Dialogue is great, but only if it is for real

To the Editor:

In the two weeks since Election Day, Republicans have covered these pages with editorials and letters, asking Democrats on campus to stop being divisive and close-minded and join them in an open dialogue. While the rhetoric of these appeals might be attractive, the hypocrisy of them is deeply insulting and offensive to those Democrats to whom they claim to be speaking.

A progressive Democrat, I have always counted Republicans, both moderates and conservatives, among some of my closest friends. Together, we discuss and debate politics, but we are only able to have such conversations because of a deep mutual respect that rests at the foundation of our conversations. This respect is essential for real dialogue to occur, but the Republicans who have written on this page have demonstrated nothing of the sort.

In his column last Thursday, (“Mourning period’s over; start talking to us again,” 11/11) Al Jiwa tells quite an interesting story of the post-election “Don’t Mourn; Organize” gathering that was held by progressive groups on Cross Campus. He writes of speaking of conciliation and asking for dialogue, which he did do. But he fails to point out in his column that the spirit and content of the rest of his speech, and the counter-protest his Yale College Republicans organized, were of quite a different tone.

The organizers of the event made sure to convey that it wasn’t meant to be an angry and confrontational protest. Rather, it was a place for Democrats to reaffirm their commitments to their values and beliefs. That’s why I was shocked when I saw the “counter-protest” organized by Jiwa and the Yale College Republicans, of which he is president.

Jiwa tries to depict himself as the great conciliator. But when you show up with a sea of Bush-Cheney signs, you don’t want dialogue. When one of your members is holding a megaphone, you don’t want dialogue. When another member blows the smoke of his cigarette into the opposing crowd, you don’t want dialogue.

But most importantly, when you dictate the issue that you want to advocate and claim that it is a unifying issue that everyone should agree upon, you do not want dialogue. Rather, you reveal your own arrogance and alienate further those who disagree with you. For Jiwa, this issue was bringing ROTC to Yale.

Anyone with even a small level of political knowledge and Yale history will tell you that that has the potential to be one of the most divisive issues you can discuss on this campus. The military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the large pro-gay rights population at Yale both should indicate that many people would be opposed to allowing ROTC to become a part of Yale life. Furthermore, the controversy over JAG recruiters on the Law School campus last year should have given conservatives who may have doubted this some warning that ROTC would not be the unifying issue they claim it is.

I deeply wish for the same dialogue that Jiwa and other Republicans have asked for on this page. As a Democrat, I look forward to the discussions with my Republican friends that I used to enjoy and hate so much. But for that dialogue to occur, I must make one plea: Never forget that respect and open-mindedness are the foundation for any dialogue and any friendship.

Alissa Stollwerk ’06

Nov. 11, 2004

The writer is the secretary of the Yale College Democrats.

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