It was a conversation with her 17-year-old son that started filmmaker Julie Winokur on her cross-country tour. “He called me the most intolerant person he had ever met.”
Winokur shrugged off the accusation, saying he just hadn’t lived long enough to know enough intolerant people. He told her, “if you don’t agree with people politically, you don’t even listen to what they have to say. You just dismiss it without even hearing.” That stopped her in her tracks.
Winokur makes videos for Talking Eyes Media, a San Francisco company now located in New Jersey. Its clients include the James Irvine Foundation. She decided she needed to practice listening to people. So she packed up a folding table, a cameraman and a camera and hit the road.
The project became “Bring It To The Table.” Since she can’t insert herself into strangers’ lives, she invites them to sit down at her table. At every stop, Winokur spreads a tablecloth over a card table, even plunks down a flower, turns on the camera and listens.
She’s collected about a hundred interviews so far. The videos will be paired up with an opposing point of view on her website, where she invites America to listen to both sides.
Winokur dropped by both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. She said she was most surprised by a conversation she had about health care with a Texas delegate at the RNC who was a Ron Paul supporter. The woman told her “it’s unacceptable to me as an advocate for personal liberty that the government would force me to buy insurance, because that infringes on my personal liberty.”
Winokur said she suggested a visit to the hospital by someone who was uninsured infringed on her personal liberty since she had to help pick up the tab. The woman said her sister had had breast cancer, declined treatment and died after five years. The woman said she’d probably do the same thing. Winokur says, “if you’re going to be that hardcore about your independence and self-sufficiency, then OK, I can accept it.”
The listening tour hasn’t changed any of Winokur’s core beliefs. But she said it has challenged her thinking on social welfare questions, such as what is the right threshold to support people who need help, and how do you shift people to become self-sustaining.
Winokur said she hopes the project will help Americans have an “authentic political experience,” of being better able to ask questions and genuinely listen to the answers from people whose views are different from our own. She sasaids we’ve all “drunk the Kool-Aid of our political party.”
Winokur just returned from the swing state of Ohio. She plans to visit California in November.
Correction: Talking Eyes Media has moved to New Jersey and received a grant from Ben & Jerry's