In response to a barrage of post-election comments and questions from his spanish friends, Paul Shirk (who is currently abroad in Spain) planned a "conference" with the hope that spanish students can ask freely
about the perspectives that he and his companions, from the Univ of California
program, have about American politics and culture. Here is his report on the conference:

"Our conference here went really well; at least from the measure of
energy

and participation.  We were 80 strong – 20 of my American peers and 60
of
my Spanish doormmates – and the questions were off and running from
10pm
until 12:30.

I gave a short introduction in which I explained that I had noted the
interest of Spanish students in American politics and hoped that we
could
have an open dialogue with their questions as a base.  I said that
our
country is very divided right now, both internally and
internationally,
and that I hope to see more dialgoue in the future.  As context for
the
type of questions I hoped to hear I explained that none of us are
experts
in anything except our own experience and that it could be very
fruitful
for us all to get a better understanding of other people`s
experience.

Overall I was really pleased with the general optimism and focus with
which my peers answered the questions.  At times we went off on
tangents
that reflected despair more than the dedication to building and
moving
forward – but for the most part I was pleased.  I was very happy when
my
friend Pablo asked us to tell them the things that we love about our
country and also when a girl from Georgia said, "Fine, we`ve come to
the
conclusion that the country is very divided right now, and that the
government seems to be more of a field for political games than for
actual government, but what do we do now?"

There were a few hopeful voices and I tried to highlight those at the
end.

So – with respect to the conference call, you`ve asked me to write
you
with my plans, or outlook for "The Next Four Years", right?

I`m becoming more aware that, as Seth mentioned in his email, many
Americans just don`t understand eachother.  Face to face political
discussions are a very difficult thing to navigate productively. 
Often
such conversations seem as if the widen the gap of misunderstanding. 
I
believe that it doesn`t have to be this way.  I believe that with
open
minds, tactics for discussion, and practice we can make political
discussions lead us to constructive dialogue and action.

On this point I am very excited to learn from you an others in the
organization.  I am committed to having an open mind, but I realize
that
when I talk to friends who hold much different perspectives than I, I
really don`t respect their views much more than they do mine.  I want
to
grow in this area.

Unfortunately, I feel lost with regards to understanding how to
discuss
ideology that seems to have it`s base in spirit rather than logic. 
For
example, I was talking Sunday night to more conservative friend about
the
death penalty and he asked me if I felt any sorrow that someone like
Hitler committed suicide.  I told him that I did because I would have
hoped that he could have had the opportunity to realize his errors and
to
reform his life and his spirit.  My friend told me that I was crazy
because people like Hitler never change, that there is good and evil
and
it is impossible to move from one to the other.  It seemed
unnegotiable
because it was based in matters of the spirit (I hestitate to say
spirituality) rather than logic.  I think it is these types of
unnegotiable questions that are most responsible for dividing people. 
I
really can`t offer you and the organization plans or ideas about
resolving ths obstacle right now, but I can offer you my service.
(That
probably sounds corny, but I think you know where I`m coming
from.)

Also, I look forward to fomenting dialgoue between the republican and
democratic student groups on campus when I get back to UCLA; but,
more
than that I hope we can find ways to bring people from across the
country
together. I`ve noticed lately how little my Californian friends and I
know
about people from the rest of the country, and I think it would be
very
helpful to bring people from different regions together.  I
understand
that there are more physical obstacles to these kind of summits but I
hope that we can make some progress in bridging both the ideological
and
geographical gap."
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