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4th of July with The People 

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Letters To The Editor

by Tony Catanzarite

To The Editor:

My name is Tony Catanzarite. I'm a 58 year old husband and father to 4 grown children and lifelong resident of the Michiana area living in Edwardsburg, Michigan. Looking forward to celebrating our independence with a new attitude.

Recently I was selected along with 100 others from our general population of the U.S.A. to participate in the inaugural 2019 National Assembly sponsored by The People! Two from every state and one from Puerto Rico. I'm writing you to reflect on this once in a lifetime perspective of altering opportunity that I feel so blessed to have experienced.

Our hosts, The People, a nonprofit nonpartisan initiative, brought us together in Washington D.C. on the weekend of May 17th-19th with the hope of determining why our great country is divided. So, they chose us, all 101 from an online survey and several in person events. Five of our staff members visit 20 states and sifted through thousands of potential attendees soliciting as much diversity as possible in a sincere attempt to complement and reflect the current demographics of our population. Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, veterans, retail clerks, school teachers, laborers, economically challenged, financially set, young, old, students, retirees, transgender, highly educated, modestly educated, various ethnicities, non-binary, ex politicians, and many other types of Americans. We were confined to the Wink Motel for 48 hours. We were asked questions about the current state of our country. Where do we think our country is heading? What are our problems here in the U.S.? What can the 101 of us selected do to help? The questions were well prepared and stimulating to me. Creating discourse, emotion, and division. They opened dialogue. The interaction from strangers, people I had just met was exhilarating. People I would eventually call my friend when the weekend was over. sharing life stories, debating, pushing each other's buttons, and compromising. All in an effort to reach the goal of our hosts, "Common Ground"!

The concept was well contemplated and presented to the attendees. We were divided into groups periodically so we could have fresh opportunities to interact with other participants from around the U.S.. At one time we were asked to divide based on political affiliation. With about half stepping to the left and half to the right to signify their choice and the sparse few remaining in the middle, We were asked typical questions regarding politics, spending, healthcare, the environment, civil rights and various other questions that may seem important to the people of our country. When the Q & A session was over, 90% of us were now in the middle. The next question we were asked was, "Why are we divided?" It was very evident that we as Americans all seem to care about the same things, contrary to the way our country is governed.

I was assigned to a group discussing voting rights with about 15 attendees and a moderator. The other topics for our breakout sessions for participants included Do our representatives really represent us? Money in politics and special interest? Corporate and social safety nets? How do we balance individual (liberty value) versus collective (common good value) right? Why is our country divide today? What are the ways that citizens can impact change in politics? Each group was then responsible to share their consensus with the assembly.

Checking out on Sunday was bittersweet. I did not want to leave. I had just bonded with 100 fellow Americans and the wonderful staff. The energy and spirit were divine Of course I did not know what to expect when I arrived. Could I get along with these far leaning leftist or rigidly bent rightist? Did I want to tolerate the diversity and fit in? Could I keep my mouth shut and be a good listener like I promised my wife? I'm often fast in my ideals and perceptions but, this grand and amazing experience brought consciousnesses, light and hope to me as an American. We all, typically 87% or more, agreed on what WE need and want as Americans. We even devised our own "Declaration of The People" to emphasize this desire! What we learned was, It is not our fellow Americans creating our problems. It's a bias media, corrupt politicians, renegade law enforcement, government gerrymandering, inefficient leadership, lack of corporate and social accountability, social injustice, clean air and drinkable water, our future! We were challenged and we responded. In a way I hope and pray would make our fellow Americans proud.

I've been divided! Now that I've learned from this experience that I'm not much different than the rest of the country, I have a new passion. I have chosen to be a part of The People, for my people. We must all come together and make a stand, as one, if we ever want to change the system for the better. We are a nonpartisan agenda focused on cleaning up politics and putting government back where it belongs. For the People, by the People.

We as Americans, for our immediate future and that of our grandchildren and those that will follow, must be responsible and make political change a priority. We can no longer accept the ineptness of a floundering special interest government, with the expectations that our leaders are looking out for us and that a biased media is giving us facts and truth.

I truly thank Ben Walton for giving me the call to attend. I didn't believe him at first. And a visionary young woman named Katie Fahey for her leadership and inspiration. Kudos to the remaining staff for their patience, positivity, and hospitality. I urge my fellow Americans to check us out and get involved at thepeople.org! We look forward to meeting you,

Sincerely,

Tony Catanzarite
by Cindi Stevens

To The Editor:

America is politically divided to an extreme level and it is tearing away at who we are as a nation. Americans on opposite ends of the political spectrum are having difficulties communicating with, listening to, and building or maintaining relationships with those who think differently than themselves. The current polarization is being fueled by political parties and politicians, partisan media and a political rift that has been in place, and growing, for years.

This polarization has personally impacted me as a registered Independent who is a conservative. Friends whom I had on Facebook for years unfriended me after the 2016 election when they learned I voted for President Trump. Friends and family members who think differently than me are frequently hesitant to speak with me about important political issues that affect all of us as Americans. Some, including my own college-aged children, even refuse to discuss issues with me at all. As a conservative in northern Virginia who works in DC, I often feel there is no place for me at the table in discussing issues with the people around me.

Despite the challenges and polarization in America, I believe all is not lost. There are things Americans can do to change course and come together. I, for one, have hosted state-level meetings for a non-partisan organization called The People, which has the mission of bringing Americans together to engage in civil discourse and to establish and carry out nonpartisan governmental reforms. In May, I attended the First National Assembly of The People (http://thepeople.org/dc-event/), which brought together people representing all demographics, sides, and views from all 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico in order to bridge political divides, establish that our American Values are in jeopardy, and overcome our differences for the sake of the nation. I plan to participate in The People’s 4th of July challenge aimed at reaching out to people with whom I no longer communicate on Facebook as well as to join in The People’s social media campaign, #US4US, in order to support the movement to bridge divides and to show my fellow Americans how I am celebrating Independence Day.

It’s my strong belief that if Americans put an effort towards coming together as a nation to address the failures of our political system and to reaffirm our unity and our right to equal representation as citizens of the United States of America, we can be unified and strong enough to solve any problem facing Americans today.

by Talena Renee Grindle

To The Editor:

On May 27, 1774, several dozen delegates representing colonies across this land assembled at the Raleigh Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg. The fate of the people was riding on them. This was the beginning of the end. The people of America had no representation and their lawmakers were ignoring their demands. It was time to rally the troops.

“The unhappy Disputes between Great Britain and her American Colonies ... have proceeded to Lengths so dangerous and alarming as to excite just Apprehensions ... that they (the people of America) are in Danger of being deprived of their natural, ancient, constitutional, and chartered Rights, have compelled them to take the same into their most serious Consideration; and, being deprived of their usual and accustomed Mode of making known their Grievances, have appointed us their Representatives to consider what is proper to be done in this dangerous Crisis of American Affairs.” (Instructions by the Virginia Convention to Their Delegates in Congress, August 1774)

On May 17, 2019, almost exactly 245 years later, several dozen delegates representing every state, US territories, and Washington DC once again assembled. They had several sessions, one was at the Library of Congress to see the founding documents, as a reminder of why this nation was founded...for the voice of the people. I was fortunate enough to be a part of it. We not only represented the places we live, we represented all races, religions, gender, orientation, and socioeconomic statuses. Far more representation and diversity than were present 245 years ago. We too assembled because we feel our voices constantly fall on deaf ears. We feel we lack representation, we are ignored by our lawmakers.

Our voices have been silenced by money, corporations, special interest groups, and the media. Our social media platforms are being weaponized and used against us, and yellow journalism and propaganda are rampant.

The people met to remind ourselves and one another that we have the power to change this. We are a nation of amazing people... diverse and hopeful. We want to prevent our individual liberties from being diminished. We want to protect one another... our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community. We will no longer be divided. We will no longer allow politicians or activists to refer to our fellow Americans in derogatory terms. When you live in a nation in which the politicians are referring to voters as snowflakes or deplorable because they too are caught up in the divisive chaos... something is wrong at the very heart of that nation. This is evidence that our nation is sick, she is in trouble.

Sinclair Lewis said it best, “Intellectually, I know America is not better than any other country; emotionally I know she is better than every other country”

Our national identity exists within us, the people. We feel it, we embrace it. Americans, we love our country. We love the people that make up this great nation. But, we are ashamed. We are ashamed of ourselves for allowing this to happen. We are ashamed that the legacy left to us by former great Americans has been tainted by greed, fear, and hatred. We are ashamed to turn on our TVs and open our newspapers. We want to work to make America a place where we can communicate with respect and admiration for all people. We want emotional maturity and common sense. We want our voice back. We want our lawmakers to stop fundraising and talk to us. We want them to take notes and discuss issues openly and honestly with one another and us. We want them to find common ground. It can be done. This crisis is survivable and we can fix this. So, let’s rally the troops.

Sincerely,

Talena Renee Grindle

@thepeopleorg #US4US
by David Valente

To The Editor:

As we celebrate this most American of holidays, our Republic is sick with 2 endemic issues: Lack of Civility and Voter Apathy. Over the last year, we have had plenty for our political leaders to be ashamed of. From President Trump’s tweets, to political leaders running internal purges of their party, to injuring people on the floor of the House of Delegates, to delegates threatening to drown their child if they were a different sexuality, to all sides of the education debate in West Virginia, our leaders have put the course in discourse. It is not limited to the halls of power, a simple political debate on social media brings out the beast in the meekest of us in real life. I myself have been guilty. In real numbers, what this has done has driven people from the political process and the state in droves. In West Virginia, we have hemorrhaged 43,000 voters over the first 6 months of 2019. In 2022, West Virginia will be down to 2 Representatives in the US House. The people are voting, with their feet. People are angry and feel they have no voice in the process. We have politicians making things better for those who are connected rather than making West Virginia a quality place to live. And now there are fewer and fewer people engaged to hold them accountable.

So how do we get control back? For civility, I can only control my actions. I choose to be part of the solution. I will engage in civil discourse and try to find common ground where possible. Good people can look at the same issue and identify completely different solutions. How we handle those disagreements is where I will strive to disagree without being disagreeable. When I find common ground, I will work with Democrats, Republicans, Mountains, Libertarians, and Independents to deliver on a good outcome for our community.

Voter apathy is an issue we, the people, must address. We must once again engage our birthright of civic engagement. I have made the commitment to attend city council & school board meetings. I will engage my local Delegate and Senator so that they know that I am watching what they do and I will hold them accountable when they work for the connected few and not the people of West Virginia. The same will be true with my Congressman and Senators. I encourage my fellow West Virginians to do the same.

by Gerard Gully,

To The Editor:

I’ve read so many articles in so many publications that all say the same thing: Americans are divided. But why? The articles always show some new study proving that we’re divided or telling us about the awful effects of the division, but I never see the cause really addressed. Sure, I see classic boogeymen like social media and the 24-hour news cycle, but I never see articles talking about the mindset that leads to the division. After talking with people from all end of the political spectrum, two things are clear: everyone ultimately wants to help the country, and everyone thinks that the other side wants to harm the country. People aren’t willing to acknowledge that their political opponents want what they think is best for the country and just disagree about what specifically that is; the other side has to be “the bad guy” with bad intent. At the end of the day, we really have no one to blame but ourselves for the division. No corporate or global conspiracy did this, we did it by refusing to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Sincerely

Gerard Gully,CA

by Bruce F. Evans

To The Editor:

I am a complete and irredeemable cynic. I have been convinced of that for a decade or more. It's a natural and evolutionarily logical state for a 66-year old guy who spent a career in the hurly-burly world of project finance where "caveat emptor" is the guiding principle. Couple that with a decades-old interest in politics. Seen it. Done it. Closetful of T-shirts.

Then, about a year ago, I stumbled upon (into?) a nascent organization branded, simply, The People (www.thepeople.org). I participated in a 24-person focus group debate on the subject of Baby Boomers vs Millenials. 12 on each side; with either gray hair or a permanently attached iPhone identifying each side of the contest. It was videotaped in the Los Angeles home of FrankLuntz, one of The People's three founders. Frank is a political consultant, pollster and "public opinion guru", best known for developing talking points and other messaging for various Republican causes. He is a frequent guest commentator on cable news outlets. The second founder is Andrew Shue. Andrew has been a social entrepreneur throughout his career in entertainment and business. Andrew is the ying to Frank's yang.

Over the ensuing few months, Frank and Andrew ran focus groups in 10 other cities on as many different political and societal topics. To say that several of these heatedly typified the division and rancor in our public discourse today is an understatement. It wasn't an entirely surprising characteristic, although its intensity was jarring in some cases.

From these beginnings grew the core of a group of citizens willing to undertake a mission to try to return civil discourse to the public square and, more urgently, to the political sphere. The third founder, and driving force at the Assembly, is Katie Fahey who, prior to joining The People, spearheaded a successful and unprecedented drive in Michigan, mobilizing 14,000 volunteers to change that state's Constitution to outlaw gerrymandering. The founders, with a small but committed staff, expanded the core group through town hall meetings and media outreach.

From May 17th to 19th, 100 of us met in Washington, DC, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. This First National Assembly of The People ran a weekend marathon of debate and collaboration to find common ground on a declaration of principles to guide the organization ("movement" might be more accurate) going forward.

This assemblage was more diverse than the bar scene crew from the first Star Wars movie! Democrat and Republican. Twenty-somethings to septuagenarians. Straight and gay. City and country folk. Cis and transgender. Political pros and neophytes. Believer and atheist. Black, white and in between. And the task du weekend was monumental. Modeled on the process by which the Founding Fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence, our task was to find common ground on statements of grievances and visions on seven areas key to the essence of the nation. These included voting rights, individual vs collective rights, money in politics and the motivation and performance of our elected representatives.

Re-enter the cynic. For a few weeks before the event, I questioned my decision to even attend the Assembly. There was no way on Earth that, in this day and age of vitriol and division, a group this disparate could keep from descending into fisticuffs let alone debate respectfully. But it did work, and spectacularly so. Not saying there weren't a few frayed tempers and raised voices here and there, but the tone was largely civil and collaborative. And we came up, based on a supermajority vote, with a Declaration of The People to guide our future efforts as we organize, grow and influence public debate and the political process.

This cynical gray-haired conservative made a few new friends last weekend, among them several liberals, a smattering of millennials, and a Marine/Navy veteran transgender woman. Strong work in just three days. We all heard each other's stories, points of view and hopes for the future. We didn't change each other's minds necessarily, but at least we respectfully engaged in honest debate. And, on a fundamental level, we were able to agree on a set of guiding principles, at least from 30,000 feet.

Now come the hard yards. Translating principles into action and growing the organization across all 50 states. There are other emerging groups with similar goals, so we may be able to team with like-minded folks to more quickly reach our core goal. Namely, to influence politicians to dial down the biliousness and dial up the civility in pursuit of the goal of improving the lot of the electorate they purport to represent. Essentially, we would like to get rid of the Ultimate Fight Club cage match style of politics and, at minimum, return to a Marquis of Queensbury brand of political pugilism. I am more optimistic about our odds for success than I was on May 16th.

Pollyanna. Signing off.
byCarol Gibson,

To The Editor:

My hope for Independence Day is to heal the rift tearing our country apart and causing many to consider those with opposite political views as not just wrong, but evil. Whatever the cause, we must take a reasoned approach to heal this rift. The other side, whichever side that may be, is not unpatriotic. They love this country, and we all want the best for America and its people. This divisiveness has prevented real discussion and inhibited progress. It’s a distraction we don’t need. No one seems exempt. Senator Flake was attacked in a Twitter storm of hate when he criticized President Carter for his comments about the 2016 election. Both men have a right to their opinion and neither deserves to be told to “shut your pie hole” as Flake was.

Let us pledge to not only listen but try to connect. I believe the first step is to stop demonizing each other. Stop name-calling. Really listen! Practice good communication skills. Reflect back to confirm understanding. Ask questions instead of planning your rebuttal. Try to listen without judging. Pretend that you are speaking to your mother or grandmother or your child. Would you speak with such disrespect to them? Carol Gibson, AZ

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