#MyBridgeStory – Amanda Shafer

“I grew up in a divided household that was unafraid of political conversation. My mother preferred watching one news channel and my father preferred watching another, so each night I would hear two different perspectives on every story. Throughout my childhood, I would visit my father’s family in rural Illinois for one holiday, then my mother’s on the East coast for another, seeing the different lifestyles of each side of my family, and enjoying my time with all of them. Even in my high school, perspectives varied across the political spectrum, and often heated discussions erupted in my social studies classrooms. But through the political disagreements I grew up enveloped in, I learned that fruitful and respectful relationships could prosper despite differences of opinion.

Culture shock ensued when I arrived in college. Initially drawn to UC Berkeley for its long history of political activism, I soon learned that this came with weighted political rhetoric and inaccurate assumptions about people solely based on their party preferences. I met many students who admitted that they could not share that they were conservative out of fear of being labeled a fascist or being associated with a controversial Republican club on campus; these people were rational, respectful, thoughtful individuals facing hate for their partisanship. So I joined BridgeUSA and committed myself to mitigating political polarization on college campuses.

After joining BridgeUSA at Berkeley just a year and a half ago, I recently have been promoted to Executive Director of the BridgeUSA Leadership Institute on the National Team. With this position I will spearhead the training of the future generation of pragmatic and empathetic leaders and help place them into influential positions within nonprofits and government. After spending the semester growing BridgeUSA’s partnership network, 2020 will see the official launch of the Institute with open applications for student leaders to be named Democracy Fellows in these organizations through BridgeUSA. I will continue to incorporate new opportunities for our students into the Institute and to promote BridgeUSA’s vision through the highly contentious 2020 election. I saw the potential for a movement within BridgeUSA and took the initiative to grow our students’ impact.

What motivates me through the work is the fact that campus politics is just a microcosm of a greater societal impediment: Our politics have grown so far polarized that negative partisanship has overtaken positive governance. Our government was born out of the fear of factional control and founded on the need for compromise, yet hyperpolarization has inhibited bipartisan and meaningful legislation. If we are to mend any issues that either party cares about, we must recommit ourselves as a nation to tough, civil dialogues and to a sense of patriotism that transcends party lines.”

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