The Civility Project seeks to bridge the partisanship divide

From polarization in Congress to divisive partisanship in communities, politics in many ways has become mired in hostility.

Recent analysis done by the Pew Research Center shows Democrats and Republicans are farther apart today than at any time in the past 50 years and it’s having a detrimental impact- severing friendships, and in some cases inciting violence.

But two unlikely friendships and one initiative are bringing hope and a roadmap to how civility can be restored.

Katie Kraemer and Muhammed Smidi have a lot in common. They both went to the same high school – and were part of the same extracurricular club.

Each one calls the other a friend despite the one big thing they don’t see eye to eye on politics. 

“We have pretty different opinions on a wide range of issues,” says Smidi.

Katie identifies as a liberal. Muhammed? A conservative.

“I remember like sophomore year, Muhammed told me he wanted to be president one day, and he wanted to run as a Republican, and I was like hey you know, have some good views and I might vote for you in 20 years or whatever,” says Kraemer.

But what started as jokes turned into spirited debates, as Katie and Muhammed found their political voice as students at Oakland University.

“We’ve run organizations on campus that literally stand for opposing views,” says Kraemer.

The two have differing politics, sexual orientations, and religions, but today, say they’re closer than ever before, making this friendship a rarity—- particularly as partisan hostility grows.

The pew research center has found a majority of Democrats and Republicans now view members of the opposing party as “immoral” and “dishonest” – Republicans viewing Democrats as “lazy”.

“The whole point of this is to be able to see people beyond their politics,” says journalist Stephen Henderson.

Enter The Civility Project, the initiative of two journalists to break down hostility and encourage more civility through workshops & dialogue. It is sponsored by Delta Dental and Huntington Bank.

“It breaks down the assumptions, leads to more respect for one another,” says Nolan Finley.

Today, Finley of the Detroit News and Henderson of NPR have teamed up to host discussions in company workplaces, school districts, and community groups, helping those who don’t see eye to eye at least see through to the other side – an idea that was born out of their own unique friendship

bridging the partisanship divide
From polarization in Congress to divisive partisanship in communities, politics in many ways has become mired in hostility.

“We don’t agree on almost anything, but we do it in a way that’s respectful,” says Henderson. “We’ve gotten here because of the division that we see over politics and culture.”

Some have blamed rhetoric at the top and others? Cable news stations that have leaned into the division.

“It’s fear, and it’s easier to fear what you don’t know,” says Henderson.

But since the pandemic began, the project has seen big demand to squash the fear, the two having now led over 100 discussions

“It says people really want something different,” says Henderson.

“There’s a hunger I believe for civility and for how to get to a more civil place,” says Finley.

And perhaps, even get to a friendship where the no-go topics aren’t off the table and where one person disagreeing with the other is viewed through a vein of acceptance versus hate.

“There’s that mutual respect that we have for each other that it’s a conversation,” says Smidi.

“We’re allowed to disagree and still like each other as people,” says Kraemer.

Initially posted at WXYZ Detroit