The 2016 election, not to mention the weekend’s inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, exposed deep chasms between various groups of Michiganders.
Beginning with today’s issue and continuing through 2017, Bridge Magazine will follow closely 11 very different people and families to help us all gain insight into the views of those who many not always agree with us. Bridge will report on these Michiganders throughout the year to see how their hopes and fears play out and how their attitudes change or solidify.
Our hope is that this extended journalism will help us all – regardless of politics, demography, geography, gender – better understand one another as we search for common ground in uncommon times.
It’s clear that many of us disparage – “demonize” is the stronger term – those we know little about. We often erect stereotypes – demeaning, often inaccurate, even outright hostile.
These gulfs were perhaps not as noticeable before last year’s election as they are now. And the consequences of failing to understand those who differ from us are now both increasingly difficult and even dangerous. In a state like Michigan, poised between the hope for vibrant and sustained prosperity and an impoverished and unhappy future, it’s clear that we all need better ways of finding common ground about where we stand as a state and how important it is to erect a shared agenda for a better life here at home.
Bridge is a program of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, nonpartisan “think-and-do tank” devoted to finding ways to make Michigan a better place. The Center does not participate in partisan political activity, nor does it endorse candidates.
It works in three ways:
Public engagement: Every year since 2007, the Center has sponsored community conversations throughout Michigan. These small gatherings are designed to solicit, bottom up, citizen preferences about the kind of state they want and how best to achieve it. The people who attend these conversations – in gender, age, residence, and race – reflect the everyday reality of Michigan’s diversity. These conversations have so far attracted more than 45,000 participants – certainly the largest public engagement program in Michigan’s history and among the biggest ever in the country. Results are published in annual “citizen agendas” that capture the attitudes and anecdotes offered by Michiganders of all stripes.
Fact-driven, trustworthy journalism: Bridge Magazine has earned over one million annual readers, is the Michigan Newspaper of the Year and is widely regarded as the source for the best, most fair-minded journalism in the state.
Policy advocacy: When the Center learned 30,000 poor and vulnerable four year-olds in Michigan were denied places in the state’s early childhood school program for lack of legislative support, our advocacy helped persuade the state to more than triple support for the Great Start Readiness Program. Michigan now leads the nation in this important effort to help our children succeed in schools and become productive employees for our economy.
Our state today looks a lot like a big room with varying groups huddling in various corners, suspicious, unspeaking, even hostile. Beginning today, our effort to describe, understand and explain these varying groups arises from our conviction that together we are far stronger than we are when apart and that unless we can find ways to develop and share a common agenda we will never achieve our bright destiny as a state.
We hope you enjoy – and find challenging and illuminating – our reporting. We look forward to hearing your reactions to it, beginning with sending your comments on this column to me.