On Monday, Nancy Tate, LWVUS Executive Director, and I attended an event in New York City sponsored by No Labels, a bipartisan group that is looking for ways to bridge the partisan divide. The event featured elected officials, including members of Congress, who are willing to step up and be problem solvers.  The problem solver designation does not require any change in political beliefs; only a commitment to collaboration. While the focus in Washington tends to be on partisan labels, Monday’s event concluded with an exercise that reminded me of all the labels that we carry around with us. Age, race and gender, education, socioeconomic status, geography, immigration status and religious affiliation are only some of the labels that impact our political views. For some, one single label defines our politics for all time. Others of us may find that a succession of labels motivates us throughout our lifetimes. Regardless, we are all united with or divided from one another to varying degrees by those labels.

The League of Women Voters has a long history of gathering facts to spark a conversation aimed at reaching understanding and agreement on issues. Our process is how we imagine a democracy should work. As a country, we are finding it harder and harder to find a common set of facts around which we can have a conversation. In many ways, legislative bodies appear to be fact-free zones these days.  Perhaps one fact we can all agree on is that politicians respond to constituencies and until those constituencies can reconcile their many labels, problems will be difficult to solve.

How do we solve the problem of problem-solving? On Monday, we concluded that the only real solution is more public engagement, a fact the League has recognized for nearly 93 years.  The future of No Labels  and the form the League’s collaboration in this effort will take are  still evolving. But this much is clear.  We cannot come together as a community or a country without both facts and collaboration.