What Transpartisan Means to Joan Blades

– Message from the Editors –

In 2018, we reached out to several notable proponents of transpartisan to learn how they interpreted the word and the movement. First amongst our interviewees was Joan Blades, co-founder of  Living Room Conversations and MoveOn.org. As a member of The Transpartisan Review advisory board, Joan plays a major role in shaping our thinking on this subject, and it goes without saying we were very interested in her specific understanding of transpartisan.

The following article is an excerpt from a conversation we had with Joan in June of 2018. At that time, a policy, advocated by the U.S. President and implemented by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to separate children from their immigrant parents divided America and created a conversational opportunity which Joan believed could benefit from the transpartisan nature of Living Room Conversations.

In this short piece, we share her take on what transpartisan means to her, how it informs her work, and how current events of the time reflect her desire to see a more thoughtful and transpartisan approach to healing the political divides in the United States.


What Transpartisan Means to Joan Blades

From The Editors of Transpartisan Review

Excerpted from a conversation with A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner…

MoveOn.org and Living Room Conversations co-founder Joan Blades’ contribution to the transpartisan movement cannot be understated. MoveOn.org grew from a very transpartisan desire voiced by citizens representing all sectors of our Transpartisan Matrix  to “move on” from the tabloid-headline politics plaguing Washington D.C. in the wake of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment.

Living Room Conversations, originally conceived collaboratively in 2010 by representatives of the transpartisan and engagement communities, was developed to be a “structured, intimate conversation format that would empower everyday citizens to discuss important issues with friends of differing political affiliations and backgrounds”. In 2013, as described on their website, Living Room Conversations hosted their first high profile conversation, which featured Joan and the co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, Mark Meckler. Together, with friends from both sides of the political divide, they discussed crony capitalism and identified the need for criminal justice reform as an area of 100% transpartisan agreement.  Featured in the 2018 documentary, American Creed, this initial conversation has grown to encourage deeper “discussion and impactful collaborative action”.

When asked specifically what transpartisan meant to her, despite the impact she has had on the national conversation, she predictively returned to the living room:

“For me, transpartisan is about getting everyone in a room — regardless of their political leanings — to embrace their natural desire for healthy community and encourage them to listen to each other, and yet be willing to have a very different viewpoint and still be respectful of one another.”

Joan would then go on to share the transpartisan history of her most recent work.

“I started Living Room Conversations with partners [believing] ‘this polarization is bad for us and we can’t deal with complex problems’. We need everyone’s best ideas and we need to be able to do collaborative problem solving. And I still believe that deeply.  It started to become clear to me that this was a ‘domestic peace initiative’ because it just seems like we’ve gotten to the point where we are looking at our counterparts in politics as the enemy rather than our fellow citizens.

“One of the things I appreciate about Mark Meckler, when we had our conversations together, [was that we each] believe deeply in certain — progressive for me and conservative for him — values, yet we can like each other and respect each other. That’s something we seem to be struggling with right now. We’re finding it necessary to think “those people” are somehow less than because they don’t share our beliefs. I struggle with it still because there’s part of me that struggles with what’s going on. Taking children and parents and separating them is just horrific to me. I just have to remind myself that a lot of people implicitly or explicitly supporting this1 are hearing a very different story than I am.”

Further discussion with Joan revealed immigration policy as a sensitive and difficult issue for her, however she naturally approached the topic from a transpartisan perspective identifying it as ripe for the type of conversation she developed Living Room Conversations to facilitate.

“I heard leadership from the [Trump] administration talking about how the children are getting medical care and being well cared for. For me, taking a child from their parent, no matter what medical care or food is available, ‘that’ is not ‘well cared for’. Someone else could listen to [the administration] and think, ‘well, they are taking good care of the kids’. That’s what they’re being told. Although I disagree as passionately as I do, I will do my best to recognize that people are seeing it differently and that it would be better if we were to have a conversation with each other.”

The transpartisan movement is as much about building healthy citizen and community relationships as it is about finding solutions to the political hostility crippling progress in Washington DC and across the United States. The first step to moving beyond this hostility is to encourage the conversations which Joan advocates. Tools like our own Transpartisan Matrix, when used with conversation methods like Living Room Conversations, can assist in mapping the roads to healthier political dialogue and more meaningful problem solving.

[1] The USCIS family immigration policy of separating children from their parents.


Joan Blades is a co-founder of LivingRoomConversations.org, an open source effort to rebuild respectful civil discourse across ideological, cultural, and party lines while embracing our core-shared values. She is also a co-founder of MomsRising.org – over a million moms and people who love them working together to make our country more family friendly, and MoveOn.org – millions of members working for Progressive change.

Blades is a Great Work Cultures champion and co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When Where and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, winner of a Nautilus book award in 2011, and The Motherhood Manifesto, which won the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize in 2007. A mediator (attorney) by training and inclination, she is an entrepreneur (a co-founder of Berkeley Systems – best known for the flying toaster and game You Don’t Know Jack), nature lover, artist, and true believer in the power of citizens and our need to rebuild respectful civil discourse while embracing our core shared values.


Water Lilies by Cluade Monet
Source: Art Institute Chicago (public domain)
One the water landscapes Monet produced at his home in Giverny, France.

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