When Julie Winokur takes the stage Wednesday afternoon for her keynote speech at the Mackinac Policy Conference, a few people in the audience may not know who the documentary filmmaker and journalist is.
But when she finishes her story of how she created Talking Eyes Media and “Bring It to The Table,” the audience is likely to not only embrace her message but want to take part in her experiment over politics, civil discourse and democracy.
They’ll have that chance during the Conference, which has turned Mackinac Island this year in particular into a hotbed of politicians, big agendas, new ideas for Michigan’s legislature and much more. Winokur’s message behind Bring It to The Table is an ideal match as well for one of the Conference guideposts or Pillars, namely restoring civility in American politics.
Bring It to The Table is Winokur’s way of changing the way Americans talk about politics in general. Her goals with the project is to help Democrats, Republicans or anyone else on the political spectrum end the bickering and start talking. And not just talk – but to take action, to run for office, to have a say in local government, to take a stand on issues that matter to them, their families and their cities.
Some background: Bring It to The Table is a short documentary, webisode series, online platform and community engagement campaign aimed at bridging political divides and breaking down partisanship. For people who are tired of hyper-partisanship, Winokur notes, she hopes they will pull a chair up to The Table and join Winokur and her team in making politics an acceptable topic for dinner conversation again.
Bring It to The Table is produced by Talking Eyes Media, a non-partisan, non-profit organization with extensive experience producing films, books and multimedia on pressing social issues. This is her first visit to the Mackinac Policy Conference, and she’s brought her table, her all-important flower pot and, most importantly, an open mind.
Q: Why is politics such a hotbed issue for individuals and how can we talk to each other more effectively? In my family, talking politics will end in a fight!
A: You are so not alone. These days, you’d be hard pressed to find a family that doesn’t have that tinder box that’s waiting to explode when you get together and talk politics. It exists in every family. That is part of the reason I created Bring It to The Table. I wanted to find out how can we not go to that place that’s explosive – how do we diffuse it? How do we bring in the bomb squad in advance to have a productive conversation? Why is it so hard? We have lost something in our culture and at large in this high art of listening to one another.
Q: How did you create Bring It to The Table?
A: I’m of the mindset that the simpler things are, the more executable they are. While some people are having these high level conversations about what’s happening in Washington, that kind of dialogue isn’t accessible to most of us. Many people look at Washington as Oz, unapproachable and unacceptable. It makes people angry. We don’t localize it. So I started to ask: What am I doing? What’s in my power? That’s when I came up with Bring It to The Table. This isn’t going to solve the big problems in DC. It’s about a groundswell movement that emphasizes civility. It’s about flipping the script on this. It’s about asking: What can I do? How can I engage with people I meet face to face?
Q: Why should people attend your sessions?
A: I’ve got one session that starts at 7:30 a.m. Thursday! I hope they show up. At least people will be fresh, be positive. During that session, I will be doing live Table talks. I’m going to talk through my process, the questions and the types of framing I use. To me, these conversations are all about framing. We’re creatures of habit – we go into a conversation with habits, predispositions and biases. This is how we’re going to rethink that. This is very much about the citizens’ response to the partisan toxicity out there. Wednesday, I’m giving an overview – I’ll show trailer for the film, talk through process and the results. Next morning, we will roll our sleeves up and interact. I’ll have my table there, and I’ll ask for volunteers from the audience who will sit at the table and demonstrate the table talks. When we walk through it with people, we’ll talk about what it means to have leading questions that open up discussion and delivered in the spirit that I may not agree with you but I want to understand you.
Q: What have you seen happen at The Table?
A: I have witnessed people transform their behavior. Some of the feedback I’ve received afterward is “I learned something about myself in that moment.” That’s the irony – you’re sitting there to learn about someone else but the big takeaway is what you learn about yourself.