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Tea Party and MoveOn activists joining voices to reinstate Glass-Steagall? That's not far-fetched... this is common ground.

I admit that I had butterflies in my stomach last week when I thought about co-hosting a Living Room Conversation about crony capitalism with my friend Mark Meckler, who is a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. Living Room Conversations are intimate structured conversations that invite grassroots progressives and conservatives to build relationships and find common ground on diverse issues. Talking to Mark on the phone over the last couple of years I've learned that I really like Mark personally and that we have remarkably different views on many political issues. Our intent for this first conversation was to focus on identifying opportunities to work together because as our friend Ralph Benko, who introduced us, points out that "when we get to know each other we get to like each other and when we discover how much we like each other... solutions start to come easy and problems start to melt away of their own accord."

Mark arrived at my door wearing his signature cowboy hat, big belt buckle and warm smile. But that was not all, he brought delicious baked goods made by his wife Patty and two friends to join our conversation. Once we'd introduced my friends and Mark's friends and made sure everyone had what they needed, I apologized to Joe, the reporter from the SF Chronicle, for our plan to ignore him completely and we began our conversation.

This was a conversation that was a bit different than the standard Living Room Conversation because we had a reporter present and because of Mark and my roles in the conservative and progressive movement. I thanked everyone profusely for their willingness to have a public Living Room Conversation and we dug in. Mark asked me to tell his friends how MoveOn started and then we wanted to hear from Mark about how he helped start Tea Party Patriots. Generally we followed the suggested structure for a Living Room Conversation but to some extent round two and three blurred together. This worked fine with a group that it turned out had no adversarial vibe at all. We were curious about each other and really wanted to understand how we might work together to make our democracy and our communities more successful.

The conversation was enthusiastic, lively and primarily focused on all the common ground we saw as well as revealing many issues we would like to talk more about. Right or left, none of us are comfortable with the degree of influence that big corporations have on government regulation. I tried to keep track of the issues we would like to have future conversations about as well as areas where we would like to find ways to support change.

I recorded interest in further conversations about:

  • Unions
  • Education
  • Families
  • Reducing drug use
  • Less going to subsidies and more for the good of families

Things we agree we would like to see:

  • Reduce big business influence on government
  • Reinstate Glass-Steagall Act
  • Reduce government mandated nonproductive burdensome paperwork
  • Develop a set of Living Room Conversations about criminal justice

I was impressed by the frank conversation, laughter and pleased that we all seemed to discover that there is "more common ground than expected." Joe the reporter noticed that everyone stuck around talking even after we had our official ending. The only reason folks left when they did is Mark needed to get home by 6.

I somehow doubt that even solutions that we agree upon across partisan lines are going to be easy to implement. But it is an important starting point for creating the changes we need. Moreover, for those issues that we did not tackle -- climate, gun safety, taxes -- we are going to do a better job creating policy and solutions when we have respectful collaborative engagement with our friends who hold different views.

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