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Democrat, Republican Talk Family and Political Beliefs

Headshots of two women in a split screen
Kelli Gannon (left) and Zanne Macdonald (right)

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.

Zanne Macdonald, 72, was a conservative until the Vietnam War and has had many disagreements with her parents on political issues and candidates. “I will challenge her [my mom] and say…‘you are the epitome of honesty and integrity,’” said Macdonald. “How can you see this man as a man of integrity.” Kelli Gannon, 55, who considers herself conservative, has similar conversations with her son, who leans more liberal. “I hate that we have this division in our country...but I really embrace the fact that it is helping people open up and talk,“ said Gannon. The two sat down and had their own conversation in which they learned more about each other and political beliefs.

Even though Macdonald, a retired librarian, didn’t always agree with her father, she says he greatly impacted her life. Her father, a pilot, was injured in a plane crash in World War II, coming home with an “almost non-existent leg.” Despite always being in pain, her father remained active with his family and always played with his kids. “He taught me self-esteem,” said Macdonald. “That really made me feel so good about myself and he was amazing..lived to 95 and flew his airplane until he was 80.”

Gannon was moved by Macdonald’s story of her father and often tells her kids that the World War II generation was the greatest generation. “That’s an incredible story,” said Gannon, an elementary school teacher. “Do you ever just long for that generation again?”

Even though Macdonald’s father was a part of that generation, she doesn’t believe it’s the greatest because they didn’t try to resolve social issues such as racial injustice. “Unfortunately I think that’s why our country is partly where we are right now,” said Macdonald.

Macdonald grew up in a conservative household, but now considers herself a Democratic Socialist. “I think there's a lot of fear because you hear socialism, it's not communism it's not a negative thing, and, yet, you know I think a lot of people are fearful of it,” said Macdonald, who lived in democratic socialist countries.

While Gannon, who was the first in her family to graduate college, respects Macdonald’s opinion and that she has knowledge behind it, she doesn’t necessarily think socialism is what the United States should do. “I like less government,” said Gannon. “I don't believe that people shouldn't be helped and shouldn't be taken care of.” ”I just don't know that it's our government's purpose to do all of that.” Gannon added she would love to hear more about socialism and Macdonald’s experience with it.

After noticing a lot of division in the country this year, Gannon thinks having these conversations with family and strangers is needed to create substantial, positive change. “Until our hearts change, it’s going to be hard for our country to change,” said Gannon. “It’s hard to change your heart if you don’t understand people.” Gannon has learned a lot from her husband of nearly 30 years because he comes from a different background and looks at conflicts differently.

Just as Gannon and her husband combine parenting styles to raise two kids, Macdonald believes the two political parties need to do as well to raise their own child — the country. “We need to raise that child in the correct way that means you have to reprimand, you have to encourage, and this is the kind of conversation we all need,” said Macdonald, who raised two daughters.

Macdonald and Gannon disagree on many issues, but the two parents do agree the country is important and that both sides need to work together for a successful future.

StoryCorps’ One Small Step is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.