New Rules of Engagement: How A Forest, A Sick Cow And Michael Brown Shaped The Politics Of Three People

In these dramatically polarized times, we can be quick to judge political beliefs, but how often do we take the time to listen to the experiences that shaped those beliefs?

In early March, 29 strangers met for an event hosted by Missouri Humanities and KCUR on Zoom to do just that.

Wendy Douglas of Joplin, Missouri, doesn’t identify with any party, but she opened the conversation by responding to the question “Is there something you want me to understand about you or your values?”

“I feel like if we take care of each of our trees, our forest will be great,” she said. “I’m starting to realize that the individuals are more important. The smaller communities, the minorities, taking care of the poor, these things are things that are good for the wealthy. And taking care of the society is making sure that every single individual is taken care of.”

Susan Armstrong, who identifies as a Democrat from St. Louis, asked, “Exactly what is poor? Because I come from a community of color, [and] those are the happiest times in my life.”

Hearing this, J. Howard Fisk, who identifies as a Republican from Springfield, Missouri, recalled a formative moment in his thoughts on poverty and politics. It began on a trip he made with his veterinarian father to a family with a sick cow.

After working on the cow for hours, the family offered Fisk and his father cake. His father charged only a minimal fee and later explained that it would have hurt their pride to not charge them anything.

“I think every day in Missouri there are families like that just kind of getting by,” said Fisk. “And we need to find a way to have a little bit of compassion but also understand that we need to help them have some pride in who they are,” Fisk says.

Armstrong responded, “I’m in St. Louis, so when Michael Brown was shot, that’s when I decided to start speaking up because that could have been my sons. There but for the grace of God, go I. You have to look at the legislation and the practices that are devastating. To lose a son and have no repercussions… you lose affection. You’re grieving the rest of your life.”

Listen to the complete conversation from Group 2 below or any of the other groups who participated in Missouri Humanities and KCUR’s event New Rules of Engagement.

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