Mismatch.org is part of Joan Blades’ plan to unite the world.
Blades is a delightful mismatch of a person herself. She is a liberal and lifelong resident of Berkeley, California, who with her husband started MoveOn.org in 1998, to persuade the world to censure President Bill Clinton and “move on” from the Monica Lewinsky affair. The country didn’t move on, but their petition started a progressive political movement.
But Blades knew that she existed in a “progressive bubble” and that she wasn’t hearing or meeting people with different – and possibly better – ideas. So she’s been involved with various efforts through the years, including one that brought her to Boise last week: Living Room Conversations.
Blades was profiled in the Feb. 27 PBS documentary “American Creed,” the segment in which the Berkeley liberal sits down and talks with Mark Meckler, the founder of Tea Party Patriots. Yes, they have many differences. But they also agreed on a surprising number of things. Turns out, they liked each other.
Last week Blades appeared at Boise State’s Civility Symposium and on her Boise visit met with various civic, nonprofit and faith groups to explain her experience and recruit some potential living rooms to the conversation.
Boise State graduate student Dave McKerracher works with the student and community arms of the Treasure Valley Citizen Network. He met Blades and a few days later pitched the concept to the network, which is applying for grants and plans on hosting some Living Room Conversations. It’s a simple concept: One co-host invites another co-host with a different perspective on a chosen topic. They each invite two friends. The program offers topics and ground rules for the six-person conversation.
Tri Robinson, the retired pastor of Vineyard Christian Fellowship, met Blades and introduced her to a receptive church staff. Congregations in general tend to skirt around tough issues, he said. “Church leaders across the country don’t know how to handle the political and cultural division and animosity we are facing,” he said. “I think Joan gives the tools to deliberately bring conflict out in the open and deal with it head on.”
Which brings us to Mismatch.org.
Mismatch is for schools now, and soon for churches. If you’re looking for someone to host a conversation with, the app will help you find a mismatch with someone who is of a different mind but is willing to talk. One day, it will offer a mismatch service for anyone.
One of the things my job and my involvement with civic organizations has taught me is just how many Joans we have in this world, and how many Living Room Conversation-style efforts they are undertaking (my favorite may be Make America Dinner Again). There are plenty of people who shout and finger-point on social media. But there are more who are eager for a conversation that is not about getting the last word. There’s a network, the Bridge Alliance, dedicated to helping 80 of these groups.
Joan Blades is a certifiable liberal who has had success in the real world of partisan politics. She knows that’s not enough.
She is most worried about what is happening to the climate. She knows she can’t lecture her skeptical friends about climate change. But she’s found that everyone can talk about energy and conservation. So that’s where she starts.
She tells of a new ally in Utah, a man who wasn’t interested in her issue. But now that they are friends, and he knows what the threat to the climate means to her, he wants to know more. And she learned from him how religious conservatives often feel marginalized, and now she’s aware and concerned, too.
“When I care about you, and you care about me, things start to shift, boundaries soften,” she said. “All of a sudden, I care a little bit about what you care about … and things change. That is the heart of this work that we’re doing.”
Is Blades a naïve do-gooder, out of touch with contemporary society? Maybe. Or, perhaps, she’s showing us all the kind of small steps we can take to start repairing our society and reclaiming our politics.