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I recently had two experiences in which folks reached across the political aisle. Respect and patience were displayed. Assumptions were minimized; stereotypes were not enlisted. These experiences did not occur in some exotic place, or even in the eastern, purplest part of North Dakota. These experiences happened in central-western North Dakota -- namely, in Bismarck and Dickinson.

One of said experiences was my participation in a panel on the New York Times' 1619 Project, held by the Dickinson State University College Republicans. My fellow panelists were Dr. Eric Grabowsky (the club’s faculty adviser), Dr. Donald F. Johnson of North Dakota State University, and Casey Buchmann, a 2018 Democratic-Nonpartisan League candidate for the Public Service Commission. The 1619 Project’s writers argue that the arrival of African slaves to American colonies should be considered the true beginning of our nation. I am sure you can imagine how a panel like this could go horribly wrong. Yet, the College Republicans and their adviser ensured that it was professional, open and interesting.

The other significant experience was this month’s First Friday gathering of the BisMan chapter of the North Dakota Women’s Network. At this gathering, women of both parties discussed the importance of women running for local and statewide office. Women who had previously run for office emphasized how critical it was to give and receive encouraging words during election campaigns, including across the aisle.

Thus, these inspiring bipartisan interactions were not achieved through avoiding discussion of politics or parties. We can choose to be gracious ambassadors of our political party even while openly acknowledging difference.

I’m not suggesting we look the other way while contempt and ugliness rule the day in Washington. What I am asking is that we see the full humanity of ordinary North Dakotans who identify with a different political party than our own. A group called “Better Angels” -- an organization of citizens “uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America” -- defines depolarization in the way I’m using the term. Luke Phillips explains it as less about enforcing moderate views and more about “rebuilding social ties and relationships across partisan divides, and reducing individuals’ sense of disgust for people of opposing political opinions.”

I’m not scaling back my pro-union stance -- or my belief in inclusive public education -- to achieve some comfortable type of centrism. But I can show respect to someone who is skeptical of the labor movement, or who believes that private/charter schools are the answer to North Dakota’s challenges. That someone is still a resident of my state, a citizen of my country and a human being. Practicing this kind of depolarization has never been easy, but the right thing to do is often the harder thing to do. I write these words to keep myself accountable as much as I write them to persuade readers like you.

Most of us barely even chose our political affiliation. Political scientists have firmly demonstrated that we usually adopt the same party identity as our parents. If your party identity deviates from that of your family, you are bucking the trend. Furthermore, with only two large, mainstream, statewide parties, the GOP and the Dem-NPL will serve as the catch-all parties for most. While belief systems exist along a multifaceted political spectrum, we’re mostly dumped into two crude buckets. We’re adopting labels that obscure within-party diversity as well as cross-party agreements. How invested in these labels should we really be?

Looking toward 2020, we should borrow from the examples set by DSU’s College Republicans and BisMan’s Women’s Network chapter. We don’t have to conceal or erase our differences to center our shared humanity.

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Ellie Shockley is a social scientist and education researcher. This column represents her personal views and not the views of any organization. She completed a doctorate at the University of Chicago and postdoctorate at Nebraska. She lives in Mandan.

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