Dear Mr. President,
My name is Molly Barker.
I am the founder of an organization called Girls on the Run. You may have heard of it. I believe your daughters’ school has a team.
I am writing you after having just seen your State of the Union Address. Regardless of where Americans land on politics, policy and economics, you articulated beautifully the frustrations a large majority of us feel about the highly polarized and dysfunctional gridlock that now paralyzes, not just our government but our lives.
You spoke from the heart. I believe this to be true.
This fall, I founded a program entitled the Red Boot Coalition. (www.theredbootcoalition.org) Our mission is to get beneath the labels, ideologies, anger and fear, by creating safe spaces for people to engage as human beings…to see the humanity of ourselves in the humanity of another. One hour in length, the meetings are easy to facilitate (there is a very disciplined script utilized at every meeting) and are based on the Eleven Red Boot Steps. Here is a copy. http://theredbootcoalition.org/the-eleven-steps-some-background
The content for the Eleven Steps came from insight I gained last summer. So distressed by what I had seen and experienced with a failed attempt to address the polarization issue by engaging Members of Congress in dialogue about it, I decided to get to the heart of the matter. I took the entire month of August and drove from one coast to the other (and back) interviewing hundreds of Americans about “what’s underneath all the vitriol, anger and highly polarized dialogue.”
The results were just as you suggested in your State of the Union Address. We do not know each other anymore. Face to face encounters have become fewer. 24/7 news stations, our smart phones, technology, decreasing spheres of connectedness…we are a nation of stereotypes, sound bytes, labels and ideologies. This “us versus them” mentality is, as we have witnessed across the nation (and world) not just a political issue, but one that impacts us at a deep and often painful level. Whether it’s race, religion, economics, sexuality, gender or politics the “us versus them” mindset is tearing us apart.
And yet…while on my month-long journey I experienced quite the opposite. I was able to engage with people from all walks of life about these typically volatile topics because we engaged in a way that got beneath the surface…got down to our shared humanity. We mattered to each other. The Eleven Red Boot Steps are, in essence, the eleven “rules of engagement” I used in each of these dialogues. Red Boot meetings utilize these same “rules of engagement’ to get to know each other again…to bring down the walls of indifference, anger and demonization and lift us up to what really matters…people.
Red Boot Meetings are now being held in several communities across the nation. People from all walks of life are gathering together “to matter” to one another. I am humbled by the response and even more humbled by the willingness of people, within those rooms, to share their true selves with one another.
The ripple effect from these meetings is only now beginning, but it is beginning. Attendees walk away with a new understanding of those who are different or who have opposing views. Once you engage at this deep human level, it becomes virtually impossible to demonize or minimize the “other.”
Based on the remarks in your State of the Union Address tonight, I believe that you and many others on Capitol Hill, long for a new way to engage. I believe, because I am living it, that the vision of which you spoke tonight (and that others have called idealistic) is achievable using the Red Boot Program.
I smile as I write this. I can only imagine what I will be labeled in writing this letter to you! Crazy! Idealistic! Unrealistically optimistic! And to the cynics and naysayers I shout joyfully and unabashedly, “Yes! Yes I am!”
And so Mr. President, you and I know the current model of engagement is not working. I have a tangible, doable, achievable “solution.” I would be immensely honored and infinitely grateful to sit down over coffee, face to face, and tell you all about it.