How Might We Bring People Closer to the Social Justice Movement?

I’m a Democrat concerned about the future of the Republican Party.

A problem that I observe in my own friend-and-colleague-circles is that Democrats can lump Trump-voters into one group. This causes harm.

Why? Because Republicans aren’t monolithic. Many that I know are fiscally conservative, but socially moderate, which makes them have qualities and beliefs that even Dems would agree with. So when Democrats group all Trump-voters together, that “tagging” can motivate some of them to retreat further right. Perhaps they feel stereotyped. I’m not making excuses for that retreat, I’m just observing what happens. And it has happened in my friend-and-family-circles.

This phenomenon leads me to wonder what Democrats might do to mediate this unfortunate shift in social thinking on the right. The solutions I pose below are ones that I learned from a social justice course taught by Loretta J Ross. I cannot recommend her courses enough.

How Might We Bring People Closer to the Social Justice Movement?

(I realize that the following list is long and it might be hard to know where to begin. I suggest starting with the parts that resonate with you and build from there)

STOP THE IN-FIGHTING. Resist the temptation to engage in political infighting within the Democratic Party. We all have different and valuable roles to play. Some of us are working on the cutting edge pushing the agenda forward, and others of us are working in the middle helping people get on the right path. Democratic infighting is a distraction and we have bigger fish to fry. Spend your energy wisely and strategically. 

MAP FISCAL & SOCIAL POSITIONS ON A SPECTRUM. Before engaging in a conversation about social justice with a Republican, try to evaluate where the person you are talking to stands on fiscal and social issues. If you discover that this person is a socially moderate Republican (if they are active in charity work, this is likely), then you can have a productive conversation with them about social justice. But if you discover that this person’s views on race are far from your own, you might not be the right person to talk to this person. 

IDENTIFY YOUR CIRCLE-OF-INFLUENCE. Having difficult political conversations with strangers is hard if the desired outcome is to open their hearts. If you want to open hearts and minds, you might start with people with whom you have something in common. Maybe they are people who live in your town or belong to your faith group or are members of your family. 

CONNECT ON VALUES. Most folks you come across are acting on good faith. Find out what’s important to them. Loretta Ross says that she always wants to use communication techniques that work with people like her parents who are conservative. Ross’s mother struggled to understand the value of her daughter’s social justice work and even feared that it was too disruptive. Ross made a breakthrough with her mother when she built on the fact that her mother organized food pantries to help feed the hungry. Addressing hunger was a value that they shared. So she said to her mother, ‘You feed the hungry, and I try to figure out why they are hungry in the first place.’ Her mother finally understood the necessity of her work when Ross expressed social justice in the context of a value they shared.

RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO PROVE THAT YOU ARE RIGHT. The goal of having hard conversations isn’t to be right; it’s to have a conversation that opens someone’s heart, even just a tiny little bit. Because once it opens a little, you can build on that. 

BE MINDFUL OF YOUR BAGGAGE. Your own history and experience influences how you feel about these conversations. Allow yourself to feel and honor those powerful feelings. They are just. But take a beat before you speak and remind yourself that feelings are information but not directives. If you let them be directives, your conversation will go off the rails.

ASK QUESTIONS AND LISTEN. This one is self explanatory. Don’t lecture people. Instead ask them genuine questions (not trick questions) and listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to agree with them, you just have to understand and accept that what they are saying is true to them. I recently asked a right leaning independent to read an article about polarization and tell me what he thought about it. He told me that when Democrats blame the right for this, that, or the other thing, that drives him further to the right. This is useful information. I didn’t have to agree with it, but I needed to understand and accept the reality of it. If you want to open hearts, that starts by building trust, and that starts by listening and understanding. Most people do have a heart that can be opened. Keep your eye on the prize.

KNOW THAT PROGRESS TAKE TIME. You won’t solve social justice issues in one conversation. These conversations happen over time as you build rapport and trust with people. Loretta Ross often quotes one of her teachers, “When you ask people to give up hate, you have to be there for them when they do.” Ross resisted this position when she first heard it. She didn’t want to have to do that work and I respect anyone who needs to create that boundary for themselves. If you feel like you can take on this kind of work, then know that it will take time.  


Prof. Loretta J. Ross online courses – transformative, fun, affordable

Braver Angels This group hosts conversations between the right and left. I have pointed many folks to this group and have even offered to attend a meeting with them. Braver Angels uses a set of communication guidelines in their debates that is very practical.

Country First – Rep. Adam Kinzinger, IL, is doing the work to make the Republican Party sane again. I’ve been sharing his work with Republican friends as well.