Working Together for the Common Good
In this highly charged political climate, can people with differing political views work together without rancor? Last Saturday evening I had a remarkable experience. I was on the fundraising committee for the Shropshire Music Foundation – an amazing organization founded by Liz Shropshire, to provide elementary music training to children in refugee camps. It began in Kosovo 20 years ago and has since expanded to Northern Ireland, Uganda, Greece, and Bangladesh. Simple lessons on the pennywhistle and the harmonica brought an invaluable change to the children’s lives. An important part of the program is training the teenagers in the program to become teachers. The confidence those youth teachers gain is beyond description. More than 19,000 children have gone through her program and have been blessed.
On Saturday night there was a large fundraising concert for the Foundation. There, the audience heard from Fitore Shllaku, a Shropshire alumnus who worked as a youth teacher in the program in Kosovo starting when she was 13 years old. Her story was incredibly moving, as she described the horror of the war, the pain of losing everything, and the loss of hope that stems from the difficult life-altering choices of others. We were impressed when she told of how, because of the confidence she gained as a teacher, she obtained a student visa for the United States and graduated from Penn State with a degree in architecture. She now works in her field in Pittsburgh. There were few dry eyes in the hall after her comments, and the enthusiastic participation in the auction that soon followed punctuated the impact that her story had on everyone there.
Why am I sharing this story? Because of what I witnessed that night. As a member of the committee I had many opportunities to talk to a large swath of the people who attended the event. I spoke with liberals, conservatives, and independents. There were those who despised our current president and those who admired him and those who were somewhere in the middle. But despite that, despite the huge gulf in political ideology, these individuals were able to come together and work as a group for a common goal – providing instruments and equipment to the children who suffer the horrible effects of war, violence, or extreme poverty. No one cared whether Liz was liberal or conservative; the goal was the children and because that was the focus, the children richly benefited.
I’ve thought a lot about this. Watching the way people interacted with one another as they were engaged in a cause greater than themselves was inspiring. There were no bitter enemies in the crowd, and no jockeying to prove one was better than another – there was only open camaraderie and friendly interaction. And watching this I found myself wondering how this attitude of cooperation could be expanded into the wider realm. I witnessed it for a short time after 9-11, but not since. Surely it is possible to find a way to unite when the good of the nation is on the line!
I have always said that when I am elected that I will set aside my ego regarding my personal agenda and seek for respectful cooperation with my colleagues. Saturday night, however, drove that point home in a vivid way. Achieving my personal political agenda is all well and good, but if it comes at the cost of civility and respect, it isn’t worth it, and probably won’t accomplish what I have set out to do anyway. The old adage, “you can attract more flies with honey than vinegar” comes to mind. When I am elected, I will work hard to persuade my colleagues of my ideas and ideals. I will listen to their views. I won’t demonize them because they hold views that are different than my own, but instead I will work with them to find areas of common ground that can become the basis for meaningful legislation. The nation is not served by a legislature that refuses to work together and who demonize every idea by the opposing party. Name calling and the spewing of broad stereotypes only drives the nation further apart, leaving little room for helping resolve the issues facing the country. Progress can only be made if we don’t believe that every Democrat is a socialist or that every Republican is uncaring and greedy.
I am convinced that the only path forward for this nation is the path of civil cooperation. The political sides with their visions of the future may be vastly different, but I believe that people on both sides of the political spectrum love America and have an underlying patriotism. Questioning motivations and focusing on the most extreme positions of party members only leads to further division, greater suspicion, and fewer accomplishments on behalf of the citizens of this country. I vow to always work to advance American ideals and to do so with openness and integrity. As a member of a smaller political party, I won’t be controlled or swayed by loud party voices demanding fealty or lockstep voting. I will be able to work with all sides to find the solutions that will best serve the people of the 4th Congressional District, and in turn serve the people of the United States.