By: Sophia David (Editor-in-Chief ‘21)
At FCS, it often feels as though everyone has a similar political view. In clubs, affinity groups, and the classroom, we find ourselves in conversations about policies or social issues where it seems that everyone is in agreement. Leah Anderson (‘21) described this, saying, “I think for all of Friends’ Central’s diversity, diversity of opinion is definitely not here;” and Xander Giaccone (‘21) described FCS as “echochambery.” But does FCS really lack conservative viewpoints or do we just not hear them?
Here are the diverse ways in which four FCS students, Leah Anderson (‘21), Mari Snider (‘22), Mohammed Gueddi (‘21), and Xander Giaccone (‘21), define their own political opinions:
Leah: “I identify as a democrat. I’m pretty socially liberal. I don’t have strong fiscal opinions, but my family is definitely more fiscally conservative. I was raised in a house that values compassion and helping others. We are really into community service and giving back, and I think that has always played a part in my political beliefs. I want my political beliefs not only to be serving me, but also to be serving the people I care about.”
Mari: “My whole life I have definitely swung around politically. I change my stance every couple of months, but right now I am moderate. I would consider myself a liberal, but not a leftist, with a slight right lean. I think in this election, if I could vote, I would probably vote for Biden. It’s mostly because I don’t think Donald Trump represents the United States in a nice way.”
Mohammed: “I think I probably would vote for Biden. Before the summer, I would have voted for Trump, but now I see that he is getting really bad. I like that Biden is not pushing for socialist policies. He is leaning for accessible health care, but he is not going full Bernie Sanders. I like the fact that Trump supports the second amendment and is a balance against a super progressive left.”
Xander: “I would definitely support Biden. I am not a huge fan of Biden, but I think there is a big threat of America becoming a faccist police state with Trump. Getting into PCC made me start researching further left ideologies and socialist economic theory. I don’t feel, other than being communist, that I could move much further left economically.”
Mari noted that there are more conservatives at FCS than we may think: “I think the interesting thing about our school is that everyone assumes everyone is liberal, which isn’t true. It’s just that the liberals are the only ones that are allowed to speak.” Of course anyone can share their opinion, but all of the interviewees agreed that, at FCS, doing so is much easier for some people than others. Leah empathized with non-liberals, saying, “It does get to be a problem. I think people that don’t hold the same view points get shut down. They are socially ostracized a little bit. I can imagine that that is really really isolating.” Mari described this phenomenon from personal experience: “I always feel attacked for not being left-leaning enough for this school. I am a moderate, not even a conservative, and all the time I don’t feel left-leaning enough for my peer group. The social pressure and the bias in everything we talk about has made me really hesitant to even do this interview because I am afraid of the backlash I will get.”
If liberals and non-liberal students both recognize this as a problem, why does it still exist at our school? Why do we continue to silence some opinions?
One reason may be anger. More than any other emotion, anger makes it difficult to listen; and we feel the most anger when we feel that a moral value has been violated, something that happens a lot in discussions of politics.
Xander explained how natural it is for politics to get tied into morality. “There are a lot of people for whom politics are more than just politics. It affects their lives in very real ways,” he said. Leah, too, had thoughts on this: “I think there is a very thin line between morals and politics. Right now there is a lot of identity politics. I think there comes a point where you are no longer debating politics, but you are debating someone’s right to safety, essentially their right to life.” Xander illustrated this distinction clearly, highlighting the difference between believing the “U.S. should ban Muslims from entering” and “disagreeing with trickle down economic theory.”
While we might agree with and understand this distinction in theory, we often do not always consider it before responding to opposing opinions. Instead, as Mari put it, “people hear the world moderate or right and instantly assume very bad things. I think FCS links liberalism and leftism to Quakerism directly, and yes, those two things are very connected.” Sometimes this may cause people who do not have liberal beliefs to feel as though they should not be heard at FCS. Mari defined the overarching problem: “When someone voices a view that is not incredibly left, people interpret it as being evil or morally incorrect.”
So when is an opinion simply different, and when is it immoral? When do we need to listen, and when is it okay to get angry? This is a balance that clearly we have not yet found, and the effects are quite polarizing.
Both Mohammed and Mari agreed that being part of such a liberal environment has taught them to be constantly ready to defend themselves. Mohammed explained, “I do feel like I am constantly on the defense because I have some right-leaning views. This comes naturally to me from being in such a majority liberal environment.” Mari took this a step further, explaining that the more she feels pushed by the school environment to share left-leaning views, the more she notices her views moving to the right. “They want me to think one thing, but it just makes me upset; and it actually drives me farther from that when I know they are actively trying to convince me to think a certain way.” By repeating one opinion loudly and demonizing others who hold different opinions, we are not helping to change anyone’s mind or make space for conversations. Rather, we are causing more polarization.
So what is the solution to reducing polarization and increasing the diversity of heard opinions at FCS? Leah, Mari, Mohammed, and Xander all agreed that we need more open conversations.
Xander and Mohammed, the two leaders of Political Conversations Club (PCC) see a lot of potential in their club to help reduce polarization. They describe it as a safe place to express opinions and have a good conversation. PCC was originally founded by Jackson Snider (‘20) and Grace Lundberg (‘20), two students whose views are far from each other on the political spectrum. Xander says, “It was started with the purpose to create a dialogue outside of what we normally have at Friends’ Central.” Mohammed put it simply: “PCC is a place where people can have their mind changed or change someone else’s mind.”
PCC is not the only place to have open conversations and hear new opinions. In class, club, and lunch conversations there is likely greater diversity of opinions around us than we realize. We simply have to be open to listening, and we have to think carefully about whether a different opinion is truly immoral before becoming angry.