The sprawling fountain square on the Minnesota State University, Mankato, campus was filled with students Monday, their attention gravitating toward a man in the center of a quickly forming circle.
He was wiping his brow as the sweltering heat beat down on a humid, 89-degree fall day. Carrying a Bible, the man preached about the importance of morality, loving one another as God loved us, and invited students to debate him on some of the issues he brought up.
As a Zimbabwean native who did not shed a single tear when her dictator president passed away a week ago, I was relieved to see this scene. America is not heading the way of a dictatorial regime after all. At least we can hope not.
The past three years have brought a continuous, brutal political tennis match in which both political parties have been trying to “win.” I can safely say that many of us are exhausted by the political maneuvers of both sides.
Some days, the Democrats win, six-love. On others, the Republicans do the same. Yet the ability to respectfully speak to one another has largely been lost.
The students on the Mankato campus went into the circle, some shouting profanities at the preacher while others debated the philosophical nature of objectivity with him. They questioned him about what the Bible says concerning homosexuality, and why he believes what he believes. He answered and engaged with students.
I was reminded of some of the reasons why I came to the United States and, more importantly, why I stayed — like the ability to speak your mind without fear of death.
A trans student entered the circle to be part of the conversation and the preacher called “her” a “him.” Students on the periphery shouted, “she is a she!” She, too, held her own as she challenged him about his views on the LGBTQ+ community.
Although the preacher turned and continued to call “her” a “him,” it was a script drawn straight out of the Bill of Rights, starring the First Amendment as the lead ... actress.
Depending on where you fall on the political spectrum, a certain reaction has arisen in you in response to this trans student scene. That is your prerogative. As I watched it unfold, I simply thought about the importance of being able to express one’s views, a privilege many in the world only dream of.
Like many of you, I have lost friends over political differences. Yet on this small Midwestern campus, I saw how America can swing the pendulum back to where we can live with and speak to one another with respect despite disagreement, despite the need to “win.”
As the country rushes toward the 2020 presidential election, I am excited to see more of these kinds of conversations instead of the usual brutal political discourse that we have become programmed to gravitate toward. Whether you think your side is “right” or “won” the political game today, the conversation between differing sides offered a potential model microcosm for the country’s political manners.
There is hope yet, America.
Paidamoyo Chikate lives in Minneapolis.