Clallam County Democrats and Republicans from Sequim and Port Angeles joined Joy Helmer for dinner and a transpartisan discussion at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5., in Helmer’s cozy living room.
Helmer’s goal was to hold a civil discussion where friends with different perspectives and points of view could come together and share their thoughts and beliefs.
“I look for ways to connect with people so they can feel honored and seen,” Helmer said of her experience in transpartisan work.
After dinner, everyone gathered around Helmer’s living room table and seated themselves on a couch and sofas forming an oval-like structure, with two moderators sitting in the middle of the group.
Guests came from all walks of life, from military families to churches to welfare work.
Some guests said they came to the meeting because they wanted to hear what opposing parties had to say, others came to support their friends and some came to see if people in their communities are really as polarized as they seem after the general election last November.
Helmer explained that in a transpartisan meeting, there always are two co-hosts that serve as moderators, one from each party, and equal numbers representing two different groups, in this case, an equal number of three Democrats and three Republicans.
Each guest was handed an outline of how the meeting would work with five rounds of questions addressing different discussion topics, such as, “Why are we all here?”, “What are your core values?” and “Describe the political climate you would like to have.”
As the discussions started, guests were hesitant at first to express their opinions. Helmer made sure to keep the dialogue in check by reiterating that guests were not to comment on what each other was saying, but to listen and then share their own thoughts.
She said this way, guests understood the ground rules of the transpartisan meeting and agreed to see and hear each other rather than debating with each other.
The meeting lasted for two hours and as time went on guests were able to successfully listen and share their thoughts. The dialogue remained thoughtful and constructive, and Helmer was able to get through all five rounds of questions in the time allotted for the meeting.
At the end, guests were noticeably more cheerful. They seemed to develop deep respect for one another after listening and sharing their thoughts and perspectives. Some even expressed they felt more hopeful for the future, having seen success at this transpartisan meeting and hoping a larger society also could adopt a similar language.
“One of the things I’ve been thinking about is if somehow I can contribute something for this country to be something I would like to see,” said Helmer.
“Maybe we as citizens have to get far more involved in solving problems and finding solutions that actually work and for that we need to have people coming from all sides.”
Helmer has been involved in transpartisan work since 2008 when she felt disturbed by some of the rhetoric that was used during the 2008 election campaigns.
She also shared that she had to learn how to listen after being disowned by her family for 16 years. She said she had to be the first to reconcile with her family and has continued to explore how to resolve conflict and teach people how to listen so they also can be heard.
In the future, the group discussed possibly expanding their transpartisan meeting to a larger setting or gathering people together to work on specific projects or issues in the community.
For more information about transpartisan work, contact Joy Helmer at 206-601-6563.