By Danica Lauren Barnett
Tucked away in the back of a quiet Panera Bread in Central Phoenix, two organizations with very different political opinions met on Sunday morning for an interfaith prayer breakfast with one common goal: to have a civil discourse and sign a treaty as community members of Arizona to denounce white supremacy and any violence against anybody based on their race, religion, sexuality, gender, or country of birth.
Walking into the bakery a little early, I felt a general unease about the situation after hearing about several of the violent threats about President Trump’s upcoming political rally made by community members from both the right- and left-wing sides. Still, I found myself sitting between the two groups as they met to discuss their viewpoints, their definitions of common buzzwords, and how Phoenix can set an example for other communities. While both sides gathered around an L-shaped cluster of different-sized tables, it was clear that there was a slight unconscious divide—on my left, the John Brown Gun Club (also known as Redneck Revolt) is an anti-racist gun club; on my right, the United Liberty Coalition is a constitutional patriotic group who believe that the 1st amendment is paramount to American freedom. Sitting between both groups, Johnny Martin, a member of the URI North America Leadership Council, would serve as a mediator.
Carrying two different versions of a treaty, Martin noted that one version condemned “violence” and one version condemned “racist violence,” but he could not get both groups to agree to sign one version of the treaty. After the discussion, they would work together to come up with a version of the treaty that both groups would be comfortable signing.
As the groups settled in, Martin advised them to “hear what someone means and not just the words used or what you want to be angry about.”
After an interfaith prayer, Martin began the group introductions, asking everyone to share why they were there. While the responses differed in wording and political beliefs, they all shared a similar theme: everyone at the table was there because it is their duty to fight against violence in their community.
“I’m here because I’m an American,” a United Liberty Coalition member shared with the group. “This is how one by one, we stop the violence. We stop the hate.”
Several minutes in, tensions began to flare over the use of common buzzwords—words that have been tossed around by both sides and the media. Both groups sought to identify a common definition for words and phrases such as “racism,” “Nazi,” and “white supremacists.”
Moving forward, both groups decided that despite differing beliefs, all they could do is move on with their peace efforts. While they didn’t have to agree, it was vital for them to talk to each other about how both groups could work to prevent violence at rallies.
“Arizona can be bigger and better and be an example of how communities can not be hateful and violent to each other,” a United Liberty Coalition member said.
The large group discussion slowly gave way to smaller group discussions, covering topics from how the media was controlling the narrative of protests and counter-protests to identifying fascism and white supremacy. One by one, I watched members from both sides moved across the table to debate with each other, eliminating the unconscious table divide that was present at the beginning.
After common grounds were met, leaders from both groups met to discuss the terms of the treaty and what language would be acceptable for both parties. As they debated how wording could affect the overall meaning of the treaty, both groups huddled around one small table, scratching out words and rewriting sentences. In the end, they drafted a treaty that condemned violence and committed to maintaining an open dialogue between members of both communities. In the end, four members of the John Brown Gun Club, three members of the United Liberty Coalition, and Martin signed the treaty.