I began my cafe conversation series in January, which was coordinated to begin with DT’s inauguration as our next President. I still have not found my first person to talk to, and this morning during meditation I became aware of the fear inside of me surrounding this all. The first signal came from the tension I felt in my jaw and my hands. Beginning to relax into that, I found myself getting lost in thought mulling over all the worries I have regarding this project. The first one was, where will I find a person who holds different beliefs from me? The second thought was, how will I address this person and explain what I am doing? And the third was will they say yes or no? And finally, how will this all be coordinated with my PI inspector, Jessamyn Lovell.
My neighbor has a car parked frequently in the driveway with a pro-life bumper sticker. I talked to one of them to ask if the person whose car it belongs to may be interested in talking with me about her/his views. He said he would ask and she would come by. She never did. I hesitantly went over a couple days later to knock on the door. No one answered. I began to feel a bit like a stalker. I decided to write a letter and revised it a few times to try and not make it sound too formal or threatening. This is what I wrote:
Dear Fellow Human,
My name is Danila Rumold, and I am a visual artist exploring social engagement through collaboration with individuals in the creation of participatory art.
My call to do so is in response to the 2016 election, which has shown us to be a country divided, where people have very polarized belief systems. In effort to begin to bridge that gap, I want to better understand others who hold different ideas from my own.
Where do you come into play? You are receiving this letter because I am curious about your view on ______________________ and would like to hear your perspectives on the topic.
I promise that this is not to set up for any kind of debate, or to change your views, but that I truly just want to listen and better understand your perspective.
Because I am a visual artist, there are plans for a public presentation of these conversations. I will do so in the following way:
- I will be taking notes about your background and your perspectives on the topic which you will be sharing with me. This information will be presented next to your photo portrait.
- My other partner in the project (aside from you) is a photographer who will be taking photos of our meeting to make sure I have listened to you.
If you would like to participate, I invite you for a cup of coffee at your choice of cafe and listen to your beliefs about ____________________. I look forward to learning from you and thank you for your consideration in participating in this project.
I left this on her car windshield, but also never heard back. One day I saw her and was able to get her attention and she said she thought about it but was hesitant because of her new school schedule. It was an awkward interaction. As the month came close to an end, I decided I just needed to find someone, because it felt important to start the month of DT inauguration as it is a time based piece. Then one day, while I was in a conversation I had with someone I am just beginning to get to know, and I was struck when she began talking about being Vegan. I thought, why not talk with anyone who has different values and beliefs outside of my own? And so she agreed to meet me another day back at the same cafe. The conversation went well as a test run as I realized a number of things.
1. Arrive fifteen minutes prior to meeting to figure out logistics of space and seating.
2. Reconsider audio recording which made conversation awkward and stifled.
3. Topic must be 180 degree difference of opinion to return to idea of polarization of the country.
4. Narrow back down to four topics I feel most strongly about. Pro-life/Pro-Choice, , ProCon Gun Regulation, Immigration Laws, LGBT rights.
Stay tuned for how the project progresses. Thanks for reading.