Let's Talk America

The fate of our democracy may depend on it

| March / April 2004

All social change starts with a conversation.
-- Meg Wheatley

Thirteen years ago, Utne incited our readers to start a revolution in their living rooms. In a special cover story on salons, we put out a call for people to get together and talk -- about politics, culture, education, the arts, whatever they were thinking and obsessing about. That call struck a chord. Over 8,000 readers responded and asked to be matched up with other Utne readers in their community. The neighborhood salons movement was born.

At its peak in 1995, our Neighborhood Salon Association had 25,000 members in some 600 groups meeting monthly across the continent and in several foreign countries. We eventually decided that the movement had become a force all its own and let go of our role in overseeing salons. Many of these people are still getting together, such as the lively bunch in West Palm Beach, Florida, profiled on the back page of this issue.

Can we talk?

Americans need to talk today more than ever, especially about politics. We don't need more diatribes or name-calling. We need meaningful conversations with people who agree -- and disagree -- with our views and values. In an uncertain era when so many people are frightened and disillusioned, our whole country needs more meaningful discussions of issues in this crucial election year.

Politics isn't inherently polarizing. Politics is people thinking together about their shared future with the freedom to articulate their dreams and voice their differences in a fair and safe arena. Americans want the feel of a classic 'town meeting' again. They need intelligent and respectful dialogue that can be heard across various political divides.

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