If you’re ready for this contentious election season to end, please raise your hand. Now pick the magazine back up and read about Bonnie Friedman, a local woman determined to make politics civil again.
Longwood’s Bonnie Friedman has seen contentious politics right up-close. In the early 1970s, when the country was coming off a decade of tumult, she took part in peaceful student protests against the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, she says, today’s political scene is uglier than anything she recalls from that difficult era.
“I don’t ever remember it being so bad,” Bonnie says of the name-calling and coarse language that permeate the airwaves and social media these days.
Bonnie is part of a growing group that wants to help reverse this trend. She is co-chairwoman of The ACCoRD Project, a bipartisan effort to return civility, respect, and dignity to political discourse. In less than a year since its inception, the group has grown from 15 members to more than 70, with efforts underway to attract younger and more diverse members.
Any student of history knows that political contests, especially at the presidential level, have seldom been marked by tea-time manners. During the 1800 presidential campaign, rivals John Adams and Thomas Jefferson hurled hideous insults at each other, though they eventually resumed a friendship that lasted to their deaths.
“Politics has always been rough and a little nasty,” Bonnie says.
But Bonnie, a retired director of early-childhood programs, says she cannot recall a time in her lifetime when political discourse was so shrill and corrosive.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher to watch,” she says. “It’s a very frightening turn for our country.”
Part of the blame, Bonnie believes, may lie in the growing role of social media, where people can lob nasty, shallow bromides, then retreat behind the cloak of anonymity.
ACCoRD has a three-pronged approach to rooting out this ugliness (the group’s name stands for Advocating for Civility, Cooperation, Respect, and Dignity). First, group members plan to meet with as many politicians as possible to encourage them to restore civility to their arena. One of ACCoRD’s most successful efforts to date was an afternoon tea with Grace Nelson, the wife of Florida Senator Bill Nelson, which was attended by more than 30 men and women. According to Bonnie, Grace recalled a time in the nation’s capital when members of Congress would argue forcefully against each other on the floor, then retire afterward to amicably share drinks in Washington bars.
“We found a like-minded human being who believes in the same things we do,” Bonnie says of the senator’s wife.
ACCoRD’s second mission is to encourage members of the media to not stir up the pot of mudslinging just because it might make for good entertainment. Some of the debates during this year’s presidential primaries, Bonnie says, “were more worthy of reality TV than a true exchange of ideas.”
Finally, the group is encouraging its members to look deep inside themselves. Can they have political differences that don’t result in lost friendships?
“We are trying to change ourselves, one person at a time,” says Bonnie, who encourages everyone to slow down and understand what others are trying to say.
Bonnie, who is 67, says it is important for ACCoRD to not stagnate as “a large group of middle-aged women.” It is the group’s mission to bring younger people into the fold, as well as men, Latinos, and African-American neighbors.
And while social media has its faults, it has become an enormous force in politics, Bonnie concedes. Consequently, members of her organization must become technically savvy to keep up with the times, she says.
While Bill Nelson happens to be a Democrat, ACCoRD is a strictly nonpartisan group, and its work will extend beyond November’s presidential election, Bonnie says. For her part, Bonnie cites both Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat John F. Kennedy as two presidents who never felt the need to vilify their political opponents or engage in trash talk while pursuing their goals. “We want to see leadership and strength,” she says, “but also humanity.”
For more information on the ACCoRD program please contact Bonnietunes@yahoo.com
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