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Joan Blades: Moving On Post-Election?: Transforming Civic Discourse One Living Room at a Time

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Video Recording (Nov 7, 2020)

Nuggets From Joan Blades's Call

Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Joan Blades, expertly moderated by Aryae!

Joan Blades is an “accidental activist” leading movements that have shaped American culture and politics. A deep believer in ordinary people driving change, Blades in her latest endeavor seeks to rebuild respectful civil discourse across ideological, cultural and party lines – one living room at a time. An open source effort, Living Room Conversations offers an intimate structured conversation format to citizens as a powerful tool to rebuild respectful relationships and identify common ground. Raised in Berkeley during the civil rights era and having been active in the women’s rights movement, Joan has had a prolonged look at the dysfunction of partisan behaviors, as well as at the good will, intelligence and power of ordinary citizens. Dubbed the “mother” of digital mobilization as co-founder of, which accidentally grew out of her online bipartisan petition drive, she was named 2003 Woman of the Year by Ms Magazine.

Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...

  • In describing her life story, Joan notes: "I'm a real believer that context has a lot to do with how one has the beliefs you have. Context is more predictive of human behavior than so many things."
  • On founding of, Joan and others issued a statement that "the most important thing in the country is to censure the president and “move on”." Within a week, they had 100,000 signatures, a reach unheard of at the time. Joan learned about grassroots organizing and how the Internet made it possible for people to mobilize and be activists. It was also a two-way communication. That first petition, every one was invited to say why they were signing.
  • On founding Mom's Rising:  "we wrote The Motherhood Manifesto to lift that up [the systemic problems facing women, and especially mothers]. Because fixing something when you haven't quite defined the problem is hard to do."
  • What we need to do is to be restoring our connections. People I love have very different views than I do. I have to work hard at understanding them. The beautiful thing about this work is that I get to see people have conversations where they discover where they’re not as divided as they think. But we have different ideas about how to achieve the goals we share.
  • My work is about bridging divides, but I get to be who I am in that work, a progressive. We’re asking people to show up with their whole selves. That’s a big ask. But it’s needed right now.
  • "if you are in the environment where you and all your friends agree, that's pretty easy. The beautiful thing about this work is, I get to see people have these conversations where they discover they are not as divided as they think. What we find again and again, is that our deepest values are fairly well aligned, but we have some different ideas about how to achieve the goals that we share. And at this time, we have become so divided that sometimes we do not even share the same facts. That is a terrible problem for us as a democracy and in being able to solve a problem. Because, if you do not have shared facts, you cannot properly address complex problems. More and more, we don’t share the same facts. That’s a terrible problem for us as a democracy." We have been divided by our leaders, divided by our media. Our shared understanding has gotten less and less.
  • I think we have an opportunity this coming year to change that. Stepping into this moment with our own power is critical because we’re not going to come up with good solutions if we don’t have every one’s best ideas in the room. Yes, it’s hard, and it’s also fun and inspiring. We don’t have to start with the hard stuff.
  • "We have been doing video conversations for years. Because in Berkeley, honestly, it is hard to physically have a bunch of conservatives in my living room or we would have to travel. But with video, we can have people across the country, all in the same space to have a deep conversation. What is exciting about this is that we have been doing it for years and there's been research that shows that both the in-person and the video conversations have the short-term and longer-term impact we are hoping for."
  • The power of listening—it’s not passive, it’s active. Caring across differences translates into being more caring, more open. We’ve gotten good at lose-lose outcomes, and we need to restore the concept of win-win outcomes.
  • Leaders stand on the foundation of the grassroots. I’m a total believer in the grassroots.
  • How close the election was shows me that we have been profoundly divided. I want my conservative friends to respect the people I want elected. We want that kind of mutuality.
  • Explore to find over 100 conversation guides on all topics. The guides allow high-quality conversations without a facilitator.
  • I think getting us focused on our aspirations and how we share them would be a helpful thing in all sorts of conversations right now. Violence is local. The more we can say, "I’m here with you and violence is not acceptable," the better. We as community leaders can speak up and create a shared expectation.

Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!

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