Facing the Really Hard Things: Meet Andy Hanauer and the One America Movement
Andy Hanauer, CEO of One America Movement, works within and among religious communities to combat toxic polarization in the US. OAM brings people together across political, racial, and religious divides to work together to address issues in communities across the country. They also train and empower religious leaders to resist a culture of division and hate. Fetzer is proud to support the work of OAM and offers excerpts from our chat with Andy as an introduction—and a welcome—to a new partner.
What compelled you to start this work with faith communities?
It was after the 2016 election and I remember hearing Arthur Brooks saying that, "No matter which group is being attacked in America right now, it's probably a group that includes people I love," and I thought, that's true of me too. The divides in the country are also reflected in my family. I grew up in a secular Jewish home in a very progressive part of the country. I became a Christian in college. And so I have family and close friends who are secular Jewish or just secular. I have friends who are evangelical Christians. My wife is from rural Arkansas, so her family doesn't always vote the same way as my family, so that was my personal motivation.
As to OAM, faith is who we are; we represent and work with faith communities. The number of Americans who are either involved in a faith community or believe in God is a huge percentage of America, and no matter how strongly you feel about political issues, as a person of faith you also believe in a higher power in the universe. There’s a reality that's so much bigger than winning elections or being right about a particular issue. And so we see faith as one of the few places where you can have transformational change in a way that doesn't move us into the middle, doesn't make us purple, but moves us all higher.
Can you share an example of your work? A Study in Trust
One of the things recently that was really powerful was a training program we did with a group of conservative evangelical pastors in Virginia. They were trying to figure out what does it mean to ensure that my community is approaching the election from a Christian perspective rather than a partisan perspective? Are they filtering their politics through their faith or are they filtering their faith through their politics? Because the answer makes a big difference.
One of them wanted to do a Sunday school on the topic of race, and he knew that was going to be difficult, controversial—there were going to be people who didn't want to participate. But rather than saying, "Hey, I just want to do this and if you don't come, you're a bad person," he asked for our help to design it in a way that would get more folks involved, even people who were reluctant. So we helped them design it and it's been incredibly successful. And it took two years to build that work, right? And then after two years, we were able to build these kinds of relationships that help faith leaders shepherd their folks towards better outcomes, having harder conversations, doing important work, talking about important issues.
Our perspective is if we want to fight polarization, you have to get at hard stuff. But you have to do it from a place of trust. And that's what we really are proud of is to be able to build trust with communities where they're willing to do things like that.
You talk about "doing the hard work," about being more than just civil. Can you tell us more?
I think sometimes when we try to tamp down the hard stuff in the name of unity, we end up actually not talking about it and then having more misconceptions and more false ideas about someone's beliefs. If you're going to have a relationship with someone who believes something that strongly, you have to be able to have an honest conversation with them. You can't have a relationship with someone whose faith is that strong and specific and not talk about that faith.
And I think if you hear that perspective of, say, a Christian and think, "That's terrible. I don't agree with that." Well, the only way you could have influence over that is if you can actually talk about it, as opposed to just judging someone from a distance, and in many cases misunderstanding their perspective. It's hard, right? Because coming in with your full identity sometimes means coming in with beliefs that other people find abhorrent. And we've had that. We've had people express beliefs in our projects that other people find abhorrent. But I don't think there's a shortcut around that. I think we have to face it and not everyone's ready and that's okay. We don’t take the perspective that this is what everyone should do. Some people have trauma; it may be that having those kinds of conversations with people in a different group is not the best thing for them at that time in their lives. I think it's what those of us who feel able to face, need to be able to face.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
Since I started this work in 2016, everyone's made the joke about Independence Day, the movie. Like, "Well, what we really need is an alien invasion because that's the one thing that would bring all humans together." And so when the virus came I think there was an initial sense that maybe that was the moment—we're all going to unite against this non-human enemy because we know a shared threat is what brings people together, right? I think we got disabused of that pretty quickly.
The toxicity in our polarization is such that whatever happens—whether it's a virus or the trash not getting picked up—can be used as weapon to divide us. But this is not just because we have different ideologies. I think it's really important that we understand that we have different lived experiences, and the lived experience of someone in Brooklyn is not the same as the lived experience of someone in Idaho. And at the same time, all of us are affected. So this is an opportunity—we have a choice to either let this divide us further or to come together and better understand each other in the process.
What is your experience of the virus? How is your community experiencing it? To do this work means to also face the really hard things. Why is it killing our black and brown brothers and sisters at a higher rate than white Americans? Why is it that our healthcare system seems so unprepared? Why are we doing worse against this virus than other countries? These are hard questions, and instead of just having a quick ideological or political answer, we’re launching our Corona Rebuild this summer so we can actually do this hard work together—to rebuild the things that have been broken.
Learn more about Andy, the team at One America Movement, and their Corona Rebuild project.