Gaylord Texan Resort's large rooms hosted passionate discussions among dozens of groups such as this one on the main themes of the 2020 election.
"If you're illegal, then you're just muzzling the land," says Kathleen Mierzwa.
That could mean the end of the immigration debate in the mainstream or social media media or lead to a sharp turn to a much uglier debate, but this is not the case at this meeting.
] "What's your real concern?" Natalie Montgomery asks from the other side of the long table. The women met a few hours earlier, one from the Pacific Northwest and the other from the South.
"They are illegal, they did not follow the rules to get in here," says Mierzwa.
Call it The Ultimate Test Cuisine for the Survival of American Democracy, with the hope that citizens will emerge from the fierce, party-political stalemate of the political discourse and find solutions.
"It's a pilot for what democracy could be," said Jim Fishkin, director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University. "God knows, if we do not experiment with democracy, it will just go on being stuck in a split, it will lose its legitimacy and we may lose our democracy."
America in One Room
The name represents the goal of the organizers – make a representative sample of what America looks like. in one place.
"We had the hypothesis that the American people are not as polarized as the American political class, not as polarized as our elected officials and politicians," said Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford University. According to the researchers, Americans only need access to non-partisan information and discussion.
To test this belief, they brought together participants from 47 states. The University of Chicago's NORC, a social research organization, drew a random sample from a nationally representative group of households. According to NORC, income, age, gender, affiliation to political parties, region, education and race reflect the 526 participants in the population of registered voters.
The delegates all participated in a survey before arriving in the Dallas area.
Over the next four days, they met as a large group to listen to experts discussing healthcare, foreign affairs, immigration, the environment, economics and taxation. Some of the Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidency talked to the group, including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Minister of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, former MP Mark Sanford, former MP Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.
The large group split into smaller groups of 13 to 15 people to discuss important issues.
& # 39; They regard the US as a joke & # 39;
"The things we sometimes do are just … inhumane," says Desmond Holmes, 25. Holmes was in the US Navy and now works in IT in Salisbury, North Carolina. He is the youngest in the group of 13 and one of three black participants in the room. He is a registered Democrat.
Half of the group identifies themselves as Republicans or independent, including Kathleen Mierzwa, 40. Mierzwa is a domestic nurse in Kennewick, Washington Help everyone and that's how I feel about the country.
Here, Mierzwa represents her conservative position in relation to immigration and DACA, the postponed action for arrivals in childhood.
"I can tell you that I have a strong opinion, but I do not have all the answers," says Mierzwa.
Mary Krebs, 63, a retired psychotherapist, Mierzwa committed. Krebs was a registered Republican, but changed sides in 2017. "I think you can imagine why," says Krebs.
"We need laws, but we also have to govern with our hearts says Krebs.
"There are laws," says Mierzwa.
"Yes, and then you have a child" in the US, Krebs answers.
"You should have thought about it before you passed "says Mierzwa.
The whole Space reacts.
"I'm sensitive, I do not want them to be separated from their families," adds Mierzwa. Brian McQuiggin, a pastor from nearby Clifton, Texas, jumps in. He is a Republican and donates his ministerial time in Mexico to help migrants. He said he was in conflict – he supported the rule of law, but wondered if his belief should go beyond US immigration laws.
McQuiggin paraphrases from Matthew 25. "You do it to me And so it's hard, you know, it's hard, I feel it's going back and forth."
The next section of the group deals with the foreign policy and the conversation that is being led by President Donald Trump on the world stage.
"He leads in the sense of a dictator," says Lorenzo Spencer, 64, a retiree from Pasadena, California. "If it was a button he would probably press him before he would go to the congress for advice."
Jim Fredrickson, 68, who says he is a disillusioned Republican from Sharon, New Hampshire. says about Trump: "I do not trust his decision-making process."
Evelyn Sierra-Mynk, 34, of Bullhead City, Arizona, defends Trump, the chairman of the party she signed up for. "He is our chosen Commander-in-Chief," she reminds the room.
A Strange Utopia
At the end of the four days of America in One Room, the group conducts another survey.
These poll results, organizers say, will show if the experiment worked. The results are expected to be released on October 2, organizers said.
Final comments in the comments from the small group suggest that the researchers' hypothesis is justified.
"I want to thank you," says Kathleen Mierzwa slowly and emotionally. "Although we had several opinions, we were very polite, and even though we have different opinions, I expect you all to be friends."
At the other end of the political spectrum says Natalie Montgomery, a Democrat leaves less discouraged about American democracy.
"I had no plans to vote in 2020," says Montgomery, an accountant. "I felt that my vote was not taken into account in the elections." Her opinion on the power of her vote had now changed.
Henry Elkus, CEO of Helena, the group that convened "America in One Room," says that the anecdotes shared by the small groups at least suggest that the participants were breaking out of their typical information silos ,
"Seeing this weird utopia," Elkus said, "in which people use facts as a reason for discussion, was so wonderfully shocking to me, and whether they can be exported." For the rest of society, this is an instrument that can influence the transformation of American democracy on a large scale. "