Last Thursday I listened to a conference keynote speech by Olympic gold medalist and LGBT activist Abby Wambach in which she implored the audience to stop “unfriending” people with contrasting views. I clapped along with the rest of the crowd, all the while unsure how I truly felt about her message. Sure, I’d like to have intelligent political debate with folks who have opposing views, but how is making nice with a fracking lobbyist or a sharer of pro-life memes with pictures of aborted fetuses going to enrich my life?
I mean, it’s all well and good to “agree to disagree” and accept that not everyone is going to 100% agree with our views, and we should certainly show a reasonable degree of tolerance for dissension in our social circles. But when it comes to someone who dedicates her life to causes which are the complete antithesis of your own, is it crazy to think you could enjoy sharing a cup of coffee?
Julie Gunlock and I are not supposed to be friends.
As Senior Fellow and Culture of Alarmism Director for the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), a conservative nonprofit organization whose key efforts include advocating against manufacturing safeguards and government regulations pertaining to the use of potentially toxic chemicals, Julie’s modus operandi is to get government – and activists – hands’ off her Thin Mints. IWF believes “radical environmentalism backfires on American families, raises the prices of everyday goods and services, and discourages economic growth.”
As an author, writer, and advocate of this agenda, Julie is nationally-known. She well tell you the fuss over GMOs is a bunch of nonsense, organic is elitist, and fracking is so A-OK with her she’d be psyched to have a well built in her backyard. Oh, and she’s also a gun rights activist.
In the health and environmental parenting movement, she is the Joker to our Batman, the Lex Luther to our Superman, the Misfits to our Holograms (yes, I’m talking about JEM!)
With specific ire directed toward the “green mom bloggers” of my ilk, I’ve found myself to be the subject of Julie’s comments in the past. Frankly, I was flattered that someone so well known in opposing circles would find my blog relevant enough to be worth examination. I don’t recall which posts specifically drew her to my posts, but I do remember having a respectful but passionate – albeit brief – debate on some topic of another.
Maybe it was the Philadelphia Soda Tax, which I rallied for and she opposed (though she lives in Virginia – it was more about the precedent). Maybe it was when I advised avoiding EWG’s Dirty Dozen produce or offered healthier Halloween candy ideas. Maybe it was when I called out her May 2014 panel From Helicopter to Hazmat: How the Culture of Alarmism is Turning Parenting into a Dangerous Job on my blog and even briefly mentioned it in my new book!
So imagine my utter shock when she walked right up to my book signing at the Kiwi Magazine “WOW Summit” for eco-minded mothers. I read her nametag out loud, “Julie Gunlock!?” She seemed equally surprised to see me (my name was not on the program). Yet our immediate and visceral reaction was to hug. Despite knowing we felt deep-seeded and passionate opposing beliefs and have dedicated our lives to advocating those contrary opinions, our in person impression was a mutual good vibe.
I told her I had a million questions for her and would love to have coffee with her after the signing and she told me she felt the same way.
And that was when I got my first cup of coffee footed by the bill of the Independent Women’s Forum. I’ll take a Venti.
So let’s start by breaking the ice, “You’re not voting for Trump, right?”
“Let’s just say I have some grave concerns. But I’m not voting for Hillary either because she is a criminal.”
OK, gotcha. Let’s just stick with Trump. And with that, we have our first solid piece of common ground.
As we begin an animated hour-long chat, we find that we have quite a bit more common ground than we imagined. We are both pro-vaccine; we share a rigorous belief in science – though we disagree on the validity of or lack of scientific studies in various areas; we believe climate change is real – though we disagree on the ability of man to slow it; we believe fear-based tactics often do more harm than good; and we have an unabashed love for all children (especially our own) and respect and compassion for other parents struggling with information overload.
She acknowledges she has been perceived as a shill, working on behalf of a conservative think tank funded by right wing foundations. (The group was originally founded as “Women for Clarence Thomas” DAFUQ?)
But she contends that her views are her own, and I believe her. Is that different than the small amount of money I make on a sponsored post or affiliate link? In some ways, yes. But not entirely. We are both earning an income through organizations that share our personal beliefs. And we both believe we are doing a service to overwhelmed parents.
We also share something difficult to put into words, but it’s simply a personality that draws us to one another. Easy to laugh, open to intelligent debate, politically engaged and educated but not too proud to admit we may have rushed to judgement. In fact, we rushed to judgement on each other, and we couldn’t admit it quickly enough.
She assumed that I was just like Food Babe, with whom I agree on some things but ultimately take issue with for taking alarmism a bit too far. I thought she was Kellyanne Conway. Anne Coulter. “Linda from Purchasing” on Orange is the New Black.
Now don’t get me wrong – when she looked me in the eye and said there was no evidence that fracking is dangerous and all the people who have claimed illness from it are either delusional or lying, I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. But I simply pretended we were, in fact, Anne Coulter and Bill Maher. We can disagree politically, socially, ethically – hell, we can even debate science. But at the end of the day we both know the world is round (right, Jul?), we believe the children are our future, and we didn’t get our first picks for our party’s presidential nomination (though mine was a very close second – hers may have been a tad farther down the line).
I still disagree with her politics almost 100%. But she made some interesting points. For instance, she feels it does a disservice to impress the dangers of organic strawberries to a low income population that might then think it more prudent to skip fruit altogether. Now, I find this to be a highly unlikely scenario where any reasonable minded person would think experts – or mom bloggers for that matter – are suggesting that Cheetos trump apples (see what I did there with Cheeto and Trump in the same sentence?) But if Julie feels strongly enough that this is a concern, maybe we should consider being more conscious of that message?
I also like to think that she took to heart some of the points I made. We have opened the door of communication between two vastly different movements. Instead of dismissing each other as “lunatics,” we have made inroads to understanding each other. And in a political climate that is unprecedented in its divisiveness, it feels good to have made a friend across the aisle.