Prophetic Elevator Pitch Saves Democracy (for a Day)

(guest post by Jim Henderson)

Ana Maria Archila had never told her father that she was sexually abused as a child. He heard it for the first time today when Archila confronted Senator Jeff Flake regarding his decision to support Brett Kavanaughs’ nomination to the Supreme Court.

Archila is not a veteran activist; she was a rookie, but she knew she had to make a “connection” with Flake even demanding that he “look her in the eye.” Archila is a prophet, which, translated, means someone who speaks truth to power regardless of the consequences. “I wanted him to really stay there and be present and think of the people he loves … And I wanted him to be a hero. To show up for his children. For my children. For myself.” By the end of the day Archilas elevator pitch would cause the president of the United States to change his position and allow justice to complete its course.

We get to do this in America. This is democracy in action. Her voice was intense but not hysterical; her tone was insistent but not threatening. Flake fought to look away, to avert his gaze from this uncomfortable moment; but, while Archila was speaking prophetically, Flake was hearing another voice—the voice of his five kids, his wife, his family, his parents, and his religion.

All those formative voices were translating this moment for him and he made himself listen respectfully and sincerely.

Five minutes later, Senator Jeff Flake would be taking his seat as a member of the Judiciary Committee where he would hear another, less emotional but just as passionate prophetic voice, that of Democratic Senator Chris Cooms as he pleaded with the Republicans one last time to reconsider and do the right thing—to allow the FBI a week to investigate the charges brought against Kavanaugh. Like a true prophet who isn’t accepted in his own country, Senator Cooms allowed at one point in his speech that probably no one was listening to him, but he nevertheless felt he had to try one more time to appeal to the Republicans’ consciences.

Cooms probably didn’t know about Archila’s earlier prophetic elevator pitch, but apparently Flake couldn’t shake it. At one point before the final vote, with his Republican colleagues staring curiously, Flake rose from his chair, walked dramatically to the opposition’s side of the table, tapped Cooms on the shoulder, and invited him to join him for a private conversation outside the room.

When people like each other the rules change.

Outside, in the hallway, two friends with dramatically different political views—people I call ideological opponents—crafted a simple and reasonable compromise. In that moment, America breathed a sigh of relief. Democracy had appeared at the last minute. Meanness, pettiness, small mindedness, and vitriol had been defeated for the day.

This is why we have Three Practices. Just as Flake and Cooms demonstrated today, surprising things can happen when two people practice “staying in the room with difference.”

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