"We are not talking about politics, we are posting about it,” says Emily Lewis, referencing Facebook and other social media. As head of the Seattle chapter of Make America Dinner Again (MADA), a grassroots political nonprofit founded in San Francisco in 2016, she is working to help our nation address the polarized way in which we discuss politics. As part of MADA, Lewis hosts dinners for up to 10 guests to encourage conversation—that’s right, just to talk.
The role of dialogue facilitator comes naturally for Lewis, 25, a liberal who spent her early years in Montana with conservative parents and now works with diverse communities as program director of Brehm Cascadia (formerly the Fuller Institute for Theology and Northwest Culture). She opened the Seattle chapter of MADA in April 2018 after graduating from Seattle Pacific University, where as a student, she observed that many people were evading political discourse, especially in the wake of the divisive 2016 election. Used to heated conversation over meals with her parents, Lewis says the key to difficult subjects is creating a nonconfrontational environment (such as the dinner table) that allows people to face the person behind an opposing view.
MADA has chapters in 10 states, and dinners are informal and held anywhere room can be secured, such as private homes or community spaces. At press time, Lewis was still putting details together for her third dinner in Seattle, to take place this month, just in time for midterm elections. But Lewis expects conversation to be just as civilized as her first two events. “So much positive forward motion took place during the [second] evening, along with several audible ‘aha’ moments from guests.”
The key to any constructive discussion is “active listening,” Lewis says, thoughtful and engaged consideration of what’s being said at the moment.
Lewis, a Christian, is working to help churches learn how to be safe spaces for these difficult conversations. “It’s a way of providing a service to those seeking better community.”
Each dinner has a safe word or phrase to de-escalate heated debate and maintain a safe environment. In a nod to her millennial generation, Lewis’ go-to word is “avocado."