A rare, mostly harmonious gathering commenced on Saturday afternoon as Orange County liberals and conservatives voluntarily came together for a hot dog roastin', frisbee-throwin' picnic at Mason Park in Irvine.
The unlikely gathering, dubbed Sounds of Truth
, was hosted by OC-based political advocacy group Rebellious Truths.
The grassroots new media effort
led by Michael Maxsenti
and Christopher Ponzi
aspires to encourage the masses to strip away ideological differences, recognize underlying common values, and start coming up with civil solutions to ending political and corporate corruption.
It's an ambitious aspiration to say the least, considering the deep ideological divide between the left and right that's been around for decades. But between the recent Occupy movement and the Tea Party actions preceding it, a realization is starting to surface: perhaps the opposite sides of the political spectrum have more in common than most of us want to admit.
But are the differences too vast and the personal biases too deeply indoctrinated to overcome for the purpose of unifying a country in trouble?
About 100 people showed up throughout the day for the picnic in the park, which was kicked off by individuals from various political backgrounds speaking out about their respective groups, including misconceptions held by the mainstream media.
Among the groups represented were: Orange County Youth GOP, Newport-Mesa Tea Party, Libertarian Party of Orange County, Orange County Democrats, Occupy Orange County, Orange County Tea Party, Move to Amend, Green Party, Ron Paul Campaign for Liberty and the Oathkeepers.
Oddly enough, or perhaps not surprisingly, almost every speaker seemed to use their timed presence at the mic to present their best selling point for their respective group. At the end of the speeches, event facilitators Dr. Laurie Mulvey, from the World in Conversation Project, had to remind everyone the purpose of the event was to find commonalities and not to necessarily "recruit" others to your own beliefs.
What followed was the dialogue groups in which 10 people had up to two trained facilitators from the aforementioned World Conversation Project, a sociology academic group from Penn State whose young and diverse college students traveled a few thousand miles to eagerly mediate kooky OC folk for a day.
I participated in the two 90-minute dialogue session held in numbered tents on the park grounds, meaning three freakin' hours of being surrounded by heated political debates among OC's most fringy of the fringiest - with some agreements wedged in between.
The right-wing Oathkeepers and left-wing Occupiers agreed about the dangers of an encroaching police state while liberals and Ron Paul supporters opposed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). There was expressed opposition to President Barack Obama, which of course consists of disenchantment from the left and absolute ideological loathing from the right.
Government spending was seen as out of control, but in different forms: public sector unions on one side and the military industrial complex on the other. There was talk about universal human rights from the progressive thinkers and preserving Constitutional rights from the libertarians; and of course, we had our End the Fed crowd who got along swimmingly with the Occupiers. Both find the monetary system corrupt and the government, whether caused or allowed it to happen, plays a major in our economic crisis.
Although everyone seemed to agree the country is going in the wrong direction, certain prejudices seemed too deeply ingrained, and difficult to maneuver around to find this "common ground" the event strived for. This ranged from a self proclaimed "far right" conservative claiming liberalism is a religion to a women's rights advocate decrying conservative bigots; to a Tea Party member railing about "illegal aliens" mooching off the system while a son of Mexican immigrant parents talked about the work ethics his family instilled in him.
And there were the glaringly obvious divisions based on the very foundation of the polarizing ideologies: the concept of big versus small government and the principles of social responsibility versus personal responsibility.
But it was the first group I sat with seemed to get it right in the end (perhaps it was due to a skilled moderator): when we are divided by issues, we aren't coming up with solutions.
While the dialogues provided comfort that political discussion can occur civilly (although at one point, I did hear a facilitator in an adjacent tent tell "Time out! Time out!"), the event seemed to fall short of enlightenment for every participant.
A key factor of Maxsenti and Ponzi's mission does require trust that the American public can let go of closely held notions, but such an act seems to require a higher plane of consciousness. Ultimately, the event only further inspired those who have already recognized the need for unification to fight the decline of our country.