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Civility panel brings together Republicans, Democrats

The event, hosted by the Grinnell League of Women Voters, featured panelists Rachel Bly (left) and Chris Varney (right). Photo by Elena Copell.

To promote better civil discourse between the Democratic and Republican parties during the 2018 Midterm Elections, The Grinnell League of Women Voters hosted a panel on civil discourse on Oct. 9 at the United Church of Christ in Grinnell. 

Terese Grant, the President of the Grinnell League of Women Voters and the moderator of the panel, said in an interview with The S&B that even though Democrats and Republicans have perspectives that are fundamentally different, It is essential that both parties work together in order to make mutually beneficial decisions.

I think this [panel] shows we can work together if we sit down and just talk to each other and listen, said Grant.

At the beginning of the panel, Bly and Varney were asked what they appreciated most about living in America. For Bly, it’s the democracy an American is exposed to the right to vote and elect leaders along with the right to speak openly and the educational resources that are provided by the government. 

From Varney’s point of view, The thing that I love is the melting pot. I have been through the plains to the North, to the South, and I can appreciate this country and the people – everybody that lives in it. It is very difficult for a country, because we are so diverse. 

When asked whether the country is heading in the wrong direction, Blys and Varneys views differed. Varney divided the direction of the country into two parts: economic and social. 

I believe our economy is naturally improving and rolling, but clearly from a social angle we are not communicative with one another. We are not talking to each other, Varney said.

From Bly’s perspective, The negativity [and] the lack of conversation, the lack of ability to relate, is heading us in the wrong direction and is gonna tear us apart as a nation. Bly also mentioned that unsolved issues like poverty and the government being unrepresentative of its people concern her as well.

Discussing the impacts of the deep political divisions on the U.S. and its people, both Bly and Varney expressed similar concerns. 

You can’t get better policy unless you really look at all sides. So in some ways, I think that’s important to have some divisions and some disagreements. However, I think that it is to a point now that it’s heading in a direction that is not healthy for the nation. We are fracturing ourselves as a nation and becoming less civil as we do that. So I think that this also leads to bad policy and bad behaviors because we cease to listen, Bly said.

In the same vein, Varney expressed his concern about the political division he experienced in the community surrounding the recent school bond election, during which there were fierce arguments between voters and no effective plan was achieved.

I dont like when this town, when this community is just divided right down in the middle, and it was divided I think because there is mistrust on both sides. Basically [because of] our refusal to compromise … weve accomplished nothing. Varney said.

After the panel both Bly and Varney agreed that the discussion on civil discourse was a step in the right direction. Actually I think it is the first time that we have really done something like this, that is focused on sort of positive political discourse, Bly said.

I have only been here for two years,” said Varney, “and I sort [of] asked the question to some people in our parties like, ‘When was the last time anyone of our chamber has met with the Democratic chamber?’ and we couldn’t remember the last time. So I think Rachel and I are treading on a new ground in Poweshiek County.

The event, hosted by the Grinnell League of Women Voters, featured panelists Rachel Bly (left) and Chris Varney (right). Photo by Elena Copell.
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