Join the Open Discussion Project!

The deep and growing political polarization of our country calls for fresh approaches to bridging the gaps that so deeply divide us as Americans. While there’s no shortage of speech today, people are talking increasingly only to those who already agree with them. This silo-ing of ideas and experiences undercuts our nation’s ability to address urgent problems and take necessary actions.

To encourage more dialogue across the political chasm, Politics and Prose is joining with a handful of other bookstores in a new initiative. Called the Open Discussion Project, the idea is to set up reading groups of liberals and conservatives that will meet monthly and share views about books on race, climate change, guns, immigration, money in politics, and other controversial issues. The groups—one in each participating store—will be moderated by professional facilitators to ensure all opinions are heard and conversations remain respectful.

The goal of this effort is not conversion but conversation and understanding. We’re not aiming to determine winners or losers but to create opportunities for people to speak freely with each other about matters that deeply divide them. Similar community initiatives are underway around the country. Our plan is to draw on lessons learned from these efforts, establishing a space in our own stores where people can step outside their echo chambers and engage with, and more fully comprehend, those with differing points of view.

Overseeing this project are three national organizations devoted to encouraging democratic dialogue and civic participation. They include: the American Booksellers Association, which represents more than 2,000 independent bookstores; the National Coalition Against Censorship, a non-partisan alliance of 56 national non-profits; and the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a non-partisan group based at the University of Arizona that works with elected officials, journalists, and the public to address incivility and political dysfunction.

The other participating bookstores, located in different parts of the country, are: Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville, IL), Gibson’s Bookstore (Concord, NH), Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh, NC), Schuler Books & Music (Grand Rapids, MI), and Vroman’s Bookstore (Pasadena, CA).

Fueling our hope for this initiative is the belief that Americans—as polarized as they now are—still share many values and life experiences that make reasoned discussion of differences possible. Because of space and other considerations, the size of the new reading group will be limited to 34 people who’ll be selected to achieve a balance between self-identified liberals and conservatives. In order to create a group where people will get to know each other and speak freely, we hope participants will attend all six planned sessions, beginning Sunday, January 13, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Subsequent meetings will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on February 10, March 10, April 14, May 19, and June 9.

If you’re interested in participating, please fill out a questionnaire by clicking here. The deadline for submitting the questionnaire is December 14.

— Brad and Lissa