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Qasim Rashid column: Why bother with dialogue?
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Dignity Over Division

Qasim Rashid column: Why bother with dialogue?

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Why even bother with dialogue? The “other side” clearly only cares about themselves. It makes more sense to gather our base, vote them out and undo the damage they’ve done. Right?

It’s hard to ignore this argument precisely because it feels so good to stick it to those who’ve treated us so unjustly, mocked and ridiculed us, and in some cases, even denied us our humanity. I can’t argue against the human instinct for self-preservation. We all have an ego and this piece isn’t about crushing your ego and singing kumbaya and feeling good. “F**k your feelings,” as I’ve seen on a shirt, or two, these past four or five years.

But here’s an idea. What if we looked at this question about dialogue from a different perspective — one that genuinely speaks to the goal of gathering our base, voting “them” out and undoing the damage done? What if we approach dialogue vs self-preservation not as divergent paths, but the convergent path we need to follow to heal this divided nation and undo the damage done? I’ve learned in my years as a human rights lawyer that on issues of economic justice, health care and basic human decency, it isn’t a left-versus-right issue, but a human dignity issue that necessitates we work together.

Abraham Lincoln once warned, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” With record highs in hate crimes, record lows in trust in the government and media, and record wealth and income inequality — we’re facing the consequences of self-imposed self-destruction. Add to that an economic crisis, hundreds of thousands dead from a pandemic and rates of depression at frightening highs, one thing is for sure: The current model isn’t working.

But another model will work — one that recognizes the convergent path of dialogue and undoing the damage done by the “other” side. For starters, let’s remember that many of the major things we’re supposed to disagree with each other about — like health care, education, the environment, and even firearm legislation — are manufactured disagreements. Sounds surprising, but it shouldn’t be.

In truth, the vast majority of Americans agree on the need for comprehensive and high-quality, affordable health care. The question then isn’t whether we want health care, but what should that health care look like? Again, the vast majority of Americans, nearly 70%, agree that health care is a human right and we deserve universal “Medicare for All.” And this overwhelming agreement isn’t just isolated to health care.

Take education and cancelling student loan debt. Americans across the board recognize the need to rein in the cost of higher education. Nearly 60% of Americans support free four-year public college. Moreover, 67% of Americans, including 58% of Republicans, support the widespread cancellation of debt. Only 26% of Americans oppose such measures. And we can’t mention education without the need to basic access via broadband internet — especially during a pandemic.

But while Americans overwhelmingly want to treat the internet as an accessible utility for all, we’re beholden to major corporations who instead are more worried about making a profit than they are about ensuring our kids can learn, our sick can access medicine and telehealth, our rural small businesses can access the marketplace, or our farmers can secure the data they need for a successful crop.

And what about the Green New Deal, the allegedly socialist, left-wing pipe dream? Well, it turns out Americans love the outdoors and want to preserve our environment while protecting our economic security. Unsurprisingly, nearly 60% of Americans support the Green New Deal’s initiatives to do just that and only 22% oppose.

But let’s look at something really controversial — firearms. Contrary to the common assumptions, the data shows that Americans overwhelmingly agree on firearm safety, with 64% wanting stricter legislation compared to only 7% who oppose it. An astounding 83% of Americans want to pass universal background checks on all gun sales. Again, on these issues that matter most to Americans, there is large agreement.

This begs the question: Given the overwhelming support for these policies from Americans across the political spectrum, why aren’t these policies laws yet?

In short, because politicians and pundits have convinced us that we are divided. We’ve been fed the myth that no American from our party can do wrong and no American from the opposing party can do right. So we’re convinced, sadly and too often, to vote against our own interests to perpetuate an us-versus-them mentality. To be sure, this doesn’t mean we ignore the aforementioned substantive issues of spiking hate crimes or climate science denial. It means we recognize the source of these injustices aren’t necessarily the vast majority of our fellow Americans.

So why bother with dialogue? Because it helps us realize that our neighbors, co-workers and family members aren’t necessarily the ones who oppose us. Instead, it’s a limited few who cling to power and refuse to support the demands and needs of our overwhelming majority. The overwhelming national agreement on major issues like health care, education, climate justice and even firearm legislation are a framework for us to converge to secure the human dignity we deserve — united.

Qasim Rashid is an attorney, an author and a former candidate for Virginia’s 1st Congressional District. He lives in Stafford. Follow him on Twitter: @QasimRashid

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