San Jose, CA: Why this picture matters

President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie meet to tour damage from another storm, Hurricane Irene (

Sometimes language lets us down. Never more than when we reach to capture the most evocative moments.

Anyone who had followed along these past weeks knows that I am, at once, humbled and honored by the people I have met. Reassuring, heart-warming, surprising and funny, I cannot read through my notebook or listen to the audio without smiling. I have returned home more hopeful and confident in the strength and goodness of our country.

So many people have commented on the insights and engagement of the people interviewed. It was a joy. It was also clear that the opportunity to talk was as welcomed as it was unique. Universally, people confided that they had ceased to discuss politics in their every day life. That the kitchen table and water coolers were not safe venues for the exchange of ideals.

Which leads me to the final, unreported aspect of my travels. Over four years ago, I shared the story that started my 2008 journey. It happened at one of those kitchen tables. The subject was marriage equality and the impact on the family and the country. Homosexuality as choice and biblical references ensued. But the defining moment was when a well educated family member posited, ‘Where does it stop? If men can marry men, then what keeps us from allowing men to marry dogs?’ And there it was. An audible clicking noise in my head. The noise that I would come to recognize meant I was done. Disengaged.

It happened on this trip as well. It was among good people that I knew did not share my views. When asked about my motivation, I was determined to keep it safe and simple. My belief that discourse is good for civil society and essential to democracy. That the act of open discussion encourages a better informed electorate. When challenged, I offered what I thought was a safe explanation. I stated that, many years ago, the belief that our president was a Muslim would only have been held by a fraction on our citizens. I wondered if reluctance to engage in discourse may be at the root of the now 34% of Republicans that believe this to be true. Their response? ‘Obama IS a Muslim’

Clicking noise.

I should be clear. It was not only the statement, but it was the way in which the statement was made. It was a declaration. It was absolute. Mention of a lifetime of photographic history of Obama sitting in churches, dismissed. But most importantly, what was clear was that no discussion was invited or necessary. That the only allowable outcome was my validation.

We have all had these moments. Holidays with the family, outings with friends. The either stunned silence or rapid escalation that follows an incendiary comment designed to stop discourse in its tracks. We are held hostage to appeasement or withdrawal. And worse, it has led us to stop trying. To ensure that we only seek out the like-minded in our relationships and our media.

And so it went. I found a total of eight people who wholehearted believe that our president is a Muslim (or its close cousin, not American). A total of six women who, in rapid succession, volunteered a list of the people (family, friends, and in one case, a hairdresser) who have been excommunicated from their lives for the sins of non-compliance.

We cannot alter behavior that we cannot identify. We need new language. We need a word for a person determined to hold a position in spite of facts to the contrary. A term that defines the ‘no discussion will be permitted’ stance that follows. Since I believe that most people who engage in this behavior are usually suffering from a combination of trauma and being ‘stuck’ in a position, I submit the term ‘trucked’.

We need to teach our children to discuss and debate complex ideas. We need to give them the tools to respectfully present and defend those ideas. To listen and to honor critical thinking in themselves and others. And when confronted with intractable, indefensible positions, to stay engaged and to stand up and call it for what it is. Trucked.

All of us want a government that can work together. Almost everyone that I talked to wanted our leaders to do what we are not doing in our own homes. To listen to each other and find our common good.

Two weeks ago, in Boston with my nephew Bryan and his wife Rana, I enjoyed everything that should be possible in political discourse.  Although we have opposing views, we sat for close to three hours, discussing the most difficult social and polarizing financial issues.  It was good, it was civil.  And, I’d like to think, we all learned a little.

So in the end, what this photo and my travels confirmed for me is that we have a choice.  There is no red America, there is no blue America. We are our best when we come together as people and as statesmen.

We simply have allowed the bullies to take over the bus.

And that is fixable.


San Jose, CA: Why this picture matters — 10 Comments

  1. What a spectacularly written summation of what our nation needs. I believe that Barack Obama is going to win this election. It is my great hope that the fringe portion of the Republican Party as witnessed by the primary candidates and their positions will be jettisoned by the majority of their party and that in two years the term moderate Republican will begin to return to the House of Representatives.
    Our nation so desperately needs to move to the middle and solve the huge issues that face our nation. Julie, it has been so rewarding to follow your adventure and to be reassured of the core goodness of Americans. I am hopeful, I am encouraged and I thank you for helping me to feel this way.

  2. Hey Jules,

    Rana and Bryan here. We enjoyed talking with you as well. Seems like a couple good bottles of wine and an unlimited supply of red meat hors d’oeuvres (I had to google the spelling) may be the answer to a lot of questions or… at least a great way to start the conversation.

    Looking forward to the next pilgrimmage in four years.


    • OK, seriously, the wine helped (smile)

      You guys were amazing… thank you for an unforgettable night.

      Love, J

  3. An editorial worthy of page 3 of any newsmagazine! The world runs in cycles, and I think we will return to cooperation someday.

    Welcome home, Julie! After you get rested, settled and re-integrated, I’d love to hear more about your trip.

    - Roderick.

  4. Incredibly important thoughts and a great way to explain the journey’s start, where it is now, and the need for it to continue for all of us. Yes, we have to stay engaged, plant seeds that we hope might someday sprout, and as you are… be willing to accept that the person with whom we so completely disagree may have some seeds to plant which we need to help us grow.

    I think for me, the main roots that are starting to take hold from your journeys are that there are wonderful people to be found on every road and on every bus. In fact, most of the people we encounter turn out to be generous, kind, and ready to help a friend OR a stranger. Around 25% of them have very firm political views that quite closely match our own. Around 25% are polar opposite. And around 50% have all kinds of opinions, but life is so darned hard day to day that those opinions, while nice to hold, don’t really play a big role in their lives. And, at any given moment, a very small percentage of people we might encounter are just plain mean, so unhappy, scared, angry, hurt, broken, stressed, or truly mentally ill that they say things and behave in ways that are truly terrible. But really, that is an incredibly small number of people whom we might run into each day.

    As I sat on Bayshore Blvd. after my tire blew the other night, five different people pulled over to make sure I was OK and a couple of them even offered to help me change the tire. Were they Democrats or Republicans? I don’t know. Did they support my right to be married to my husband? I don’t know. Will they vote for Obama or Romney? I don’t know and frankly, as I sat waiting for the tow truck to come, I didn’t care. All I cared about was getting home after a really long day, standing in the dark and wondering if I’d destroyed the rim or done other damage to the car when the tire blew. A young man from the tow company finally arrived, quickly and efficiently got me back on the road, and drove off to help another stranded Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, mother, father, brother, sister, widow, widower, rich man, poor man, black, white, hispanic or asian.

    Two of the greatest gifts we can give to each other are to help when help is truly needed and to listen, really listen, to get to understand the person with whom we are sharing some sacred moment. Julie – you do both SO well, and your road trip was a special gift to every single person you met, to whom you really listened, and whose story you helped to tell.

    Thanks for doing it. Thanks for sharing it. And whether you ever actually see the fruits grow from the seeds you planted, know that they are out there, growing, and some day an orange may just fall on the head of some silly person who says that two men marrying each other is somehow the same as a man marrying a dog.

  5. This one is my favorite post. I recognize the “click” sound in my head as well when faced with the “trucked” behavior (I love the term by the way). And I agree that teaching our children to debate complex ideas and to honor critical thinking in themselves and others is key.
    Thank you Julie, for giving us a window into the face of America and this amazing trip to your nightly posts. I am sooo glad you are back. Can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow!

  6. ….and it all comes full circle and get’s wrapped up with a bow. Thank you Julie, for pulling this all together and making it all make sense. I think “trucked” should be the new “safe” word for when people have stopped thinking rationally and started reacting in any manner that borders on bullying. We can have compassion for the bully but not for the bullying!
    Your trip and your insights will make for a fascinating Thanksgiving dinner!! Thank you for sharing them with us – I can’t wait to have you, Bryan, Rana and all my family around the table. For that I am truly Thankful!!.
    Much love,
    your most proud and loving sister!

  7. Julie,

    I love your post and I love you! I think the most important thing you did to connect with others who may not share your point of view is to get our of your house, from behind your TV or computer, and outside your comfort zone– to talk and listen!

    Thank you so much for for being a role model of what it looks like to reach out and communicate with respect and compassion. Love you as big as the world, more than ever! xoxo

  8. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

    And a final thought on this, the US Election Day: it will be all right. No matter who wins, it will be all right.