Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Two rural communities, one in Mass., one in Eastern Ky., try to bridge the political divide with meetings, visits

Kentucky and Massachusetts residents participated in the first session in October in Leverett, Mass. (Photo provided)
The political divide in America may seem insurmountable, but two rural communities, one liberal and one conservative, are trying to bridge that gap with an ongoing outreach project to better understand one another.

Hands Across the Hills was launched by 18 liberal residents of Leverett, Mass., just after the 2016 election; they reached out to residents of Whitesburg, Ky., because they wanted to better understand not just how people could have voted for President Trump, but Appalachian culture overall, Richie Davis writes for The Daily Yonder (published by the Center for Rural Strategies, based in Whitesburg).

Led by Paula Green, who has led similar cross-cultural efforts for decades in war-torn areas like Bosnia and Rwanda, the project kicked off with a four-day visit in Leverett last October and continued with a visit to Whitesburg this April. "The exchange included home stays with participants and a 'show and tell' of the cultural treasures of each group — like a visit to a . . . coal mine and a bakery to rehabilitate former inmates in the community," Davis writes. "The dialogues, deeply personal and direct, featured one Kentucky woman’s emotional sharing regret over an abortion she’d experienced and stories of family members who’d died in mining accidents, while some Leverett members recounted stories of relatives who had died in or fled the European Holocaust — the first immigrant stories some Kentucky guests had encountered.

Though the groups disagreed on some issues, like guns and Trump, they found common ground in the opioid crisis and worries about the nation's future. "Their dialogue continues online, with monthly calls on follow-up projects: a conversation over guns, a discussion with two African American communities, and even working to nudge their diametrically opposed senators toward dialogue as well," Davis writes. "Critics and cynics may see this work as starry-eyed futility. Yet in the long run, there’s really no alternative if we’re to heal deepening divisions and weave together a United States again."

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