• 'You Want The Best For This Country, I Respect That': 2 Strangers Find Common Ground

    'You Want The Best For This Country, I Respect That': 2 Strangers Find Common Ground

     

    Israel Baryeshua, 38, and Tiffany Briseño, 35, at their StoryCorps interview in Denver.

    Camila Kerwin/StoryCorps

    This story is part of a new StoryCorps project called One Small Step, which seeks to remind people across the political divide of our shared humanity.

    In a recent interview with StoryCorps, two strangers, Tiffany Briseño, a social liberal, and Israel Baryeshua, who identifies as a conservative, came together to find common ground despite their opposing political views.

    Baryeshua is a single parent of two who says he beat the odds by rising out of poverty in Georgia. Briseño, a mother of three, is concerned about how the divisive climate will affect her multiracial family.

    They found common ground in how they parent their kids to understand the value of hard work.

    "I tell that to my children, Baryeshua said. "It comes from within."

    "And [that is] something that I also convey to my children," Briseño says. "My parents grew up with nothing. My mom didn't have shoes, didn't have food, that kind of thing. And she ... put herself through college as a single parent."

    Baryeshua asks Briseño what her biggest fears are concerning the future.

    "I am just really nervous for my kids," Briseño says. "Like I feel like, right now, everything is just mean and nasty."

    Baryeshua agrees. "Instead of reacting with kindness or compassion, people are quick to react with, I guess, hate."

    Briseño asks if there's one thing he respects about the way she sees the world.

    "No," Baryeshua says, and they share a laugh. He then adds: "I think you said that you want the best for this country. I respect that view, and I agree with that view."

    In return, she tells him that she respects that he's a "hard-working single father" who wants what's best for his children. "I think that that's commendable and common between you and I, for sure," Briseño says.

    Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kerrie Hillman and Mia Warren.

    StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

     

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  • Are you courageous enough to collaborate with your enemies?

    Are you courageous enough to collaborate with your enemies?

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  • Finding 'Common Good' Among Evangelicals In The Political Season

    Finding 'Common Good' Among Evangelicals In The Political Season

     

    Doug Pagitt, a pastor from Minneapolis, and his crew hold a meeting aimed at evangelical Christians, in a church in San Antonio. They are touring the country to talk to evangelicals about the midterm elections.

    Sarah McCammon/NPR

    On a recent evening in Houston, under the heavy branches of live oak trees, Doug Pagitt stood before a couple dozen people gathered on blue folding chairs on the Rice University campus.

    "You've heard it said that to be a true Christian, you must vote like a Republican," he said. "But we are here to be reminded that just ain't so."

    Pagitt, 52, describes himself as a progressive evangelical. He pastors a church in Minneapolis and has been traveling the country by bus, preaching a message that juxtaposes Trump campaign slogans against quotes from the Bible.

    "You have heard it said, 'America First,' but we are here to be reminded to 'seek first the Kingdom of God,' on behalf of all those everywhere in the world," he said, quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

    Pagitt's organization, Vote Common Good, is focusing on evangelicals and other Christian voters who feel out of place in President Trump's Republican Party. It's an uphill battle, given that more than 8 in 10 white evangelical voters supported Trump in 2016.

    Pagitt said the group has just under $1 million in private donations. They're touring the country ahead of the midterms, visiting more than 30 congressional districts that were chosen in part based on their religious makeup.

    At an event in San Antonio, Tracy Goodrich, 48, said she and her husband quietly left their evangelical church soon after the election.

     

    Pastor Doug Pagitt's organization, Vote Common Good, is focusing on evangelicals and other Christian voters who feel out of place in President Trump's Republican Party.

    Sarah McCammon/NPR

    "I kind of feel like I'm in this space where I grew up in an evangelical home, and with the last several years just kind of not feeling like I have a home as the things I once felt represented Christ and Christlikeness — completely the opposite things I see have been supported by family and friends and community," Goodrich said.

    Goodrich, who is still home schooling two of her four children, said she voted for Republicans until 2016. But she doesn't like the way Trump talks about vulnerable people, she said, like immigrants, women and the poor.

    Goodrich said many of her evangelical friends initially opposed Trump until it became clear he would be the Republican nominee.

    "Literally all of a sudden, Donald Trump — we couldn't see anything wrong with Donald Trump. It was: Now we're blind to everything. But it was all on the abortion issue," she said.

    Goodrich describes herself as "pro-life," but she said other issues, like helping the poor and helping those facing discrimination, should be just as important to Christians.

    Seeing the debate differently

    Singer Meah Pace has been traveling with the group, performing hymns like "Amazing Grace" at parks and churches. Pace grew up in a predominantly black Baptist church.

    Unlike their white evangelical counterparts, black Christians overwhelmingly vote for Democrats; Pace said people who've faced a history of disenfranchisement often see the abortion debate differently.

    "When you are fighting to keep your family together; when you're fighting to keep your children safe — from criminals and from cops; when you don't know if someone's gonna pick up your résumé because of your name; when you don't know how you're gonna send your kids to college — things like that, because things were set up that way to disenfranchise people," Pace said, "us fighting about an issue like this is something that we feel we can leave in God's hands."

    Abortion is the key issue

    Doug Pagitt said the issue of abortion has come up again and again since the bus began touring in early October. He published an op-ed in USA Today this week, arguing that evangelicals should put more energy into reducing abortions than trying to criminalize them and should vote against politicians who support Trump's agenda.

     

    Singer Meah Pace (left) has been traveling with the Pagitt's group, performing hymns like "Amazing Grace" at parks and churches.

    Sarah McCammon/NPR

    Kristan Hawkins, who runs the anti-abortion-rights group Students for Life, is a former evangelical who converted to Catholicism. She said she has heard this argument before and doesn't think most conservative Christian voters will buy it because of how they view abortion.

    "There are certainly a lot of issues that Christians care about when they go to vote," Hawkins said. "But at the end of the day, we know there is a human rights atrocity happening inside of our country — and that atrocity is abortion."

    However the issues are framed, pollster Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute said moving white evangelicals away from the GOP will be an uphill battle.

    "Once you have several generations that are voting 80 percent Republican, it's less that they're doing that because of one particular issue, and more that it has become, in many ways, a kind of tribal identity that's just inextricably tied to evangelical identity," Jones said. "And I think that is the tie that binds much more than any single issue."

    Vote Common Good is trying to push beyond those identities by talking to small groups of Christian voters almost daily in the weeks leading up to the midterms. Organizers say they're planning more events for the 2020 presidential cycle.

    Rep. Ted Lieu, the current vice chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has informally advised the group. He said he hopes they will "help Americans understand that if they want to vote their conscience, there is a place in the Democratic Party for them."

    Lieu said Democrats could do a better job of reaching religious voters including Christians.

    "Religion and faith is something that's been part of America for over two centuries," Lieu said. "For one party to ignore that aspect of American life is not a good idea."

     

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  • Is There A Cure For Hate?

    Is There A Cure For Hate?

     

     

    Taly Kogon and her son Leo, 10, listen to speakers during an interfaith vigil against anti-Semitism and hate at the Holocaust Memorial late last month in Miami Beach, Fla.

    Wilfredo Lee/AP

    For months prior to the recent shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, suspect Robert Bowers spewed venomous bigotry, hatred and conspiracies online, especially against Jews and immigrants. During the Oct. 27 attack, according to a federal indictment, he said he wanted "to kill Jews."

    He is charged with 44 counts — including hate crimes — for the murder of 11 people and wounding of six others at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue.

    The attack follows a spike in anti-Semitic incidents, concerns about the rise in domestic extremism and calls for politicians to rethink their anti-immigrant rhetoric.

    We wanted to know what programs, if any, are effective in getting violent and violence-prone far-right extremists in America to cast aside their racist beliefs and abandon their hate-filled ways.

    Here are five key takeaways:

    1) Neglected, minimized and underfunded

    Creating and expanding effective programs to get homegrown far-right racists to find the off-ramp from hate is, overall, an under-studied, underfunded and neglected area.

    "We haven't wanted to acknowledge that we have a problem with violent right-wing extremism in this kind of domestic terrorism," says sociologist Pete Simi of Chapman University, who has researched and consulted on violent white nationalists and other hate groups for more than two decades.

    "White supremacy is really a problem throughout the United States," he says. "It doesn't know any geographic boundaries. It's not isolated to either urban or rural or suburban — it cuts across all."

    But it's a problem and topic that America has "tended to hide or minimize," he adds.

    That willful denial, Simi says, has left many nonprofits, social workers and police and other interventionists largely flying blind.

    "There really haven't been much resources, attention, time, energy devoted to developing efforts to counter that form of violent extremism."

    In fact, the Trump administration in 2017 rescinded funding that targeted domestic extremism.

    The administration, instead, has focused almost exclusively on threats from Islamist extremists and what it sees as the security and social menace of undocumented immigrants including, again, whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment ahead of the midterm elections.

    2) There's no consensus on what really works

    The research done so far shows that adherence to white supremacist beliefs can be addictive. Some who try to leave can "relapse" and return to the hate fold.

    But Simi says, "We're really very much in the early days."

    And there is no consensus yet on what works best over the long haul.

    Academically, there has been more attention and research on interventions with American gang members or would-be Jihadis.

    And while there is some crossover, far-right hate comes with ideological baggage often absent in gangs and is different from the religion-infused Jihadi belief system.

    3) Best practices are costly and labor-intensive

    Can racist radicals and homegrown right-wing violent extremists successfully be rehabilitated and re-enter civil society?

    "The answer to that question is absolutely 'yes,' " Simi says.

    The groups with the best approach, he says, seem to be those that partner with a broad section of civil society — educators, social workers, those in health care and police — to tackle the full range of problems someone swept up into an extremist world might face.

    They may need additional schooling or employment training, he says or "maybe they have some housing needs, maybe they have some unmet mental health needs," such as past trauma or substance use problems.

    It's a more holistic approach that he says, in the end, is far more effective and less costly than prison and packing more people into the already overcrowded U.S. criminal justice system.

    But that "wraparound services" model is also labor-intensive, expensive and hard to coordinate.

    It's also severely hampered, Simi says, by America's woefully inadequate drug treatment and mental health care systems.

    "A big, big problem that we face as a society is abdicating our responsibility in terms of providing this kind of social support and social safety net for individuals that suffer from mental health," as well as drug problems, he says.

    4) Life after hate

    Tony McAleer knows the mindset of the suspect in the synagogue shooting.

    A former member of the White Aryan Resistance and other hate groups, he once echoed the type of racist invective Bowers spewed online; the kind that sees a cabal of malevolent Jews running the world by proxy through banks, Hollywood, corporations and the media.

    And McAleer knows how savvy racist recruiters can be. He was one of them.

    "I was a Holocaust denier. I ran a computer-operated voicemail system that was primarily anti-Semitic," he says.

    He eventually renounced his bigotry and helped co-found the nonprofit Life After Hate, one of just a handful of groups working to help right-wing extremists find an off-ramp. It also was among those that lost funding — a $400,000 Obama-era federal grant — when the Trump administration changed focus.

    In McAleer's experience, adherence to racist beliefs — whether as part of a group or as a lone wolf like the synagogue suspect — is more often sparked by a flawed search for identity and purpose than by a deeply held belief.

    The group doesn't attack people's ideology verbally. He calls that approach "the wrong strategy. Because it's about identity."

    The best method, he believes, is simply listening and trying to reconnect to the person's buried humanity.

    McAleer says he tries to get at what's motivating the hate, to find out why people are really so angry and upset to begin with, and to start the dialogue from there.

    You condemn the ideology and the actions, he says, but not the human being.

    "I think of them as lost. Somewhere along the line, they find themselves in this place," says McAleer, "and I can tell you being in that place is not a fun place to be. When you surround yourself with angry and negative people, I guarantee you your life is not firing on all cylinders."

    He says that's the way he felt. "I was just so disconnected from my heart."

    The birth of his children and compassion from a Jewish man, he says, helped him to leave that life and to reconnect with his own humanity and that of others.

    People often have never met the people that they purport to hate, he says.

    "And there's nothing more powerful — I know because it happened to me in my own life — than receiving compassion from someone who you don't feel you deserve it from, someone from a community that you had dehumanized."

    5) How do you scale compassion?

    But there are only a few programs like Life After Hate.

    And they're often small. Since the summer of 2017, for example, the Chicago-based group has taken on only 41 new people who want to leave their racist hate behind.

    "Keep in mind, de-radicalization is a lifelong process," says Life After Hate's Dimitrios Kalantzis. "We consider it a major success when formers remain active in our network, even if that means checking in within our online support group. That means they are engaged and unlikely to relapse."

    But is inspiring compassion really scalable, and how can groups more effectively structure and organize similar efforts?

    How can researchers and others scale it to reach as large a number of people as possible?

    "That's the answer I can't provide because at this point, we really don't know," sociologist Pete Simi says.

     

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