Productive Political Conversations

Tips I have learned from growing up in a politically divided family


Cole Drozdek

The political spectrum can lead to many conversations, especially with those on the complete opposite sides, but how can those conversations be productive instead of leading to a screaming match?

I’ve grown up in an atmosphere of activism. I went to Pride festivals with my parents and aunts to support my queer and LGBTQIA+ family members from a young age. I have attended Women’s Marches and Black Lives Matter Protests. I’ve signed petitions, phone banked for Joe Biden and the Colorado Dems during election season and led conversations with my peers on issues that are important to me. Having conversations with those we disagree with are challenging to have, let alone feel like they hold any value. As a mixed-race girl with drastically different families, both in their skin color and opinions, I have learned to have productive political conversations that lead to vibrant debates instead of sweeping our opinions under the rug.

On my father’s side, my family is diverse. We share similar features and experiences, usually as one of the few Indian kids in our schools and communities. My family members have endured racism based solely on their skin color and our last name. I have grown up knowing that BIPOC communities in our nation have been targeted based only on their skin color. This is something my family has faced first hand. I have heard stories from my father as a young child, being tormented by white kids in his neighborhood because of his dark skin and how my cousin stopped going to school after 9/11 because of the constant harassment. 

For the other side of my family, my mother was born and raised in Ohio. With three older brothers and parents who never left the small town they grew up in, their experiences differ from those of my immigrant grandparents. Not to say my Irish family members from Ohio haven’t endured hardship, but, it looks different from racism. My mother was the only one to move from home, get a college degree and begin forming her own opinion on what mattered to her. She moved to a large city and understood why life isn’t as easy as it is for middle-class white folk in nowhere-Ohio. Unfortunately, many of my mother’s family members have also been stuck in their hometowns, which is shown through their political views. Because one side of my family and my parents are keen on keeping activism alive within my family. I have been lucky to have great conversations with my family members, friends and classmates, allowing me to develop my critical thinking skills and have productive conversations with peers I don’t always agree with. 

I have learned how to reason with others and have learned from those conversations. My grandmother always told me, politics isn’t personal and shouldn’t come between relationships, most importantly, family. Although I am one of my family’s youngest members, I still use my voice to stand up for what I believe in, which is a challenge when your family doesn’t understand how powerful young voices are. Having conversations that don’t end in a screaming match is essential to lead our society into a better habit of proudly voicing your opinion in an intelligent way.

Here are some methods that I have seen work within my own family and are a great way to have productive conversions with family members on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Send educational posts on social media

I have a 30-year old cousin on my mother’s side who has started using social media, primarily Instagram, to document his life, his new puppy and his support for Donald Trump. On the night of the Vice Presidential debate, where I thought Kamala Harris did quite well and Mike Pence did a terrific job of becoming the next meme of the month, I opened up social media. Amid my feed about how ready everyone is to have America’s first vice president be a woman of color, I saw a singular photo of an Elephant, with a caption reading #TRUMP2020. Not much to my surprise, it was my cousin. This was the moment I had been preparing for. My conservative cousin, who I have said about ten words to in the span of my life, had no match for the intellectual, political roast I was about to give his presidential candidate. Then the next thing I knew, before I could hit comment, the post was gone. Vanished. For a moment, I thought it was for the best. I was prepared to go on with my life, saying an awkward “Hi” the next time we saw each other, forgetting he had ever posted that photo.

I then realized the election is too important to give up on my cousin, even if he continues to be stubborn. So, I scrolled through my saved political posts and picked out two I thought might make a difference: 101 Reasons to Vote out Donald Trump and 102 reasons to vote for Joe Biden. I then wrote a brief paragraph explaining how his vote in this election is more than just for a candidate; it is either a change to steer America back on a decent path to equality, safety and having a sane leader, or to complete fascism. Honestly, I thought this message was a long shot. I believed he would read the message and block me within a second. But I actually got a response. Could it be?! Had I changed my conservative cousin’s mind to vote for Democrats this November? Unfortunately, this is not what happened. He responded quite kindly, saying that he would look through these posts but will continue to vote for Donald Trump because of his “conservative values” and asked me where I plan to go to college. Though this attempt did not sway his political opinions entirely, I could still breakthrough and begin a conversation with someone I disagree with. Even starting a conversation is better than nothing at all and is the beginning of what I hope to be intellectual ones in the future. I continue to send educational posts in hopes of helping my cousin understand the importance and repercussions of his vote this November. Though social media posts do not seem influential, in modern society, most of my interactions with my cousin are over the internet, which might be the key to influencing. Having conversations in real life can feel more intimidating and working up the courage to voice my beliefs would be challenging. Educating others over social media is a perfectly reasonable way to make a difference and is excellent, especially in a pandemic. 

Have calm conversations

This is one that I struggle with. Getting mad is so easy to do in situations where you disagree with someone. It takes practice and having multiple conversations to understand; you don’t look well informed while fighting over politics and not having healthy debates. Being well informed and stating your opinion with poise and confidence, without getting mad and defensive, is a skill not many people have. There is a fine line between having a calm, productive conversation and yelling at one another. I used to justify my anger because of my passion and that is reasonable. I can feel angry because some people in power are trying to take away my rights as a woman and continue to create a racial divide. But the conversations I have had with voters while phone banking during these past few months with conservative voters have made me realize something important. When someone I disagree with is willing to talk to me, I have learned that I can’t ruin my one opportunity to speak with them by yelling over the phone. Finding the balance of passion and calmness is an excellent way to sway people’s opinions. Use your opportunities to speak with family members wisely. You want to convey the importance of your discussion and hope they feel motivated to change their beliefs. 

Find a middle ground

Finding a middle ground is tough. A few years ago, I began watching a series on YouTube called “Middle Ground” produced by Jubilee. These videos’ objective is to bring together people from opposite sides of the political spectrum to find a middle ground for different topics. It’s an exciting idea that can produce lively and product conversations. Starting with a question and or statement relevant to the topic, having discussions based on that one question can lead to a much more in-depth conversation. If you are actively having a conversation about politics and policies, bring up a question and let each person answer it to their content, who agrees with the statement. Then, whoever does not agree, can go next and both will have a fair opportunity to speak their opinions. Suppose you develop interesting questions that spark a deeper answer, not one that is surface level. In that case, your conversations will reveal a truer understanding of why your family members believe in what they do. Letting everyone speak their truth and feel comfortable sharing their experiences is an excellent step in creating an environment where everyone can have conversations. A toxic environment will not let conversations be productive; they will continue to be judgemental and with close-minded people. Hopefully, this conversation style will provoke some empathy within one another and you can at least understand why they have their stance on politics.

Remember to do research

This one is critical. Especially as we have gotten closer to the 2020 election, understanding and researching what you support, why you support it and everything means. Doing research can look different depending on the topic and how you learn. Reading books is a great tool I have been using to understand black Americans’ oppression and systemic racism, especially over this past summer. Reading the New York Times has also been a great way to stay in touch with what is going on in the world and how it can affect you, especially during a pandemic and with Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court Justice. During the 2020 presidential election, I have been going to both candidates’ plans for different topics. I watched both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. I heard multiple times that Joe Biden has no plan for his potential four years in office; I took matters into my own hands to do research. Not to my surprise, this was just another one of Donald Trump’s 20,000 lies he has told in the past four years. I was able to find all of Joe Biden’s plans on this website, which has been a great tool to understand what Joe Biden stands for and what he will do in his next four years. Having an idea of supporting facts and general knowledge can be a great tool to explain your beliefs. If you are interested in being well versed in what you care about, it is important to have a full understanding of what you say. Your words are powerful and you do not want to pretend that you know everything and then go one to make things up. To make sure you understand the other point of view and why the point of view is important to them, being well educated on various topics can help you do so. With all of that said, next time one of my Trump-supporting relatives states a false reality about either Joe Biden or the democratic party, I will be ready to fact check and bring the truth to light.

When all else fails, use your passion as a tool. Show them how their beliefs affect you, the world and what you stand for.