good in mind and that is not based in fear,” Newcomer told The Huffington Post.
Both Newcomer and Palmer come from Quaker backgrounds and say the show is entirely interfaith and nonpartisan. “Carrie and I are trying to convey the message that we need to talk with each other, not at each other, in a way that can bridge some of our great divides that are actually created and fed by power politics," Palmer said.
Starting such conversations is one of the key tools religious communities have at their disposal, Newcomer said.
“People in spiritual communities are disturbed by politics right now and trying to figure out how to respond," she told HuffPost. “There’s a lot of politics of fear happening right now. But in a spiritual community, we try to live our life centered in love and not in fear.”
At 77, Palmer says he isn't "idealistic" about the show's potential to change the course of direction American democracy overnight. There will always be people on the far right and far left who aren't able to have a civil conversation with the other side, Palmer said. But a large majority of people in the middle, he argues, are.
“My approach is not to engage in angry or cynical discussions about politics but to try to see behind those masks and to try to create a safe space for a more soulful conversation,” he said.
Also on HuffPost: