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Crossing political divides, one train trip at a time

 June 17, 2024 at 5:55 PM PDT

S1: It's time for Midday Edition on KPBS. How can we find connection during a time of polarization ? Students from the University of San Diego took a train trip across the country to find out. Here's the conversations that keep you informed , inspired , and make you think.

S2: So the idea was to cross a lot of divides red , blue , black , white , incarcerated , free , past , present. So that was what we were doing on , uh , on this journey.

S1: Divisions between us , whether ideological or geographical , have widened in recent years. On the show today , we hear about a recent college class looking to tackle the problem. Plus , we take a closer look at the language of division and conversations around immigration. That's ahead on Midday Edition. This isn't the first time we've been in a tense election year. For many of us , it can feel like the most divided and polarizing time of our lives. So what can we do about it ? A group of University of San Diego students went to find out. Last month. They embarked on a two week train journey to see how divided our country really is. They're back now to talk about what they saw and how we can find ways to bridge those gaps in our own lives. Sarah Fetterman led the trip. She's a professor of conflict resolution at the University of San Diego. Sarah , welcome to midday Edition.

S2: Thank you.

S1: It's great to have you here. Also with us is one of the master's students who took part in the course , Rohan Heaps Chini. They study the science of conflict resolution at USD. Rohan , welcome to you.

S3: Thank you so much for having me.

S1: So , Sara , I want to start with you. Tell us about the inspiration behind this class. I mean , it seems like a really unique experience. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. I'm so glad to have been able to do it. I had been writing a book about the French railways in World War Two , and Amtrak had awarded me a writing residency , which was amazing. They had it for just two years , but it allowed me to cross the United States back and forth while editing my book. And by the time I had binged Watch America All the Way , you know , uh , back and forth , I just thought , okay , now this would be amazing to do with other people. I've got to bring a class here someday. So it took me about eight years to get that sorted out. But yeah. So then that that was the inspiration and I'm we were able to pull it off this may.

S1: Well and I want to talk a little bit more about using trains specifically and why that was important. You know , I think we hear these terms sometimes like flyover country or you know what I mean ? Like , what was it about the train that you really felt set the course , you know , where you wanted to take it ? Yeah.

S2: It's funny because trains are the symbol of modernity and the symbol of the end of connectedness , but they're really spaces where people connect , people who take long train rides , especially the overnight train. They often want to chat. You're at tables with people. You're hanging out in this observation car together and playing cards and sharing stories. It's a very open space and people can get up and move , which you can't do on a plane , and then you're viewing the beautiful landscape as you pass. It's really a special experience that I'm surprised more people haven't wanted to try.

S1: Well , and I guess also probably the time is a little different than just in a plane too , right ? So you have a little more observation time , I'd imagine. Yes.

S2: Yes. Yeah. It's not great if you're in a super hurry , I would say. But the trains were on time. It was a miracle we crossed the entire country and did pull in on time , so that was exciting.

S1: So , Rohan , I want to bring you in. You know , you were a student in this course.

S3: These were random people who happened to be on a train. And so it kind of like threw us into the deep end of conflict resolution in a way that I was really excited by. And then on top of it , you know , getting to travel across the country on a train , I mean , it just it sounds so cool and romantic and the idea of getting to do it with my classmates , I just knew that we were going to form a really close connection doing that. And so I think there were a lot of different elements from the practical conflict resolution to personal gaining those connections. And then also just , you know , getting to see all of these places and spaces that I never would have otherwise.

S1: So , Rohan , you mentioned , you know , you both are in the field of conflict resolution. And I think that , you know , conflict covers a lot of ground.

S3: So for me , I kind of happened upon the degree by accident. I was actually looking up masters for my fiance who was interested in getting an MFA. And so I was on Usds website , and I saw conflict management resolution at the Kroc School of Peace Studies. And I was like , Holy cow. What ? What is that ? That sounds right up my alley. Um , I feel like part of what I love about this degree is that people are coming at conflict from all different directions , from the global , the international , the national , the regional , the organizational and even the interpersonal or the individual , which is the kind of conflict that I'm really interested in. And so it makes for a really diverse classroom. And just for the experience in general , to be really widely differing depending on who you get in the room. And I find that really exciting. On top of that , you know , for me , conflict has always been central to everything that I do. I think we live in a society that is incredibly conflict , diverse , and it's actually one of. The things that's dividing us the most. And so , you know , the Crossing the Divide concept was really exciting to me because that's so much of why I started this degree in the first place is the idea that if we could just have respectful conversations with one another and at least try to engage in things that are uncomfortable , conflict is uncomfortable. It's tense. It can be stressful. But the idea that that means that it's net negative , or that it's always going to be bad and that it's not going to transform something , is something that I really wanted to push back against , and is a big part of why I took this , this course.

S1: Sara , we just heard , you know , Rowan , break down this field of study , conflict resolution.

S2: I had seen the wake of World War two. I was living in Europe , and I thought , okay , we just can't do this again. This was crazy. And so I got into it thinking , how can we prevent war with this ? And it does deal with the interpersonal and the , you know , the national and international. But actually those things overlap quite a bit. Interpersonal relationships have cultural issues in them. There's international relations where the individuals having to negotiate hate each other. So they're having interpersonal problems while they're having , uh , political ones as well. So it's helping students come at conflicts from different angles , understanding there's many ways to approach conflict. And it's not about which one's the best , it's just which is the best one for what we're dealing with in this moment. And in one hour we might be dealing with something else. So I take on my task of exposing people to as many different areas. Then they can specialize , but then not just getting so in love with one approach that you can understand why we need others.

S1: So a lot of overlap in that. That's interesting. So map this trip out for us.

S2: Some places we wanted to go at 3 a.m. and we thought , all right , we're not going to get everybody off the train at 3 a.m. , but we wanted to have a diverse areas. We went from San Diego to Los Angeles to go to Homeboy Industries. Then we took the train to Tucson , Arizona , where we then drove to Patagonia to study mining and ecologists and some conflicts there. Then we took a very long train ride to Houston , where we wanted to study fossil fuels and that city and how that's operating. Then we went to New Orleans , and we wanted to study the divide of incarcerated and free. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rates almost in the world , um , barring a quite a few countries , but it's very high. And so we wanted to understand what's going on there. Then we moved up to Birmingham , Alabama , to visit Montgomery to see the Equal Justice Initiative Museum , and then to DC to see the Constitution and the Bill of rights and the Declaration of Independence. So the idea was to cross a lot of divides red , blue , uh , black , white , incarcerated , free , past , present. So that was what we were doing on , uh , on this journey.


S3: So you like Sara said , it is really interesting because the train is such a sort of microcosm in many ways of really interesting interactions with people who are sort of putting themselves in a situation where they are somewhat open to conversation. You know , one thing I've been thinking about is if you wanted efficiency , if your main goal was to get somewhere as quickly as possible , you probably wouldn't choose a train. And that wasn't something that I had thought about when I signed up for the class , but obviously it was something that Sara had thought about , and so it really lent itself to people being open to these kinds of interactions in a way that I don't find people typically are in normal life. Um , and then obviously there's the , the forced meals where you are placed at the same booth with somebody , regardless of , you know , whether or not you know them. And so there were a lot of opportunities. There were definitely some interesting conversations with people who either were a little more lukewarm or cold and and not as excited to engage. And so I think that was a moment where I was sort of practicing mirroring , which is a skill where you sort of , you know , reflect back what you're getting from the person. And so if I was noticing that they weren't as interested either backing away or , um , giving them space and if they were more engaged and lively , sort of matching them there. Um , and then there were some conversations that were really wonderful , even transformative. There was a couple who I think a lot of us on the trip ended up having different interactions with and bonding with , and I think they wrote like a blog post about meeting all of us afterwards , and they were just so wonderful , and we actually ended up running into them , what , 3 or 4 states later in the middle of the streets of New Orleans , completely by coincidence and sort of getting to meet them , which was really fun. So a wide variety of conversations.

S1: And I'm just curious , Rowan , you mentioned mirroring there. How do you even approach starting these conversations ? I mean , that alone could be a challenge. Or at least , you know , for me thinking about that.

S3: Yeah , absolutely. I think it depends on the circumstance. So if we were placed in a booth for a meal , I think there's a lot more of an easy way into that conversation. Whereas , you know , if it's just somebody who has a spot in an observation car and you would like to sit in that booth , you can go up to them and say , hey , is somebody sitting here ? Would you be comfortable with me taking a seat ? And then again , sort of reading the body language , reading the response , they might be okay with you sitting , but they might not want to have a conversation , you know , taking a look at are they currently working or are they just staring out the window ? Do they have headphones in ? These are all indicators of how interested somebody is and engaging in that conversation. So a lot of it was reading those kinds of things and then , you know , taking a shot and seeing how it goes. And then , you know , always having the awareness of leaving it or backing up or stopping if they're not responsive. Mhm.

S4: Mhm.

S1: So was there someone you met who , you know , stood out to you during the trip that , you know may have struck a chord in whatever way.

S3: Um , from the train itself , I would definitely say Sarah , I think their names were Consuelo and Vito.

S4: I think they were amazing.

S3: Yeah , they were just incredible. Um , they were an older couple from the Dominican Republic , and my roommate Skye , and I had dinner with them on the train , and they were just. So funny and intelligent and compassionate and kind , and we just had such engaging conversation. One of the biggest things I remember from that conversation was a moment where they were sort of talking about their domestic life , and Consuelo brings something up and Beto goes , oh no , don't , don't tell them that. Don't , don't , don't bring that up. And I was like , Consuela , you have to tell us now. And basically something that she does to keep their life sort of like fun and jovial and , and unexpected is that she'll just occasionally move everything in the kitchen cabinets , like , she'll move the mugs to a different cabinet , she'll move the plates , he'll move the bolt. She'll just , like , rearrange everything and put everything in a completely different place. And it apparently just drives Beto crazy. He finds it , like , very annoying , but I thought it was just lovely and adorable and like a really beautiful insight into what marriage after , you know , 40 plus years looks like. So that sticks out to me. And then in terms of people that we met , the Promise of Justice initiative was really impactful for me. Um , they are the law firm that represents different inmates at the angle of prison , which is the Louisiana State Penitentiary. So Sarah kind of talked earlier about the incarceration rates in Louisiana. So we talked to them about some of the different civil rights issues that are happening in those prisons and the avenues that they're taking to fight that. And it was really impactful and eye opening. So I think those are the people that , um , we were set up to talk to who I was most impacted by.

S1: And Sarah , I'll ask you the same question.


S2: I had my own interactions but also spoke to the students and read their journals. There's one another student who came on the trip. I'm going to borrow her story because it was so interesting. She actually approached someone who seemed sort of closed , had the closed body language , and started speaking to this man , and he said , you know , I've been on this trip and and no one's ever talked to me. I take this trip all the time. And she goes , oh , that's too bad. He goes , yeah , it's sort of lonely. And then she came back like an hour later and he had all these people around him. She's like , wait , I thought you never talked to anybody. And he goes , I don't know. I talked to you. And now all of a sudden I'm really open. And there was like a party around him. And it was interesting seeing the students kind of shift and transform the other people. Um , someone else met a someone who claimed to be a former CIA operative. Of course , we don't know , uh , met someone who claimed he had trained Mike Tyson. Of course we don't know. Um , but there were lots of fun stories. And then in terms of people that we met there , um , yeah , we had met we met two people on the trip , one in LA and one in Louisiana , who had been incarcerated for over 20 years , one who had just gotten out since 1985 , something like that. She'd been incarcerated since the 80s and was talking about what the world was like to her getting out now. And there was something quite powerful about engaging with people who'd been through these experiences. Those were very memorable conversations for me.

S1: You both have mentioned incarceration is something that is an issue that came up in this trip.

S3: Um , so that was a big thing that we talked about is environment , climate , mining , things like that. Yeah.

S4: Yeah.

S2: And one of the the challenges , especially is what do you do when you're mining for minerals that are needed for renewable energy ? And in order to do that , you're going and disrupting one of the most biologically diverse and fragile environments that we have. And somehow facing that in a small town in Arizona and saying , oh my gosh , here's where we're facing , right ? Like these terrible choices that we , as you know , humanity has to make and has to find a way forward.

S1: When we come back , we hear more about how students from the Crossing the Divide course sought out common ground during their cross-country journey.

S3: A lot of the things that I focused on in this trip was asking questions and getting more curious about where the other person was coming from.

S1: That's ahead on KPBS Midday Edition. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Andrew Bracken , filling in for Jade Hindman. I'm speaking with Sarah Fetterman , a professor of conflict resolution at the University of San Diego , along with Rohan Keaney , a master's student at USD. We're talking about their course crossing the divide. Sara , in your work , you've emphasized this. You know the importance of avoiding tribalism.

S2: Right. But then you realize , like , wait , wait , we use all these products , right ? We're part of all of this. This is part of us. And that was one way to cross the divide , reclaiming the country for ourselves by knowing it. So one of the things about tribalism is there's so much written and studied now about how social media , um , can contribute to this tribalism , but leaving the house , putting down the phone and going and seeing the country for ourselves actually helps dissipate some of that fear , because tribalism is very much fueled by fear , right ? That the other is so horrible and dangerous , like you can't possibly engage with them , whoever the them is , right ? So by actually getting into the world again , I think we also develop some fear from Covid , like just even traveling and and moving forward and exploring different areas. So it kind of reignited that and then ending in front of the Constitution. Right. A document that all Americans and the Declaration of Independence , Bill of rights that we're all living under and with. So that was a real unifying , um , aspect as well.

S1: And Roman alluded to this a bit earlier.

S2: You know , she really wanted to talk about politics. And I was like , nope , I'm just going to keep connecting with you and your son on , like , other things that we all have in common , you know , and not look for the pain because there is so much in common. So I think that one thing is , especially when you're approaching a stranger , I wouldn't like just go right in there. That's just not my style. Some people do. Sacha Baron Cohen we'll do this , but I won't , um , but talk to people about politics because I think it's it's helpful to really strengthen the fabric before having a tough conversation. It's like in a relationship , right ? It's easier to have a tough conversation with a good friend than with a stranger. If there's no trust there , how are you going to assume the best of what the other person says ? And I think we've lost a lot of that trust. So I don't think it's often the moment to go in there and start ripping up about politics. It's just like , ah , let's just share a positive moment together and then see where that goes. Hmm.

S1: Hmm. Rowan , I'm curious your thoughts here. I mean , many people , you know , avoid conflict by staying away from these more difficult conversations about politics or race.

S3: I definitely agree with Sarah that finding moments of connection , moments of commonality is really crucial. I'm really interested in restorative justice , and any restorative justice practitioner will tell you that one of the first steps always is about building relationship and building connection. So even if it's just , you know , your favorite cup of tea or something like that , some way that you can have an in with somebody , I think that makes a big difference. And then the next thing is , I think a lot of people really want to feel heard. They want to feel like someone is listening to them. And I think a lot of people lose the distinction between hearing someone and agreeing with what they're saying. You can hear and validate that something is important to somebody , and that you hear where they're coming from without saying , I think you're right or I my mind has now been changed by what you said. So a lot of the things that I focused on in this trip was asking questions and getting more curious about where the other person was coming from. We did a lot of readings before the class about the importance of this , and I found that that really rang true throughout my experience , because ultimately , there are a lot of assumptions that we make about why people have the perspectives that they do. And a lot of the time we make assumptions that it's about something more nefarious than it often is. I think a lot of people have perspectives not because they're inherently evil or greedy or don't care about other people , but because they see things from a different point of view , one that you might not have considered. And so. Having that consideration and asking those questions. Even if it doesn't make you agree with them , it'll make them feel heard. And that is another point of connection that maybe you can therefore have a a better in to having a more tense interaction further on in the conversation.

S1: And , you know , it can feel a little daunting to feel like maybe you're confronting others kind of , you know , what you're talking about here.

S3: I'm a big fan of mindfulness meditation , breathing exercises. Um , I've gotten a trauma awareness and resilience certificate through my coursework at Proc , which is really important to me because I'm really interested specifically in how things like our attachments and our history , our background , our traumas , our identities , things like that come into everyday conversations , everyday interactions , everyday conflicts. And so I think the first place to start is being aware of yourself , connecting with yourself , knowing where your trigger points are , knowing how to do a body scan and to say , oh , I'm feeling uncomfortable. What is it that I can do to make myself be in a better situation to have this conversation ? Or is this a conversation that I'm open to having right now ? I think a lot of people aren't aware enough of. Checking in with themselves. And I'm saying , you know what ? Actually , this isn't something that I'm comfortable with. I maybe even instigated it or I consented to it at the beginning , but it's not something that I think is sustainable for me , and I'm going to remove myself. So I think reminding yourself that you have that agency and going in with an intentional mindset of prioritizing your well-being over , you know , a pointless conversation where you're just screaming , screaming at each other. Ultimately , if you're activated and if you're not grounded and you're just going back and forth , the conversation is not going to be productive. So de-escalating before it gets to that point , I think is really important as well.

S1: And Ron , you've talked about , you know , how your identity informed how you navigated this journey.

S3: So I'm a queer , trans , non-binary and pretty visibly gender non-conforming person. And so I've never traveled to the South or the true South. I'll say , um , intentionally , because I haven't had any moments where I felt like I had an opportunity to do so in a way that felt comfortable or safe for me. So that was another thing that was really exciting for me about this train trip , was it was exploring a part of the country that through this trip I felt empowered to explore. And that was really exciting. And I think one of the things that was surprising to me was how similar I felt like a lot of these environments were to other places that I have lived. I definitely noticed that there were some interactions where people would be warmer and friendlier to some of my classmates who would talk to them , and then I would try to engage in , you know , getting back to that mirroring we talked about earlier , I was getting signs that they weren't super jazzed about talking to me , and then that's okay. And that's something that , you know , I , I keep an eye out for in my daily life to keep myself safe regardless of what place that I'm in. And so I definitely noticed some of that , but there wasn't any outright antagonism. Now , of course , we were mostly in cities. We were mostly in cities that were relatively blue , so that could have been part of it. But I definitely felt like after leaving this trip , I feel more comfortable and more empowered to explore parts of the country that I haven't been to and feel like I have more of the tools that I need now to navigate that , which is really exciting.

S1: So I think now on to the ultimate question I had , which is , do you feel we are as divided as it can seem ? I think , Sarah , you mentioned , you know , social media and the role that plays , but what has been your takeaways from the trip in terms of , you know , this divide that you were exploring ? And Sarah , I'll start with you. Yeah.

S4: Yeah. And the.

S2: The semester prior , I had led an independent study with several students on polarization. So I had just read so many articles about how polarized we are , academic studies , really interesting work. And I thought , oh no , like what ? What's going on ? Right. And there's a lot of good terial on. Are we headed for a civil war or is this the end of democracy ? I don't , you know , know the numbers. And we didn't do enough statistically significant , you know , study , um , statistically accurate study of of what's happening. But I thought there would be much more visible divide. I thought there would be much more people wearing red and blue , kind of identifying themselves , looking to talk about politics. I thought the tension would be so thick you could cut it with a knife as we move through places , and it just wasn't. I mean , people are just going on with their lives. They seemed sort of as is. And so I'm not saying those other things aren't true. I mean , maybe they're happening in towns that we didn't see or we just didn't engage with them. But I left feeling like , oh , that was a great trip. Love to do it again. Love to meet more people. So that's my qualitative , uh , impression of the experience.


S3: Um , I think that's a really complicated thing to ask because of , like Sarah said , the sample size of the people that we interacted with. I definitely agree that overall it was less tense than I expected. But , you know , from a scientific standpoint , there are a lot of , uh , contributing factors that probably played into that , that I don't feel comfortable necessarily making a determination overall as to how divided we are. But one thing I did come away with is the idea of buy in and how important it is to have anything that connects you , even if it's that we are all sitting on the. Train together , or we all decided to take a train trip rather than fly , or we are all going to Louisiana. Whatever. It is something that connects you so that you can have the buy in to engage in a conversation that you wouldn't otherwise engage in. I think that when you have that , it's incredible the divides that you're able to cross more seamlessly than without any of those things. I think there's a lot of polarization , and there is a lot of divide when we just go into things hot , and by hot I mean agitated or anticipating a fight or assuming what the other person is going to say. I think that's what makes up a lot of our political discourse right now. And instead , if you focus on being open to whatever conversation is coming your way , to asking questions , to engaging with the other person's humanity and not making assumptions about them , you'll come away with a very different understanding of that person and their perspective. And I think personally , the thing that I came away with is that that's the only real way to cross these divides. I can't really tell you how divided we are , but I can tell you some things that I learned about how to cross those divisions.


S2: I was so into it , I didn't know how I would feel , but I would love to do another one and hope that Crock School wants to do it and students want to participate. And I even hope other schools and other people take this trip. I think it would be so cool if people just started crisscrossing the country on the train , and maybe we can decrease some of the tensions just by doing that.

S1: Well , we appreciate you sharing your experience with us today. It's been really enlightening. I've been speaking with Sarah Fetterman , professor at the University of San Diego , along with USD student Rohan Keaney. I want to thank you both for being here.

S2: Thanks for having us.

S3: Thank you so much.

S1: Up next , on Midday Edition , we hear about the history of invasion rhetoric in California and how it's being used today.

S5: This idea of an invasion , aside from being just factually inaccurate , is an incredibly dangerous way to describe the complex situation at the border.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. Welcome back. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Andrew Bracken in for Jade Hindman. As the November election approaches , more politicians are using extreme language to talk about immigration , specifically the use of the word invasion to describe what's happening at the border. The rhetoric is not just limited to the campaign trail. We're also seeing it in legislative debates across the country. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis covered the consequences of extreme language in a new two part series. Take a listen.

S6: Breaking news on the border crisis. There right now is an invasion going on in Southern California.

S7: That is state Assembly candidate Carl DeMaio in February describing the situation at the border. And here is El Cajon mayor and congressional candidate Bill Wells a month later doing the same thing.

S8: What's happening at a southern border is not just a crisis , it's an invasion.

S7: They're not alone. Politicians , particularly Republicans , are using the word invasion more and more to describe immigration , and it will likely continue to ramp up as we head into the next election.

S9: We are not going to let these people come in and take our city away from us , and take our country away from us. It's not going to happen.

S7: Experts say that has a big consequence.

S10: And we've identified over 165 members of Congress in their official capacity , have engaged in invasion or other replacement theory type rhetoric.

S7: That is Zachary Mueller. He's a senior research director at America's Voice , a pro-immigration advocacy organization.

S10: And I think that's really telling and really concerning.

S7: Why he is so concerned is because it comes right out of white supremacy ideology.

S10: The language of invasion is inexorably tied to this idea around the great replacement theory , which has inspired multiple domestic , uh , terrorist attacks over the last several years.

S7: The Great Replacement Theory is a conspiracy claiming that political elites are replacing the voter power of native born Americans with non-white immigrants. Mueller points out that the gunman who killed 23 people in El Paso in 2019 specifically mentioned a , quote , Hispanic invasion , unquote , as motivation. Mueller says that when high profile politicians like Donald Trump use invasion rhetoric , they introduce racist ideas to a mainstream audience.

S10: Unfortunately , in tragically for , it lowers the threshold for individuals to hear that , to think there is a real invasion because our elected leaders say that there is , and then that they have hate in their heart and a gun in their hands , and then they act upon that. Well.

S7: Mayo did not respond to questions. Invasion rhetoric is not limited to the campaign trail. Lawmakers are increasingly adopting this language to push anti-immigrant laws. That's according to Michelle Lapointe , the legal director at the American Immigration Council.

S5: It is unfortunately coming up in legislative debates in other parts of the country , including in states far from the US-Mexico border , that are invoking this same dangerous and violent rhetoric to justify anti-immigrant measures at the state level.

S7: In Texas , Governor Greg Abbott argued that the state was under invasion while trying to pass a law that granted local police officers and judges deportation powers. Lapointe says that a federal judge appointed by Ronald Reagan rejected the argument.

S5: He started by looking at , like the natural dictionary definitions and the meaning of invade , and concluded that it means entering a country with hostile intent to assault , attack , plunder , and that it has to be by an organized , essentially military invasion.

S7: The judge , David Ezra , acknowledged the Texas is under pressure because of the influx of migration , but said that he saw no evidence of any type of military invasion. Lapointe hopes cases like this one in Texas will shed a light on the inaccuracies of this political narrative.

S5: This idea of an invasion , aside from being just factually inaccurate , is an incredibly dangerous way to describe the complex situation at the border and the immigration situation in cities and towns across the United States.

S1: Invasion rhetoric has a long history in California , dating all the way back to the 19th century. Here now is the second part of KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis is to part story.

S6: This is an invasion of people not wanting to follow the rules for immigration.

S7: That is state Assembly candidate Carl DeMaio in May telling a local news anchor that there's an invasion at the border. It's a talking point that Republicans across the country are using more and more as we head into the November election. Not only does the mail say there's an invasion , he also tells us what's behind it.

S6: Because Democrats want the votes. They they have no problem with a porous border. Order.

S7: Order. Experts say this interview , without any pushback from the news anchor , is an example of why invasion rhetoric is so dangerous. Zachary Mueller is the senior research director at America's Voice , a pro-immigrant advocacy organization. He says invasion rhetoric is part of a white supremacy conspiracy theory , in which.

S10: Elite liberals are part of this cabal , to bring in non-white immigrants , to replace white folks , to replace their voting power , and to steal elections and undermine democracy. Now , obviously , none of that is true.

S7: This kind of language ramped up in 2016 , but it has a long history in California. In 1873 , the San Francisco Chronicle published an advertisement warning of a Chinese invasion , asking readers , what are you going to do about it ? Political cartoons from the 1880s show California as a sinking ship , falling under the weight of too many Chinese migrants. Natalia molina is a professor at UC San Diego. She studies the construct of race in the United States.

S4: The use of the.

S11: Term invasion , and just the general idea of it isn't anything new in terms of how we describe immigrants , how we frame immigration issues. It goes back as far back as the late 19th century.

S7: Molina says anti-Chinese sentiment led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 , essentially banning immigration from China. U.S. history is full of examples of anti-immigrant rhetoric leading to discriminatory laws. Molina uses this 1994 ad as an example. It's from California Governor Pete Wilson advocating for a measure that would strip benefits from undocumented immigrants.

S12: They keep coming. 2 million illegal immigrants in California. The federal government won't stop them at the border.

S7: Molina says that framing the problem as immigrants invading is counterproductive. It doesn't help find real solutions to the broken immigration system.

S11: And so how you define a problem defines a solution. If you define it as an invasion , well , then it's a matter of , you know , putting up a wall and making America strong.

S7: She says immigration is such a complex topic that oversimplifying it distracts policymakers from asking nuanced questions.


S7: That amount more than quadrupled in 2022 , and now the 2024 election is already on pace to surpass that amount , according to data from America's Voice. Mueller says that these ads pull on people's genuine concerns about immigration.

S10: Because it is a story that hits on their anxieties about who they are and their identity about safety and their community safety. It hits on , you know , concerns about , you know , their economic security and pulling on those anxieties , which are legitimate anxieties , rationalizing them , saying immigrants are to blame for fear that.

S7: Voters around the country should be expected to be bombarded with more invasion ads before the November election.

S11: We can't rely on ads because the ads are designed to be inflammatory. The ads are designed to get your attention for 30s.

S7: Molina's advice. Do your own research.

S11: We can't rely on a flyer or somebody who wants to win an election.

S7: Gustavo Solis , KPBS news.

S1: You can read the full story at KPBS. Org. That's our show today. But before we go , yesterday was Father's Day. We hope it was a special day for you all. On our show last week on fatherhood , we talked about finding ways for dads to connect with one another , and we received this suggestion from a listener.

S13: And I wanted as a mother to suggest that fathers do a lot of the pick ups and drop offs to preschool. Because preschool you often choose , you're more likely to choose your preschool as opposed to your public school public elementary school. And so you might have other like minded parents , and if you're lucky. So at least be a few dads. Typically it's moms , but there'll be a few dads during pickup and drop off. And that's one way to meet like minded dads with kids similar ages. So just showing up often is how you meet other dads.

S14: That's our show for today. I'm your host , Jade Hindman. Thanks for tuning in to Midday Edition. Be sure to have a great day on purpose , everyone.

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A group of students are seen laughing and smiling on a train in this undated photo. They are part of University of San Diego's "Crossing the Divide" course, which included a two-week train trip across the country.
Prashanth Murthy
A group of students are seen laughing and smiling on a train in this undated photo. They are part of the University of San Diego's "Crossing the Divide" course, which included a two-week train trip across the country.

As the November election approaches, political tension is building. For many of us, it can feel like one of the most divided and polarizing times of our lives. What can we do about it?

Nine master's students from University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies went to find out. Last month, they embarked on a two-week train journey as part of the university's "Crossing the Divide" course, which aims to connect with people from across the political spectrum.

On Midday Edition Monday, we talk about what they learned on the trip and how to bridge those gaps in our own lives.


  • Sarah Federman, associate professor of conflict resolution at the University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies
  • Rowan Hepps Keeney, graduate student