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Shutdown: A Bipartisan Failure or a Golden Opportunity for Reconciliation?

Guest columnist to parties: Bury the hatchet. The rest of us have.

Like most middle class people, I live in a bipartisan neighborhood. My Burnsville, Minnesota, neighbors are a diverse mix. From the richer to poorer, the Democrats to Republicans and everything in between. We’d like people to believe we all belong to the “in between” category.

In truth, not all do, but our state’s recent government shut down has helped us remember our political ideals are closer together than we think.

Like most places, campaign season in Burnsville has traditionally been a time when partisan clucking is at its fullest pitch. But now political campaigns never end, even when politicians shut down the government they were elected to serve.

The shutdown might explain why neighbors at our annual Independence Day picnic seemed more open to talking politics than usual. Forgotten was the copy of the U.S. Constitution one neighbor traditionally brings. Replacing it, by coincidence if not intent, was freely spoken bipartisanship, centered on common issues facing our community and country.

An example is a conversation I had with two friends.  Each fit the “elder white male citizen” model. One of my picnic-friends is a retired executive who holds progressive ideals. The other, also a retired executive, holds conservative ideals. They achieved roughly equal success in their careers. Their political beliefs, evidenced by contrasting campaign yard signs, cancel each other out.

This time, we sought common ground in ways we haven’t in the past. Both businessmen believe citizens who make more than $1 million per year should pay more taxes to support state budget increases. And these men say they expect many would be more than willing to pay to keep vital services going, including social initiatives like a Burnsville-run battered women’s shelter. Because of the inaction of politicians we elected to protect our citizens and children,  the night Minnesota government shut down.

It was not lost on any of us that women and children, possibly some we’ve seen in our neighborhood, have been left out in the cold by politicians’ posturing.

Citizens United Not for Citizens

We further agreed on the irony that Citizens United Supreme Court ruling doesn’t benefit citizens or unite our country. The law allows corporations, including global competitors, to fund political campaigns. Notably, both men were leaders at well-known Minnesota-based global corporations.

Neither businessman believes Citizens United represents our different political ideals, much less the civic collaboration we seek. All of us agreed it is a veiled political strategy.

Where Burnsville Politicians Play

We talked of how some of our congressmen have long played big-boy games with Washington power brokers, while long ducking our efforts to talk turkey about what we, their constituents, need and want, including our shared beliefs about the need for campaign finance reform.

I wish that our elected officials could have seen how we cooperated as concerned citizens by talking face-to-face in Burnsville, not as partisan competitors. The discussion left us shaking our heads in non-partisan unison, wondering how our votes for politicians like these have managed to undermine our community.

I expect this topic will come up again at our Neighborhood Night Out potluck. Perhaps a politician or two would like to join us.

Andrea Grazzini Walstrom, a Burnsville citizen, is a civic engagement consultant and researcher. She founded the cross-partisan initiative DynamicShift in 2009. Her work has influenced numerous regional and national conversations on co-productive change, including online forums at TEDTalks.

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