Radio program launched in Birmingham where strangers who disagree on politics cross the divide with honest conversation; Volunteers needed
A new program has launched in Birmingham to help members of the public bridge their political differences and find common humanity.
One Small Step, a project from widely lauded radio producer Dave Isay, seeks volunteers with strongly held political beliefs who are willing to have a 4o-minute conversation with someone from the other side of the aisle.
“The dream of One Small Step is that we convince the country that is our patriotic duty to see the humanity in people with whom we disagree,” Isay told Yellowhammer News.
“It is hard to hate up close,” he offered with regards to the conversations on his program.
Yellowhammer News interviewed Isay over the phone on Wednesday about the program’s origins and why he feels it is needed in today’s political environment.
Isay has earned many accolades across his career, including six Peabody Awards and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.
“We were seeing each other across the divide and treating each other less than human,” he expounded about what troubled him at the ground level of modern American politics.
Isay’s first program, StoryCorps, has been recording episodes for more than 15 years. Public radio listeners may have heard it Fridays during Morning Edition, and others may subscribe to its popular podcast feed.
In StoryCorps episodes, two people with a close relationship interview each other in a soundproof booth. One copy of the recording is given to the participants, and one goes to the StoryCorps producers and the Library of Congress.
“The microphone gives you the license to talk about things you’ve never talked about before,” Isay told Yellowhammer about the method for the program.
StoryCorps has now had 650,000 Americans participate since its inception in 2003, a collection of interview Isay calls “the largest collection of human voices ever gathered.”
One Small Step, the new program recording in Birmingham, grew out of StoryCorps and Isay’s deep desire for people to see each other as humans instead of partisan combatants.
“A little bit more than four years ago I became aware and very concerned about the culture of contempt that was growing quickly across the political divide,” Isay said in an explanation of his desire to create a program like One Small Step.
“I believe that democracy can’t survive in a swamp of mutual discontent,” he offered with regards to his civic motivations.
Isay and his team fine-tuned the new program for years after deciding to make a go of it. A few test episodes were made in Birmingham in conjunction with NPR affiliate WBHM, and the producers found themselves drawn back to the Magic City when it came time to do a full-fledged launch of the new program.
“We did some polling in Birmingham that was both surprising and hopeful,” Isay added about the selection of Alabama’s biggest city for One Small Step.
Three other cities are part of One Small Step’s launch. One began a week ago in Wichita, Kansas. Two others will begin shortly after the Birmingham operation is up and running.
“Two-thirds of the people in Birmingham think the city is more divided than it’s ever been in their lifetime,” Isay told Yellowhammer about the polling results.
“Which is pretty dramatic considering it is, you know, Birmingham,” he continued.
“The majority of people in Birmingham felt under attack or threatened by the other side over the past year. Half the people in Birmingham feel like it is hard for them to think of people from the opposite party as mostly good people,” he added about the polling results that indicated the city was ripe for his program.
Isay advised Yellowhammer that Birmingham’s divisions were not much deeper than the rest of the country, but people’s willingness to listen to each other was higher.
The producer offered that “80% of people in Birmingham feel we can become better people by looking to the experience of others. 70% wish they better understood how people who aren’t like them think and feel.”
“So we’re hopeful,” Isay concluded with respect to the polling his team did in Birmingham.
One Small Step is now actively seeking volunteers with firm political beliefs to volunteer to participate in the conversations. Isay confirmed that the program wants people who identify as conservative or liberal and will help facilitate a respectful experience for both citizens involved.
“You’re going to have a Trump voter and a Biden voter, but you’re not going to talk about politics in these conversations. You’re going to talk about your life, who you are, where you came from, who you care about, what your dreams are for your children, and who your parents were,” Isay explained about how the conversations on the program will go.
“What we hope to do over the next year is have everyone in Birmingham know this is happening,” relayed Isay.
Those interested in participating in the program can submit their information here.