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“I believe that we must love one another”: Senator Diane Sands on bipartisanship and community

Jennifer Euell (left) and Senator Diane Sands (right).

As part of the 2022 StoryCorps mobile tour, friends and colleagues Jennifer Euell and Montana State Senator Diane Sands talk about working across the aisle, across our country’s current political divide, about ultimately choosing hope and loving one another.

CW: Please note that this excerpt contains mentions of material that may be disturbing to or triggering for some listeners.

Jennifer Euell: You have been known for your ability to work across the aisle and with people from all different backgrounds and different beliefs. And I wonder if you could share, uh, how you do it? [Laughs] Do you have any words of wisdom?

Diane Sands: Yes, I do.

Jennifer Euell: I feel like this is a challenge at this point in history.

Diane Sands: I do. Again, I consider politics to be a spiritual practice. And that takes work. It is not easy. I refuse—I choose hope, even though, rationally, I am not hopeful about the situation we are in or have been in for a long time. But I believe that we must love one another. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with people. It doesn’t mean that some people aren’t dangerous. I refuse to call someone evil, because it, in all of history, justifies genocide; it justifies the murder of people that you don't agree with; it justifies making them criminals; it justifies putting them in prison; it justifies families breaking it; it justifies kids committing suicide. That’s what it does, when you consider other people that you disagree with to be evil (and however you phrase that). And the political dialogue in campaigns is very hot around that, of course. And I think it’s incredibly destructive to the democratic process. And I think democracy is on the line at this point.

So you have to practice to do that. I think the biggest thing to do is go and make friends with people—genuine friends that—you like each other, who do not agree with you. We live in these damn bubbles around people like us: people who look like us, think like us. I mean, it’s a tendency of humans as primates, probably, to do that. But the challenge of a multicultural democracy is that you have to force yourself not to do that.

And it’s wonderful. It’s just freeing beyond belief, to see the world from somebody else’s perspective. And that’s, I think, one of the good things about the legislature. You are forced to, in a structured safe, with-lots-of-rules environment, to work with people who don’t agree with you. And you have to build those alliances in those relationships. And I have worked hard at it. You know, people say, My God, how can you be friends with him? He is as right wing as they come. Yeah, he is as right wing as [they come]. And I absolutely love him, and he loves me. And he would do anything for me. And I would do anything for him. It doesn’t mean I change my vote, but we respect each other, and we intentionally do that.

So I really tried to tone-down for other people this too-hot language around it. It’s got to be about working through the issues and finding a way to be in community together. In small communities that I’ve lived in Montana, you know, if it’s a blizzard out there, the guy who owns the store, who’s a member of the Montana militia, is gonna go shovel me out, and I’m gonna go shovel him out. And if we can’t do that, we are doomed to a level that—we fought a civil war in this country once; we could easily do it again. That’s people’s choice. And if you don’t want to move in that direction of violence, you must make a conscious decision to behave, to act in a different way. And it’s a challenge.

The 2022 StoryCorps mobile tour is recording at the Missoula Public Library, giving Missoulians the opportunity to preserve their conversations and stories for future generations. StoryCorps Missoula is brought to you in part by Clearwater Credit Union, Partners Creative, and Montana State Fund.