By now you know the story, if you’ve been following since Part 1: Blue state sociologist goes to oil patch Louisiana to try and understand the environment and the people of this Red state. Writes Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. Talks with an Eastern Shore preacher about what she learned. In Part 3 of this interview with Arlie Russell Hochschild we explore the possibilities of bridging the Great Divide.
You say liberals have their own deep story, just like the folks that you were talking to there. And one of the things that I think about in terms of the Church is how–especially in the ’80s when the evangelical Christian movement became a real political movement–how our ‘deep story’ and the Christian faith felt hijacked to me. I’m sure the folks in the evangelical wing felt the same about some of the liberal Christianity that came before and has been around since, too. So, is there potential for stories to link up? I don’t hope for a common narrative out of this, but I just wonder if there’s a way. I mean, the fishing trip [discussed in part 2] sounds like a great way to do that. You start building new narratives just by being in each other’s presence.
Yeah, and to see a search for common ground. Check out the Bridge Alliance. It is an umbrella group of some 70 or 80 different organizations that has just popped up. This is just people-to-people kind of groups with names like Hi from the Other Side, or Living Room Conversations, or Read Across the Aisle. These are all groups that are trying to get Left and Right together to see if they can find common ground in respectful ways. I think we can do it. It’s also something I’d like to see grow through the schools, through churches, unions (in the places where we still have them), to counter the divisive forces which are growing in this culture.
I had somebody from Lake Charles who was in the book. She was a single mom with her two kids. They were guests here in Berkeley, and we had a living room conversation here. The last night, she said, “You know, I’m going to start a living room conversation back in Lake Charles.” So it can be done.
So, what’s your next project? What’re you working on now?
Well, I’m still dealing with the consequences, the aftermath of this book. I’m still giving a lot of talks.
I bet you got a lot of phone calls on November 9th, didn’t you?
Yes, exactly. I did, and I’m still getting them, and actually talking to a number of church groups. And people will say, “What do we do?” So, I have some answers for that and some suggestions. One of them is see if we can re-establish channels across these divides, because we’re living in a different economic geography these days.
The have and have-nots of globalization. I think that underlies some of this Blue/Red divide, so that you have people in the South, people on the coasts, and each facing different economic fates. I’m living in the San Francisco Bay area. It’s a boom town. It’s like a gold rush, and they can’t see problems, don’t feel a sense of decline, don’t fear for their fate. They have problems, but it’s not systemic or global from their vantage point. But in the rural hinterland, it feels very different.
Yeah, the West Coast and the Northeast Corridor seem farther and farther away from here [Virginia’s Eastern Shore]. The realities are so different. That whole thing that you point out in the book of people looking at the success of economically successful areas, and feeling like that’s not a narrative for them anymore, is certainly true.
Do you see yourself as an advocate for the bridge, or do you see yourself as the self-described liberal that you are—a disciple for that cause? Or both?
I’m focusing on bridging, very definitely. I see three pillars of activism that I’d like to see engaged. One is the defense of democracy and the very principle of checks and balances, an independent judiciary and press. I think that’s pillar one, and we ought to do everything we can to defend those. I do feel they’re being challenged now. I do think that’s the first order of business.
The second pillar would be to totally renovate the platform of the Democratic party, which I think does not really acknowledge or address the anxieties of the people up to now. I’m very critical of Democratic party. That’s the second thing we need to do.
The third is to reach across the aisle. We’ve got friends on the other side and out there, many values we share in common, and issues that we can find common ground on. I think it’s important to search them out. So, I’m really focussed on that third pillar, but I see it all as part of what we need as a coordinated effort.
I have been talking to some people that are anarchists here. They’re violent and they’re terrible. They’re giving us a huge black eye here in Berkeley. I don’t know why they’re doing this, setting fires and stuff. I’m appalled by it. But there’s a woman who came up to me after I denounced violence at one talk, which I do routinely around here. She said, “Oh, I have some friends through Facebook. Would you like to meet them?” The Black Bloc, they’re called.
I took a moment, thinking, “These are the last people I want to meet.” And then thought, “No, they’re the first people.” Yes, I would like to get to know them. So, that’s another thing that I’m doing. I’m trying to get them to not be violent.
Well, you’re a brave adventurer. I’m really grateful for your willingness to bring us along with you in your writing. So, thanks for the time.