Nationally, politics is really divisive. Less so in Oregon. Here in Salem, we're kind of at a middling state of political tension. Intense nastiness rarely is overt, but under the surface irritations fester.
Conservatives, progressives, and everybody in-between (or something else) never are going to hold hands and sing kumbaya together. But I've got a more realistic goal:
Local politicians and other community leaders get together annually for a good-hearted roast of each other and, equally importantly, themselves.
A couple of things would be essential for this to be a success. #1, a copious amount of alcohol. Beer, wine, mixed drinks. #2, a willingness for roasters and roastees to embrace jokes and insults with good relaxed humor.
(Which is why #1 is so important.)
I sort of like this name for the roast: “A Mingling of the Tribes." By tribe, I mean a collection of like-minded people who normally hang out mostly with each other. Salem has many "tribes" with different political, cultural, religious, and other sorts of views.
So I like the theme of mingling, strange bedfellows, that sort of thing.
I see this as a dinner, possibly a fundraiser for some universally-admired community cause. There could be assigned seating spots for some attendees.
For example, we’d have the Salem Weekly and Statesman Journal publishers sitting next to each other. Ditto for Chuck Bennett and Carole Smith, who ran against each other in the 2016 Mayor’s race. An avid supporter of the Third Bridge would sit next to Jim Scheppke, an avid opponent. My wife, who has organized a Salem atheist discussion group, could sit next to the minister of a fundamentalist evangelical church. An immigrant rights advocate could be seated with a Strong Borders advocate. And so on.
We could have these people, along with a moderator/M.C., make jokes about themselves and each other. Then each “odd couple” would have a photo taken posing in an interesting fashion (arms around each other, thumbs up, hugging, whatever).
This wouldn't mean that they agree with each other. Maybe it wouldn't even mean that they like each other. It simply would mean that beneath our differences, we all share a common humanity and a common concern for Salem.
Roasts are fairly common. Political roasts, not so much. I could only find a few examples of these at a community level. The Los Angeles Political Roast picks on a single city or county leader.
For one night, the Roast brings together over 1,000 individuals from the world of politics, philanthropy and business to roast a Los Angeles city or county leader and poke fun at colleagues. People put rancorous, partisan politics aside and join together in the effort to find a cure for diabetes.
That's fine. I just envision something different than a typical roast that focuses on a particular person.
In Connecticut there's an annual political roast that's a bit closer to what I'm thinking of.
In the midst of election season, politicians gathered Friday for an annual political roast where in good spirits they ribbed their opponents, their allies, and themselves.
Held in the Lake Compounce ballroom, the 133rd Crocodile Club reunion dinner is an opportunity for Hartford's archrivals to put aside their political differences and enjoy a hearty lunchtime meal, complete with a beer and a cigar, as tradition at the long-running event dictates. Statewide candidates sat on a stage Friday and took turns stepping up to the microphone to exchange jabs in front of the capacity crowd of more than 400 guests, who sat elbow-to-elbow at picnic tables dining on meat and potatoes.
But I don't see Salem's "Mingling of the Tribes" as a solely political affair. Sure, the Mayor and City Councilors should get their fair share of ribbing (since there would be a vegetarian dinner option, we could also call it "tofu'ing").
And so should other people who, roughly speaking, could be called community leaders. Importantly, I really like the idea of requiring these people to make some jokes about themselves, along with roasting members of an opposing "tribe."
If we can't laugh at ourselves, we have no business making fun of other people. For example, my wife and I find religious believers, especially fundamentalists, to be worthy of mockery. Yet us atheists have our own quirks that are worthy of ridicule.
(Well, I'm confident that we do, even though I have trouble thinking of any at the moment. That's the beauty of my roast idea: if you're a community leader who is having trouble coming up with a joke about yourself, believe me, people who butt heads with you will be glad to point out your foibles.)
Anyway, I throw this idea out in hopes that it could become a reality.
Whenever I meet someone in person whom I've only argued with on social media, or heard negative things about from a third party, I'm always amazed what a difference getting together face-to-face makes.
I realize that even though I disagree with them about some community issue, they're a caring, concerned, thoughtful person, just as I am. And if we leave aside the particular things we differ about, we have a lot in common.
In a small town, this sort of personal contact happens naturally.
In a city as large as Salem, where people of a particular "tribal flavor" tend to flock together, we need to have some organized ways to bring folks into the same room -- where they share drinks, food, and jokes for at least one night a year.
[Update: Over on my HinesSight blog I've written about a broader view of a Mingling of the Tribes project in "Mingling of the Tribes" effort could help heal divisiveness in Salem.]