Nebraska Unify Challenge hopes to draw Nebraskans from every political identity together – Lincoln Journal Star

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We’ve all been there: An awkward dinner with a relative on the other end of the political spectrum. A hesitation to befriend peers from different backgrounds.
For Morgan Lasher, director of marketing and community at Unify America, it’s these types of situations her organization wants to remedy. Unify America — a nonpartisan initiative built on civic harmony and cooperation — is partnering with Civic Nebraska to create a statewide challenge aimed at getting Nebraskans to work together.
These live, one-on-one video conversations, collectively called the Nebraska Unify Challenge, mark the first time Unify America has set its sights on a project at the state level. Nancy Petitto, director of civic health programs at Civic Nebraska, said there’s no better state to pave the way.
“It makes me think of ‘Nebraska Nice,’” Petitto said. “I really do think it’ll be a respectful space and an opportunity to really listen to someone else.”
The challenge starts with a quiz posted at the Nebraska Unify Challenge website, Participants will answer questions about their political standing, geography and race, among other things.
They will then sign up for one of three video chat times: March 1 at noon, March 3 at 7 p.m. or March 5 at 10 a.m.
From there, they’ll receive a link to chat with their designated partner. The system pairs people with different opinions and experiences together, Lasher said, and while they’re on the call they’ll answer prompts about their values and beliefs.
Lasher said some of the questions will be tailored to the Nebraska Legislature.
The purpose of the guided questionnaire is not to persuade others to think a certain way, but to find common ground, encourage both sides to listen to each other and disrupt stereotypes.
“When two people from totally different geographies or backgrounds or ideologies come together, there is this power that comes from different lived experiences,” Lasher said. “We can actually get back to the business of problem-solving instead of political fighting.”
The Nebraska Unify Challenge is backed by state senators on both sides of the political spectrum.
Sen. Anna Wishart, a Democrat, and Sen. Tom Brewer, a Republican, encourage Nebraskans to participate and embrace the unity challenge.
“The Unify Challenge isn’t about compromising our most cherished and deeply held beliefs. It’s about putting away our caricatures about ‘the other side’ and recognizing our shared humanity,” Wishart, of Lincoln, said in a written statement.
Brewer, a veteran, appears alongside Wishart on the site to share a similar sentiment.
“My country’s uniform, which I wore for 36 years, doesn’t represent only Red America or Blue America. It represents the United States of America,” he said.
The challenge comes at an opportune time for Nebraska, Petitto said. There are important legislative shifts happening, and ideological separation between the rural and urban parts of the state are becoming more noticeable.
“We don’t necessarily have to agree on everything, but we want to be able to find a space where we can come together and work on some of these issues at the same time,” Petitto said.
Lasher said she’s hopeful about the impact the unity challenge will have on Nebraskans. Her organization has been doing this on a national level since January 2020, and she said the results have been encouraging.
Previous participants have been able to find shared goals and passions with their partners, no matter how differently they vote. Those who vote similarly have much more different opinions than Lasher expected.
Lasher said 74% of participants across political spectrums felt more hopeful about the political landscape after participating in a unity challenge.
The interest in the unity challenge came as a surprise to Petitto, but she’s heartened by the positive response.
“We’ve seen a spark and an uptick in folks who want to have these types of conversations, but they were just never really sure how to get started or where to go,” Petitto said.
The employees at Unify America want to get other states on board with the unify challenge, Lasher said, but she’s excited for Nebraskans to kick off this new adventure.
“This is a really important first step to help Nebraskans feel empowered to be part of political conversations and be part of the problem-solving that the entire country needs,” Lasher said. “This isn’t about kumbaya, this is about having different perspectives.”
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Jenna Thompson is a news intern who has previous writing and editing experience with her college paper and several literary journals. She is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pursuing degrees in English and journalism.
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