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Republican, Democrat Talk History and Future of America

Headshots of two men in a split screen

VPM is one of six stations across the United States partnering with StoryCorps for “One Small Step,” a nationwide initiative that brings together people with opposing political beliefs to have open, respectful conversations. In many instances, the participants discover they have more in common than they thought.

To participate and speak to someone in our community, please click here.

For Chris Peace, America has always been a country that is tolerant of the variety of opinions and voices of its citizens. “America was born...out of a rejection of tyranny and oppressive power,” said Peace. During the pandemic, Michael Lewis sees that history is repeating itself. While Lewis wears a mask each time he leaves his house, he understands some feel it’s an infringement on their freedom. “I think America was born in this sort of discussion where someone from a government said you have to do this, you have to do that, and some people in America decided, you know, I don't think so,” said Lewis. “400 years later or so we're still having this discussion.” The two sat down and spoke about their beliefs, creating a better future, and coming together as Americans.

Even though Peace, a lawyer, sees America as a country that allows for a variety of opinions and voices, he wishes people cared more about each other and understood how personal decisions may negatively impact others.

While opposing views can create a divide, Lewis believes that listening to the opinions and experiences of others can actually bring people together. “How else are we going to get to know each other if we don't let each other know this is how I think, this is how I feel,” said Lewis, a small business owner. Lewis understands that communication is not always enough. He wishes people were more open-minded about others and their experiences and life situations.

Peace understands that feeling firsthand. A few years ago, Peace opposed Medicaid expansion in Virginia, but through his work as a lawyer, he has met with numerous individuals with wide-ranging needs and life experiences. As a result, he came to understand how the program could help others. “I was able to see just what great need there is in the community and how that safety-net could be expanded and still be expanded in a fiscally responsible way,” said Peace.

At 62 years old, Lewis would like to be judged by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. While he has earned a college degree, Lewis says employers still don’t believe he has the knowledge or skill set to qualify for white-collar jobs. He recently applied to be a contact tracer in Virginia but was told he was unqualified and couldn’t handle the complex medical terminology involved with the position. “This is an entry-level position! Do I have to have an MD degree to get an entry-level health position?” said Lewis, who is also working on getting a second degree to become a teacher.

Peace has never been denied a job because of his skin color. “I'm really going to still have to wrestle with that information,” said Peace. “How do I then make the world a better place so that doesn't happen? I think people need to be more aware of these types of things.”

While Peace knows talking can help him better understand the differences in another person, it can also show that they have a lot in common. “We all have family, we all have experienced loss...we have challenges in the world, we don't always agree with everyone but we believe that civil discourse and helping one another is the way to go,” said Peace.

Both Peace and Lewis have experienced the loss of a parent and believe that loss has influenced who they have become today. When Lewis was about 10 years old, his father passed away. “It's more than losing a friend or companion,” said Lewis. “It's still impacting me.” Peace lost his mother unexpectedly, right before he got married when he was 27 years old. “It was by far the worst way to ever start a marriage,” said Peace.

The two also recognize the presidents and political figures they grew up with, like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, have shaped their beliefs. Peace and Lewis see history repeating itself, and both believe the history books will show Americans continue to strive to make the country better for everyone. “In the nation's history when...things got bad things always got better and we've continued to advance and progress and have a much more perfect union,” said Peace.

StoryCorps' One Small Step is made possible by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.

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