How can we convince anyone of anything? The great divide

Will the massive marches across the country and around the world this weekend convince anyone of anything? Or will they just scare the bejeezus out of people who don’t quite understand what’s going on?

will this convince anyone?

42nd Street, looking East from Grand Central, photo by my friend Liz

Saturday I marched through the concrete canyons of New York with 300,000 of my closest friends. We made a lot of noise as we inched (literally) along the streets of Midtown. Actually “inched” may give you the wrong impression about our progress. It took me two hours to travel the 1/6th of a mile from 1st Avenue and 47th Street to 2nd Avenue and 47th Street. According to my calculations, that’s a speed of about 0.08 mph. Normal walking speed is 3-4 mph. No wonder my knees still hurt.

My favorite chant—great cadence and a perfect rhyme:

“Build a fence
Around Mike Pence”

People carried signs—too many signs, too many messages for me to remember any one clearly. But the spousal unit showed me a photo of one, maybe from the Washington, DC march, that said something like:

“It’s so bad, even INTROVERTS are out here.”

To me, one of the most striking features of the march was its demographic diversity. I saw members of at least five generations: The World War II generation—a gentleman near me identified himself as being 90 years old— Baby Boomers, who seem to have prime responsibility for this calamity of an administration; Gen X; Millennials; and the youngest ones, Gen Z. At the train station I spotted three generations of women in the same family, all of them wearing pink knitted “pussy” hats—even the baby in the stroller.

Surely if opposition to what’s going on unites us across generations, we can actually do something about it.

Can marches convince anyone?

I vividly remember seeing my first march. During the Vietnam War students from the college down the street held a candlelight vigil and processed silently down the sidewalk across from our house.

My father turned off all the lights and lowered the blinds, ordering me to keep away from the windows (naturally, I disobeyed). He saw grave danger in the very orderly procession of a couple hundred college students. Young as I was, I knew he had them all wrong.

The scale and decibel level of Saturday’s march would have frightened my father even more. Then again, he might well have decided to join it. After all, he was a Republican back when Republicans resisted Communist influence. Doesn’t that seem quaint nowadays?

Marches are great for making a statement—and I believe the millions of us who turned out made a very strong and clear statement Saturday. But, really, can marches convince anyone to change their mind?

From “social media” to social interactions

Chanting slogans—even clever ones—is no substitute for conversation. And conversation—the one-on-one exchange of information—is where we’re going to get the most lasting traction.

It’s great that we’ve gotten away from the computer and into the streets. And massive action feels so good—it’s important to know you’re not alone. But studies have long shown that people become more supportive of LGBT rights, for instance, if they know an actual LGBT person. So I think we still need to fight these battles at the holiday dinner table. In tens of millions of conversations. Exhausting? Of course. But essential. And a lot easier on the knees than marching.

And so we return to the question many people—including me—have been asking since the election:

How can we talk to each other, instead of at each other?

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