By Liliana Xu
I was slightly terrified when I first joined BridgeUSA. I had only just begun following politics and current events more closely, and BridgeUSA – an organization centered on political dialogue – seemed intimidating. I figured I was about to enter a conversation where everyone would be far more knowledgeable than I was, and I would inevitably reveal my lack of awareness about too many things. However, I was also extremely curious about the premise of the club and its ability to actually foster productive dialogue.
By the end of my first meeting, I knew I wanted to come back, and I knew I would be welcomed.
As someone who was unfamiliar with talking extensively about politics, someone who was always playing catch-up with the news, someone who didn’t understand how Congress worked rather than someone who planned to work there someday, I thought my perspective would be rare in BridgeUSA. But it’s quite common, given that BridgeUSA spaces are a perfect entry point into getting engaged in politics: they are built to encourage all ideas to be heard and to discourage personal attacks or outright dismissal. As a result, many of our members are young people who may not have been particularly involved in politics prior to joining.
Politics can be intimidating – it often feels like everyone is just shouting their opinions. And it seems like those people are either shouting based on feelings rather than fact or shouting based on years of studying government structure. In either case, I never felt particularly motivated – or qualified – to get involved. If I view politics as characterized by Twitter fights, ruined Thanksgivings and presidential debates where the candidates talk over each other, I see no place I want to get involved. At the same time, I don’t expect discussions about politics to only happen between fully informed, rational individuals – because those do not exist. I will never be able to exhaustively research any issue, and everyone is driven by emotion to some degree. But still, good conversations about politics need to happen, and they can happen.
The more I learned more about politics, history, government, media, religion, and all the different facets of society over the years, the more I saw how learning about each helped contextualize my understanding about the others. For that reason, I wanted to find a way to learn more about politics, and BridgeUSA turned out to be a great pathway to do so.
Every meeting and event has given me insight into not only new political ideas and beliefs, but also the practices of active listening and exercising my voice. It is meant to be a space where even as a newbie, you can offer up opinions without fear of being ridiculed – you might face opposition, but the emphasis is placed on the idea, not your personal legitimacy. It is a place where you can share your most absurd opinions, as long as you are willing to engage in debate and face pushback. It is an opportunity to hear new perspectives, learn about relevant news and events, and continuously see how issues are connected and complex.