Left to right: Malik Alim, Robin Hayes, Ray McKinnon, and Stephen Kent. Photo by Chimena Ihebuzor.

Charlotte’s first ever political expo took place April 5 as participants with different political leanings all came together to share a dialogue. The event was comprised of a panel of four guests representing a lineup of political and civic organizations with a moderator facilitating the discussion. The panelists conferred over a number of topics that are pertinent to today. The event took place in the Lucas room inside Cone.

Dr. Gregory Weeks, chair of the political science department, served as the moderator. He began the expo by stating “tonight’s event is a first step in what we hope are more events these young leaders will organize that bring people together.” From there, he asked the speakers a series of questions that were to be answered round robin style. After giving their perspectives, he asked follow-up questions or allowed the panelists to expand upon their initial statements. The issues included gun control, immigration, race relations and political polarization.

The representatives for each organization included the Illinois organizer for the Roosevelt Institute Malik Alim, former U.S representative from North Carolina’s 8th congressional district Robin Hayes and chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party Ray McKinnon and the spokesperson for Young Voices and a libertarian activist Stephen Kent. They each represented the Roosevelt Institute, College Republicans, College Democrats and Young Americans for Liberty.

The Student Government Association (SGA) and National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) sanctioned and hosted the event. The initial idea to put on the expo was originated by NSLS president Elijah Acosta, who helped spearhead the process.

The central theme was to promote discussion and not debate. As such, there were a few ground rules to follow to allow a smooth flow of ideas. Assume good faith on the part of others, assert your own views without disparaging and listen to other’s views so as to see more clearly what our main points of disagreement are and therefore perhaps how to “bridge the gap,” were among those rules.

While the viewpoints and opinions of the participants might have differed, the general accord shared by both audience and panelist was that the conversation was unabated yet civil. Each panelist discussed their preferred policy position (which may have reflected upon their own organizations) and their sense of how those who share their views can contribute to moving toward consensus. What are productive ways of moving forward?

One of the more poignant moments of the event was toward the conclusion, when the topic of political polarization was brought up during a time of great divide and virulence in our country. McKinnon, a pastor at a local United Methodist Church in Charlotte, said that the best thing to happen to his career, as a self-identified liberal, was to lead a service of mostly conservative congregants, because it forced him not to caricature those he disagrees with; It allowed him to listen and get to know one another sans the labels.

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