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Emmy Nominee Brings Political Discussions to the Table

With growing bipartisan tendencies in the United States government in the last several years, Julie Winokur, an Emmy-nominated documentary maker, decided to delve into the causes of the conflict on the Hill.

Winokur spoke to a group of Boston College students in an event, which was sponsored by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College, titled Bring It To The Table on March 29. Bring It To The Table is a campaign brought to universities across the country that seeks to bridge the partisan political gap prevalent in modern politics and on college campuses.

The event started with a screening of Winokur’s documentary, also called “Bring it to the Table.” In the film, she shows her own dining room table. During dinner one evening, Winokur’s 17-year old son witnessed her disregard a political argument based on her personal beliefs. He referred to her as “the most intolerant person,” explaining that she dismissed other people’s opinions immediately if they were not in line with her own. She was shocked in this moment of self-realization. Winokur soon realized that she was contributing to the divisive politics in America by relying on assumptions rather than hard-hitting conversation.

“I didn’t want to be part of [partisan politics], but somehow I was, without recognizing it,” Winokur said.

Winokur’s curiosity led her to create the Bring It To The Table campaign. In response to the conflict at her dining room table, Winokur bought her own portable table, which she would carry with her around the country, with the goal of hearing others’ political beliefs.

“People are engaging less and less with people who think differently. It is incumbent upon us to mix it up.”

—Julie Winokur, Emmy-nominated documentary maker

“It was time to leave my comfort zone and put the table to the test,” Winokur said.

In the documentary, Winokur travels the country, visiting public parks, churches, and college campuses to better understand why people create their political opinions. She took this time to listen to others, rather than debate, as she tried to determine if people were truly as divided as political party leaders.

Winokur investigated how religion plays a factor in political beliefs. After several interviews across the table, she learned that although religious people have mostly conservative values, they may not necessarily be Republicans. There were several ideas presented from both the left and right that religious people seemed to agree with.

For example, the minister of a Baptist church is a registered Democrat even though he disagrees with the left’s opinions on abortion. Winokur began to see the light at the end of the tunnel—that maybe people are not so divided after all, and some compromises can be made.

Winokur also asked people’s opinions on topics such as government spending, health care, and immigration. Although people expressed a range of opinions, the most logical and coherent opinions were the ones they derived from experience. Winokur argued that some people who claim to have strong political beliefs may not have their facts straight. It was people’s personal experiences with immigration issues or race issues that helped them form solid political beliefs.

Winokur spoke to the BC students about her growth after creating the documentary.

“When I am with my liberal friends, I now find myself defending conservatives,” she said.

During the next part of the event, Winokur asked for student volunteers to come up to the table and share their political beliefs. Her most crucial questions were asking why people carry their beliefs.

Winokur argued that the Internet and social media have perpetuated the partisan political divide. Social media has provided people with access to communities of like-minded people. Winokur believes that this limits the ability for people’s views to be challenged.

“People are engaging less and less with people who think differently,” Winokur said. “It is incumbent upon us to mix it up.”

The event ended with students breaking off into pairs to discuss their personal political beliefs relating to race in America. Students discussed whether they believe there are racial issues in the United States, their personal experiences with racism, and how people can work together to combat exclusion. She stressed that uncomfortable conversations are the most valuable ones.

Winokur pushed students to put all of their ideas out on the table without feeling like they would be judged. She challenged them to come to an area of agreement to show that politics does not have to be so partisan.

“I thought Julie did a great job tonight,” Nick O’Grady, MCAS ’19, said. “I was a little apprehensive about coming at first, but I am glad I came.”

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

March 31, 2016