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The Civility Project seeks to bridge the partisanship divide

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Posted at 3:43 PM, Jan 11, 2023

DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) — From polarization in Congress to divisive partisanship in communities, politics, in many ways, has become hostile.

An analysis by the Pew Research Center shows Democrats and Republicans are farther apart today than at any time in the past 50 years. It's causing people to lose contact with family members and friends. In some cases, it's also leading to violence.

However, two unlikely friendships and one initiative are bringing hope and a roadmap to how civility can be restored.

Katie Kraemer and Muhammed Smidi call each other friends despite not seeing eye-to-eye on politics.

“We have pretty different opinions on a wide range of issues,” says Smidi.

Kraemer identifies as a liberal. Smidi says he's a conservative.

“I remember, like, sophomore year, Muhammed told me he wanted to be president one day, and he wanted to run as a Republican, and I was like, "Hey, you know, have some good views and I might vote for you in 20 years or whatever,'” says Kraemer.

What started as jokes turned into spirited debates as Kraemer and Smidi found their political voice as students at Oakland University.

“We’ve run organizations on campus that literally stand for opposing views,” says Kraemer.

Enter The Civility Project, an initiative to break down hostility and encourage more civility through workshops & dialogue.

“It breaks down the assumptions, leads to more respect for one another,” says Nolan Finley of the Detroit News.

He's teamed up with fellow journalist Stephen Henderson to host discussions in company workplaces, school districts and community groups to break through the partisan lens.

The idea was born out of their own friendship.

“We don’t agree on almost anything, but we do it in a way that’s respectful,” says Henderson. “We’ve gotten here because of the division that we see over politics and culture.”

Since the pandemic began, the project has seen demand grow. They have led over 100 discussions

“It says people really want something different,” says Henderson.

“There’s a hunger, I believe, for civility and for how to get to a more civil place,” says Finley.

And perhaps, even get to a friendship where the no-go topics aren’t off the table and one person disagreeing with the other is viewed through a vein of acceptance versus hate.

“There’s that mutual respect that we have for each other that it’s a conversation,” says Smidi.

“We’re allowed to disagree and still like each other as people,” says Kraemer.

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