Record turnout for ARts & culture's arlie russell hochschild talk
On the sunniest Sunday in weeks, why would Berkeley’s Ashby Village community turn out, 200 strong, to stay inside and listen to a distinguished sociologist describe what she learned in a 5-year intensive study of Tea Party supporters? The most audible reason heard from the arriving audience was a deep concern about the widening, polarized divide between right and left America. Joan Cole opened the event with the question, “How can we build bridges and save our democracy?”
Organizers of the latest Arts & Culture event could not have been more pleased with Dr. Arlie Russell Hochschild’s unique dialogue with the Ashby Village audience about her latest book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. “I found it so impressive that the audience shared Dr. Hochschild’s openness and curiosity.” observed Rochelle Lefkowitz, who launched the Arts & Culture series with fellow Board Member, Marcia Freedman. The questions were numerous and thought-provoking:
How could Tea Party members overlook Donald Trump’s exploitation of workers?
How can the Democratic Party retool to reach out and soften the divide?
Who is doing it right?
How can we build alliances? Turn out the vote?
As she told the story of this project, Dr. Hochschild’s work was also sparked by curiosity. She wanted to understand why residents of one of the poorest states, besieged by environmental disasters, and ranking among the lowest in education, health and life expectancy, would oppose government assistance and regulation.
In order to learn their, “deep story,” the core feelings of their personal narrative, Dr. Hochschild traveled to Lake Charles, in southwestern Louisiana, conducting in-depth interviews, focus groups, and “following them around” to boat parades, union meetings, and fishing trips. She toured the landscape with them to sugar cane fields that were once their childhood neighborhoods, and viewed the ecological devastation of the Bayou. She listened to life stories of downward economic spiral, lost dignity, alienation, and persistent struggles to achieve the American Dream. In these stories, she found the roots of mistrust of government intervention and a yearning for an America that would, again, offer them opportunity. Hochschild also discovered their “good angels:” sacrifice, endurance, loyalty, and a preference for communities that provide what “big” government had only promised them.
These insights would never have been possible if Hochschild had not been willing to build an “empathy bridge,” a willingness to go beyond cultural stereotypes and get to know people on a personal level to understand “how to see, think, and feel as they do.” To move forward, she advises that we do the same. She writes, “Consider the possibility, that in their situation, you might end up closer to their perspective.” Why not get to know someone outside your political bubble? Exchange and learn each other’s stories?
“This event filled a need for our vibrant community to understand an unfamiliar part of our nation’s culture at his time in our history,” Lefkowitz concluded. In response to the question, “What can we do?” Dr. Hochschild a list of suggestions.
The event is part of Ashby Village’s new Arts & Culture Series, which brought us the Chana Bloch poetry reading in September 2016.
The next Arts & Culture event will feature Ashby Village member Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior, The Fifth Book of Peace, and To Be the Poet.