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An Open Letter on Unity and Bipartisanship in the Wake of the 2020 Election Cycle

Introduction


Over the past several weeks, the YACU Board of Directors has taken time at the end of most meetings for kaizen sessions - kaizen being the Japanese word for “continuous improvement.” These sessions included both introspective and extrospective components and have culminated in the following document: An “open letter” with statements from each board member, which include action items focused on promoting unity and bipartisanship in the aftermath of the 2020 election cycle and events that occurred both online and offline.


Statements from Board Members


Kanika Tiwari, Communications Director

At this juncture in our nation’s history, we find ourselves more divided than ever. Because of these divisions, it is of the utmost importance that we work toward unity, bipartisanship, and above all else, compassion and understanding. In order to return to unity and understanding, there first must be an agreement as to the facts, what is truthful, and what is “fake news.” People hear news from a certain source, and if it is not aligned with their political leanings, either don’t believe what is said, or are intensely skeptical of the information. A significant part of what has deepened this country’s divides is a base disagreement about the reality we are facing. Because of this disagreement, it is increasingly difficult even to approach a conversation about potential solutions. I hope to see and be a part of work to heal this country’s deep divides and progress to a better future. While I am new to the YACU, I have repeatedly seen intolerance from both sides in my brief time in the Discord, which has gone as far as some members being pushed off the server. As a leftist, I find it challenging to understand the other side and often make assumptions and respond to their views emotionally. This instinctual bias is something that I am still working on even at almost 22 years of age. Something I wish to see improve in the YACU is tolerance for others’ viewpoints, barring hate speech, and other harmful rhetoric. The path forward within the YACU, post-election, includes multiple steps, which I plan to help with to the best of my ability. The first should be to make this organization a space where people feel comfortable sharing their opinions, asking questions, and learning from one another. The second step is education, and I hope to be able to provide resources and a safe space for everyone to learn about how our political system works, as well as gain a greater understanding of others’ points of view. The third step, which is specific to my role as Communications Director, will be reviving the Unity Network, where members can write and share their viewpoints on various topics. Part of this revival will also be new and improved podcasts for all to enjoy. In closing, I hope to see better communication across the organization, and tolerance of different viewpoints. I look forward to working with you all to create a more inclusive, tolerant space.


Derek Kaplan, Technology Manager

Now more than ever, we need unity and bipartisanship in American society. Polarization has been at an all-time high, and now it seems we can’t even agree on the election results. But as many Americans fall into dangerous polarization, there are many more who realize the increasing importance of political unity. Sir Winston Churchill once said that one should “never let a good crisis go to waste.” A time like this should be the perfect opportunity for an organization like the YACU to grow, as more and more people realize what we have lost and seek to restore that sense of unity. While I hope that our new “Stop Polarization” can bring the outside attention we need while helping fulfill our mission, the work must ultimately come from within. The defining aspect of the YACU in these past few months has been inactivity. We need to recognize why we are here and find new motivation to grow and improve our organization. This starts at the top, however: in the coming few weeks, us board members must honestly look at our performance and create concrete plans to improve. Additionally, this organization must refocus on our mission. In the past few weeks, I have led discussions at the end of each board meeting on how we can work to promote unity and bipartisanship. This must continue, and we must rededicate ourselves to this task. Promoting unity and bipartisanship is the most essential part of our three-pronged mission, but it is the one we most often leave neglected. Neurologist Viktor Frankl hypothesized that humans are motivated by a “will to meaning”; that is, we desire to find meaning in our lives. If our organization fails to promote unity and bipartisanship, our members will determine that we provide no meaning, and the debilitating inactivity will continue. Thus, we must spark a virtuous cycle: if we can refocus our efforts on promoting unity and bipartisanship, it will reinvigorate our volunteers, whose efforts will allow us to further promote unity and bipartisanship, further inspiring volunteers.

This is how we must proceed.

This is how we will succeed.


Alexis Maese, Digital Director

Growing up in an age where political polarization is the “norm” has made clear to me the divide in America and the divide in the YACU. I’m honestly disgusted by the way my friends and peers have treated each other on their Instagram stories, reposting content about “If you support so-and-so we can’t be friends” and even going as far as to say they will report their friend’s accounts if they support a particular candidate. I say emotions should not be the deciding factor of a political belief, and I stand by that, especially in this tumultuous time of an election cycle. We don’t value research and debate as much as we used to. Discussions have gone so far (in real life and on social media) that we devolve into name-calling, bringing up personal troubles, and much worse. One of the reasons why I stayed in the YACU after Y4Y dissolved was because of the mission we have. Our mission is to heal said divide somewhat, but how can we do that when there’s constant infighting between board members and regular volunteers? Making our organization (and I hate to say this) a safe space for people from all walks of political life needs to be a priority for everyone. I never want to see what happened on the server during election week again. I don’t care what your beliefs are; you should have a basic sense of respect for those who disagree with you. A little kindness can go a long way, especially when you’re kind to different people. We need to learn and grow from here,, so we never repeat the mistakes we’ve made.


Carlos Bindert, Legal Officer

As the YACU’s Legal Officer, I often have to describe on paper what exactly it is that we do, why the organization deserves an individual status, or how we fulfill our mission - to promote unity and bipartisanship across America. It’s our three-pronged approach (engage, promote, volunteer) that I try to mention as much as possible, and it’s this approach that leads me to believe in the organization on a fundamental level. It seems that we can’t practice what we preach, and as a result, some of our early leaders and visionaries have left. Andrew Juan is the only one remaining in any capacity, out of the five who founded the organization only nine months ago. Many of those who left the organization (mostly board members, but extending recently to members) have left resignation letters, and they all have a common theme. It can be summed up as “I believe in the mission of this organization, but not in the people currently leading it.” And to an extent I agree - the ability of our organization to fulfill its mission, particularly in the early stages of a nonprofit organization, is extremely dependent on those in leadership positions on whether or not we succeed. If we can’t promote civil discussion, or unity, or thoughtful discussion, in a weekly meeting of 9 people, then how are we supposed to turn around and tell people to promote those things? The intent of this letter is multifold, but one aspect is to serve as a “wake-up” call of sorts, and to re-center ourselves as people and as the leaders of an organization, back towards our goal of unity and bipartisanship. There will be two mantras that guide the actions I will take on the board in the coming weeks - “get your own house in order” and “if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen”. The former will mean a dip in my personal activity during the final week of my fall semester at college as I prepare for final exams, and the latter means taking a more active role in the micro level politics and doing a fundamental evaluation of not just the people currently serving on the board, but also a fundamental evaluation of if this organization is anything more than a corona nonprofit. As someone in the wider world, I intend to promote unity and bipartisanship by becoming more politically active on my personal social media, but only doing so when I have an understanding of a topic from both sides of the aisle or both points of view.


Michael Li, Organizing Director

Bipartisanship and unity is pretty fire. Unfortunately as of late, political factions have split into two separate environments, operating on different sets of facts. This is evidently due to two things: a growing distrust in the media and echo chambers. Here in the YACU, I see one of those two issues growing like a tumor and it deeply troubles me. As an organization, we are not only visually but internally an echo chamber. Conservatives are often villainized in our day to day discussion, and we often touch on topics which disturb them. Some people see debates as ways to demean the disagreeing party, and there is often no peaceful settlement when people come to a topic they fundamentally disagree on. I’ve been a member of the YACU since its very beginning and I’ve earnestly hoped that one of these days a conservative platform would arise, not to overtake, but to at least meet our base of liberals. I also want to clarify - as I’m rambling on - that there are some people I have great respect for when it comes to debating. They are extremely informed individuals who always come prepared and enthusiastic for a good-faith debate; to them, I am eternally grateful. But there comes a moment where the YACU needs to crack down on blatant attacks on ideologies and (to put it bluntly) inability to accept when someone has a differing opinion. You do not need to agree with someone’s stances, but you must understand that being riled up about them in Discord channels does nothing but hurt the reputation of the YACU (and I understand that exceptions apply, that is up to our moderation team). What breaks my heart is to see conservatives leave the server or quiet down in their rhetoric due to (sometimes overwhelming) community backlash. I’ve been pestering my board peers about inclusivity to conservatives because I have had many instances where I do not feel comfortable to express a conservative belief. Every time a conservative leaves this server (recently B** T***), my faith in the future decreases. This is a topic I will not stop bringing up at Board Meetings until the steady trickle of conservative members leaving/not joining in the first place stops, even if I continuously get Derek’d (ignored).



Ivan Sinyavin, Senior Leadership Representative

The last couple of weeks have been unifying, yet a dividing time for America. While many Biden supporters have coalesced around his victory and encouraged Trump supporters to join them, it has become evident that polarization will continue to shape American politics and society for the foreseeable future. The last couple of weeks have clarified a particular problem with the concept of calling for unity in modern-day America — these calls for unity are often met with accusations of hypocrisy and resentment. After the vote had been counted and numerous news organizations projected the election for Biden, his supporters called for unity, with Joe Biden saying that “this is the time to heal America,” a largely hollow term that failed to reflect the intrinsic problem festering in the country. Once these calls were made, Trump supporters rejected them with staunch, and mostly justified, opposition. They pointed out that for the duration of Trump’s presidential term, the Democratic party and its supporters were massively uncooperative with the concept of unity, and instead, they misrepresented the Republican party with exaggerated stereotypes and accusations. The same trend is manifesting once again: like a nuclear retaliation, the Republican party and its supporters are most likely not going to cooperate or reconcile with the Democrats. Scrolling through social media over the last week, I have realized that many Republicans will not accept the results of the election and therefore would not unify with an administration they deem illegitimate.


So where do we go from there? How could the YACU and I as an individual seek to unify a broken country? Again, wide-scale change can only start in today’s youth — and in the YACU, we strive to engage this demographic in politics and cultivate an understanding from both sides of the political aisle. In today’s political landscape shaped by social media echo chambers, most Americans are exposed to one side of the story and alienated from the other one, a vital issue that the YACU seeks to combat. As an organization that prioritizes membership recruitment from all sides of the ideological spectrum, we have struggled recently with kindling our conservative voices. Many times, our Discord server has estranged them from communicating and interacting with the rest of the members. To accomplish this goal, the liberal majority of the YACU needs to cultivate a welcoming environment for these individuals, not accuse them of being “trolls” or attack them with unkind terms. As I said previously, such attacks are demonstrative of America’s general problem. The simple act of being obstinate to changing one’s opinion or political beliefs inevitably leads to further divide and hatred. Finally, as an individual, I have kept up a constant effort of trying to absorb arguments and positions from across the political spectrum, to understand the issue from both sides of the aisle, and reflect that in my day to day life and my social media.


Sydney Fahn, Senior Leadership Representative

What initially drew me to the YACU was our overarching mission to foster unity within our already so divided generation. The past few election cycles have created deep-rooted division and hatred in our country that seems impossible. Only once we gain mutual respect and kindness can we move forwards as a country towards change. We can have political differences that do not infringe on our common humanity, decency, and equality. We can have policy debates that do not invalidate someone’s existence. We can learn how to put country over party. We can prioritize empathy over hate. As a YACU member, we must create a safe space for members of our generation to find a place of bipartisanship amidst this polarization. We must further our mission by promoting open-mindedness, patience, and empathy. I hope to further our missions of bipartisanship and unity through my term as a Senior Leadership Representative. Our outreach committee is vital to communicating with organizations on both sides of the political spectrum. It is also essential that we offer suitable volunteer opportunities to our members who have different beliefs. Likewise, I am excited to be a part of the Civic Education Subcommittee to help facilitate unbiased and nonpartisan education. A crucial and indispensable aspect of civic education is that we research the facts and form our own educated opinions. As a closing thought, John F. Kennedy once said that “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our responsibility for the future.” Our generation has a lot of work to do. Our generation must learn how to compromise to find solutions that work for everyone. We must work together to move forward and not let our political differences overshadow the importance of the work we are doing.


Andrew Juan, Political Director

As one of the few right-leaning board members of the YACU, I’m severely disappointed by both certain members’ actions and the inactions of board members to help build a more welcoming and opening bipartisan discussion place during election season. We must understand that we cannot fulfill our mission without active steps taken by leadership and members at all levels to create this welcoming space. In the weeks leading up to the election, I strongly encouraged outreach subdivision members to reach out to more conservative campaigns, and I am grateful for their actions. I hope to continue bipartisan outreach to different elected officials as we transition from campaign opportunities to finding internships and volunteer opportunities at our Congressmen and senators’ offices. On the side of policy subdivision, we’ve continued to make each policy paper more factual and avoid as much bias as possible. While I’m certainly proud of the progress we’ve made, there is always room for improvement. We will work to make our policy papers more consistent in tone towards both sides of an argument and work with our Unity Network to further reduce bias and promote bipartisanship through civic education. We’re also excited to begin rolling out Civic Education Initiative presentations, soon to be made available as a public resource, particularly for our chapters. Through education, we hope that our members can learn the importance of tolerating but understanding both sides’ arguments to be better equipped to make independent political ideas.


Lilly Kurtz, Member Representative

As an organization, we had the unique opportunity and platform where we could promote bipartisanship and unity during the most tumultuous period in our nation’s recent history. Quite frankly, we failed to uphold our mission during election week and only contributed to the division experienced both online and in the real world. As the nation watched the election results roll in and the votes get counted, we had people on both sides praying that their candidate would win. This was reflected in the YACU discord server as you had updates from both conservatives and liberals in the #current-events channel. Everyone has their own bias and preference when it comes to political stances, we cannot change that. However, we can seek to bridge the divide, and while acknowledging partisan perspectives, we need to encourage bipartisanship once again. It was disheartening to see members from both sides of the aisle leave due to the conflict, and we must prioritize creating a place where both liberals and conservatives can speak without being attacked by either side. Internally, we need first to promote unity among the leadership of this organization. The conflict expressed at board meetings and between current leadership and former leadership reflects poorly on our ability to prioritize the mission over personal strife. This is why we need to recommit to the mission of the YACU and deal with conflict first so that we can act out the task better. As a member representative, I will continue to promote positive and productive conversation at the micro level in the discord server. As a member of the larger world, however, I will continue to commit to educating myself on current events and listen to both sides of the argument and commit to bipartisanship in my daily life. Furthermore, living in Seattle (commonly known as an echochamber), I will continue to push past the stereotypes of an echo chamber and reach across the aisle and out of my comfort zone to better understand the conflicted political environment we live in today.


Conclusion


We hope you have found the previous statements insightful and actionable. This document was written in the aftermath of the 2020 Election Cycle, but is intended in part to last as a “time capsule” to hold current and future board members accountable for their goals and desire to cement the organization on its mission of promoting unity and bipartisanship. However, we cannot do this alone. Now more than ever, there is an opportunity to further our mission of unity and bipartisanship, and we all have a role to play in fulfilling our mission; in creating a future of people with kindness, dignity, and respect. We are an organization of diverse backgrounds and thoughts, with diverse goals.

Noting that we have differences and moving forward in recognizing these differences in the mutual pursuit of a better future for all is of the utmost importance for a more open, truly nonpartisan fashion. We’re here to promote bipartisanship above all else, and especially after this election, it’s important to keep that in the forefront of our minds. As a member of the YACU, we also need you to step up to the plate and take on the challenge of attacking hyperpartisanship in our country and bringing people together to have civil political discussions. In the future, we urge all reading this to go forward in your lives, leading with empathy and respect. Our generation must remember to prioritize civility over winning an argument.

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