When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a complete shutdown of Muslim immigration in the U. in late 2015, I began to wonder how many people know Muslims as friends, neighbors and colleagues — and whether they have opportunities to talk with them outside of work and social situations that discourage conversations about religion or politics.
As KUOW’s executive producer for community engagement, I realized that such one-to-one conversations should take place, and that our radio station could be a trusted convener.
We have separated ourselves by socio-economic status, race and ethnicity, geography and the media we consume.
Social media creates a bubbles that feed us more of what we agree with — and less of what we don’t.
Our goal was to host one-on-one conversations with little or no moderation. The Seattle Council on American-Islamic Relations helped us find Muslims who were willing to answer questions.
We recruited listeners over the air to participate as “askers.” It took about six weeks to organize our first event, which was held at the KUOW studios.
We also wanted to see if civil dialogues increased trust and empathy enough to address profound differences within a diverse population.
We worked with researchers at the University of Washington — communications professor Valerie Manusov and doctoral candidate Danny Stofleth — to design a valid scientific survey of participants’ attitudes and understanding of the group they met at ”Ask A …” events.
When the event was over, we had to forcefully tell people that it was time to leave. We held a second “Ask A Muslim” in August 2016, using the same format in a different location, a South Seattle community center. The community engagement team decided to try and grow the “Ask A …” idea.We had learned a great deal about choreographing the events so the movement of participants from one conversation to the next went smoothly and audio recording at the event didn’t disrupt the conversations.That fall we received a ,000 University of Washington Amazon Catalyst grant and ,800 contributed by KUOW major donors towards a second season for 2017.The result is that we have fewer encounters with those who have different beliefs, and we don’t know how to talk to each other.Trying to have a civil conversation with family members or friends can sometimes feel like a lost cause.The project is our attempt to address deep polarization in American political discourse, which keeps getting worse each year.As recently at 1994, political attitudes among people who identified themselves as Democrats and Republicans were fairly close, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center.Through a series of events that started in early 2016, we’ve developed a model for facilitating a civil dialogue between people who rarely have opportunities to talk one-on-one.The events, called “Ask A [fill in the blank],” use a speed-dating format to get one-on-one conversations going.Putting people together to discuss the challenges of our time is what democracy is all about.But if we can’t talk through our different perspectives, we can’t come to a consensus.