‘Purple’ Explores Swing State Voters
Helen Kramer is an IFYC Alum and an operations and impact officer at Resetting the Table -- a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to strengthening democracy and civic life by equipping leaders and communities to deliberate across political silos to address important public problems. Through decades of combined experiences in mediation and facilitation, the team has opened unprecedented communication among divergent, influential leaders. ‘Purple’ is the team’s first full-length film that follows a group of people living in rural Wisconsin and Iowa – sharing their stories on what made them swing their votes from Obama to Trump in the 2016 elections.
Over a Zoom call with IFYC staff writer, Silma Suba, Kramer talks about her transformative filming experience and what she learned from her on-the-ground interviews.
Watch the trailer for 'Purple'
Q. What's the film 'Purple’ about?
Purple captures everyday Americans -- going straight to the heart of their differences on topics that matter to them, without papering over those differences. Our film captures them in a way that is uplifting, humanizing, and respectful of one another's backgrounds and unique views.
I worked as an associate producer for the film with my team at Resetting the Table. The film looks at a small group of people who live in rural Wisconsin and Iowa – in a swing region that spans the two bordering swing states – which has been politically pivotal in several elections. Particularly in 2016, it was where the highest concentration of counties swung from Obama to Trump, and some analysts are saying it's likely to be pivotal in the upcoming election as well.
It's an area with a great deal of ideological diversity, of course it doesn't represent all of America, but it does represent this microcosm of red and blue living together.
These are people attending the same churches, attending the same schools, and still being in relationships, even if they strongly disagree politically. We wanted to capture a piece of that. The film shows people having conversations about work ethics, social safety, net privilege, equality, the role of government, and similar things that are important to their political vote.
Q. Why did you want to make this film?
After the 2016 election, Resetting the Table had this toolkit and resource for having conversations across differences, and we were using it in the Jewish community. And we thought that there were a real need and a calling even to bring this out into the broader American conversation. We saw the potential for the current divides on politics in the U.S. to devolve almost to the degree that we've seen in other places that we've worked, and we don't want the United States conflict to ever be as intractable as what's happening in Israel-Palestine. That was the initial reason for going to Wisconsin in terms of the film, we want to be able to induct as many people as possible into both the hope that it is actually possible to engage these differences, and also to see some tools that they can actually use to enact it themselves.
One thing I found repeatedly is that people don't see models of people talking authentically about their differences without devolving into toxicity or conflict. I mean, there's the stereotype of the Thanksgiving dinner. Your uncle starts saying something and then your cousin disagrees, then everyone is just angsty and nothing gets resolved. It seems like there aren't enough examples out there of what it would look like to have those conversations where both parties feel like they've heard, and they understand the difference better.
Q. How was the filming process like?
It was a transformative journey for me. I spent some time in rural Wisconsin in 2017 and I’d just walk into a bar and strike up conversations like – what do you think of American politics today? What do you hope for? What are you afraid of? We would stop by coffee shops, farms, churches, any place where people were convening, and we’d connect with them. We spoke to farmers, clergies, at home parents, ranchers, and we spoke to people from diverse Christian denominations – as a Jewish American, I wasn’t even aware that there are so many different Christian identities. And though they all live in the same place, each of them has had such different experiences, and it was important for us to build those relationships. We wanted to show people that they were seen and heard, and that we really do want to capture their stories in their voices and not influence or persuade the audience to jump to any conclusions or stereotypes.
Q. What are some on-the-ground lessons you learned?
While filming I met this family of Evangelical Christians, who were in every way very different from me. They were very conservative and voted for Trump in 2016. Despite our political and ideological differences, they welcomed me into their home with open arms, we had dinner together, and we went to church together. I witnessed how much love there is in that community despite our differences. It made me realize that I don’t know anything about how conservatives think, I had only been exposed to their views, or stereotypes of their views, but I hadn’t ever spoken to a conservative about their experiences.
One example is how in my liberal circle I’ve always believed that conservatives are against everything that we believe in, like abortion rights. I thought they were all pro-life and didn’t care about women’s rights, but when I went there and had these conversations, so many of them refuted the stereotypes and emphasized how they believed in women’s agencies over their bodies, and didn’t want there to be a need for illegal abortions. Of course, there are conservatives who go over the line and maybe I am unable to understand them, but there are people on the other side of the political divide who want to work together to build a country that bridges across their differences. The filming experience helped me realize where my blind spots were and that to really understand where people are coming from, we need to have conversations with them, and not make speculations based on what we hear from other people.
Specifically talking about why these people shifted their votes from Obama to Trump – for a lot of them it wasn’t about voting for Trump, it was about voting against Hillary. I know that in my social circle a lot of the conversations were that oh they voted against her because she's a woman and other narratives like that. But on the ground what I heard from most people was that they didn’t feel she cared for them. Hillary didn’t show up to their states, and in a rural community where hard-work and labor are essential to their culture, where neighbors show up for each other when things get rough, not having her there gave them a very different message.
Q. What would you like your audience to take away from this film?
I want people to understand that there are people on the other side of political divides who are reasonable, who are hardworking, who care about learning, and who want to understand you. I want people to maybe be more aware of their own blind spots. And even if they're still like – I hate this person -- I want them to say that in their head, and then ask themselves what could I say to that person that wouldn't just alienate them, but might change their mind and might persuade them. The world is in so much grief and pain, I’d want people to see this film and realize that we can use our differences to bring us together and understand one another, instead of driving us apart.
I think because of social media it’s so tempting to just dismiss the other side because you get so many likes and retweets when you say something dismissive against the other side. But I think this project has helped me become more hopeful. At a time where there’s so much toxicity, polarization, racism, and awful things happening in the country, it gives me hope to understand that there are people across the divide who are good, and who want to work together to make this nation better.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.