Political Perspectives Are The Main Course At These Dinner Gatherings : The Salt Most supper soirees aren't strategic ways to get people to work through their disagreements. But two friends have created the ongoing event, "Make America Dinner Again," to get folks talking.
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Political Perspectives Are The Main Course At These Dinner Gatherings

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Political Perspectives Are The Main Course At These Dinner Gatherings

Political Perspectives Are The Main Course At These Dinner Gatherings

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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

At some dinner tables, talking politics is out of bounds. No one wants to end the day fighting with friends over the latest tweet from Donald Trump or rehashing the presidential election. But as Sonia Paul reports, two friends in the Bay Area are turning the tables on this trend with meetings they're calling Make America Dinner Again.

SONIA PAUL, BYLINE: It started with an email the day after the election. The subject headline...

JUSTINE LEE: I kind of want to host a dinner.

PAUL: That's Justine Lee. On the receiving end was her friend Tria Chang.

TRIA CHANG: And I was like, yes, I want to host a dinner, too, with all of these different perspectives.

PAUL: They figured a dinner is a warm and non-threatening way to chew on different ideas and have diverse opinions coexist. While some people they invited had the opposite reaction, careful planning and gentle wording helped them convince others.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: And here at a swanky pizza restaurant in San Francisco, they've gathered 10 people including themselves.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: Tucked into a private room, they reveal a bit of their histories as they start to talk politics. Among the dinner guests is Walt Shjeflo, an attorney originally from North Dakota.

WALT SHJEFLO: I voted for Trump, but the vile statements surprise me.

PAUL: Rachel Williams heads diversity at Yelp.

RACHEL WILLIAMS: Eight years of a black president does not excuse or erase 400 years of slavery and oppression and all of that.

PAUL: One guest who wants to both show respect and be respected is queer activist Dom Brassey.

DOM BRASSEY: When I speak, I always pay attention to airtime and interruptions.

PAUL: And Affan Khokhar is a first generation Pakistani-American who was raised in a Muslim family. He grew up in a Trump stronghold in New Jersey, but says he's never tested politically here in the Bay Area.

AFFAN KHOKHAR: I mean, it's pretty much just like my Facebook just living in front of me.

PAUL: These are just four of the guests. As they dine on margarita, mushroom and pepperoni pizzas, organizers Justine and Tria pose questions to stir discussion. It quickly delves into different issues that strike a personal chord. At one point, Walt compares North Dakota and the Bay Area when it comes to certain struggles which prompts a response from Rachel.

SHJEFLO: My experience - North Dakota has a lot less racism than the Bay Area does. It has a lot less sexism than the Bay Area does.

WILLIAMS: Well, that's because there's a lot less women and a lot less black people because I don't know too many sisters that live in North Dakota.

SHJEFLO: Rachel, you're right, I'll tell you, just on that.

WILLIAMS: You know anybody who looks like me?

SHJEFLO: I never saw a black person live 'til I was 12 years old.

PAUL: Alongside the dinner's larger group discussion is time set aside to talk in pairs. Dom Brassey says the way she reacted to hearing Walt's more conservative opinions was the wake up call.

BRASSEY: It reminded me of why I think so many people, like, give into the temptation to retreat from the dispute. I'm not convinced I need to convince. You know, like why do I need to build this relationship? Why do I need to hear this kind of framing? Yeah. How did you feel?

SHJEFLO: That would be really nice wouldn't it - to have some place where you go where there's both sides of the story?

PAUL: They all agreed this is one way to speak and listen rather than argue. But while it remains cordial, no one has a complete change of heart. In the end, Affan Khokhar says what he realized most during the dinner had more to do with himself.

KHOKHAR: You only learn from testing your beliefs, defending your beliefs, being able to be coherent and articulate about your beliefs and being challenged.

PAUL: The host of this event have created an online guide for people around the country who want to organize something similar so people anywhere can try to make America dinner again. For NPR News, I'm Sonia Paul in San Francisco.

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