Road to DC: Sandy, Utah
Sharon Spaulding is a marketing and communications professional with a passion for helping nonprofits and international NGOs articulate their missions and reach broader audiences about global issues. She’s also associate producer of a recent documentary, 3000 Cups of Tea, Investigating the Rise and Ruin of Greg Mortenson.
We spoke to her in her home in Sandy, Utah, which she and her husband Carl opened up to us during our travels.
How are you feeling about the state of our country?
“I was very deeply impacted by the election, and to a certain extent I’m still grieving, still in shock over what happened.
“It was not just an affront to everything I hold dear in terms of values, it felt like it really invalidated who I am as a person—everything I stood for and worked for and fought for. It was horrifying on a very deep level.
“I also felt that it was to a certain extent a huge wake up call. How did this happen? What are we going to do? Hillary wasn’t elected, so she isn’t going to handle it, her advisors and her staff and her teams, they are not going to handle the environmental issues, the legal issues, the issues of racism and sexism… we have to do it.
“So one of the things a group of us did was to start a Facebook page. We each took on an issue we felt most passionate about, and when we become aware of petitions or actions or marches, or other things we could do around our area of interest, we post them on Facebook.”
Do you understand the Trump voter’s perspective?
“I have friends who voted for Trump, and I still don’t understand the process by which they arrived at the conclusion that they would be better off.
“I’m not talking about out of work coal miners. I’m talking about people who are well-educated, who are financially secure, who have travelled the world, who have what I would consider to be a broader worldview, who I consider to be humanitarian…all of these things. How did you vote for Donald Trump? Why?
What do you mean, she’s had people killed?
“Their answers have not satisfied my curiosity. One person said, ‘Well how could you vote for Hillary? She’s had people killed.’ And I’m thinking, what do you mean she’s had people killed?
“Others are very concerned about terrorism, and Islamic extremism. But I’m still not quite sure how they arrive at their decision at the end, what was it that had them cast a ballot for him. I don’t know.
“There’s a fundamental lack of agreeing on what the facts are. We used to say that ‘perception is reality’…it’s a great old PR adage. It almost doesn’t even matter what the facts are because we’re so caught up in the realm of ‘I like her/I don’t like her ‘or ‘I like him/I don’t like him’ or ‘well, he doesn’t really mean what he’s saying.’”
Would you agree that our institutions are broken, that most things in our country are not working?
“If I look back over say the last 25 years or 30 years, I think that some things are working and some things are not. I think there’s been enormous progress in terms of human rights issues in the US just in the last 10 years. I mean gay marriage—it’s like it’s time, thank god—and having an African American president.
“I went to a small private high school in downtown Chicago, and I remember vividly when we had our first African American student enter our school. It was a huge deal. Nobody would think twice [today]. So I think there is progress.
“But I think there are other things that are not working. Like all of the police shootings; the number of African American men who are stopped in their cars for doing absolutely nothing. That’s horrible. That is not working. It’s horrible that women still make 70 cents on the dollar. That’s not working. And you look at birth control, planned parenthood, those thing are very much our rights and freedoms, and they are very much at risk.”
What has put them at risk?
“I come back to economics. I think we’ve lost the middle class. The divide between ‘the haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has gotten much bigger. And that’s a huge problem. That’s not sustainable. It’s just not.”
Why has the divide gotten bigger?
“The first thing that comes to my mind is greed. One of the things that we’ve lost sight of as a country is the greater good. We’ve become so fragmented in terms of looking at what’s going to benefit certain segments rather than the good of the whole country.”
“I think it comes down to a sense of scarcity, which underlies a sense of greed. There’s a sense of well, I don’t want to give up what benefits me. That’s what I heard over and over again.
“The school voucher thing was a huge deal here in Utah a few years back. People would say why should I pay twice? I’m paying for private schools, why should I pay for public schools? And to me that’s the prime example. You pay for public schools because you need an educated population. And a private school is a luxury and option if you can afford it.
There has to be ingrained or instilled or taught or nurtured a concern for the greater good. If there isn’t we’re screwed.
“So I think that’s part of it. I also think that probably our economic system, our engine of consumption, is not sustainable. This idea that we have to keep producing more goods, and we have to keep producing more consumers to buy those goods, it’s not a sustainable model.
“I think we have to get back to some kind of a system that where everyone benefits. They’re has to be a recognition of certain fundamental human rights—a right to good health care, to an education, to food, to those fundamental things.
“There has to be ingrained or instilled or taught or nurtured a concern for the greater good. If there isn’t we’re screwed.”
How do we bridge the divide?
“I don’t know. I really don’t know….My first thought is along the lines of going way back to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the originating principles.
“There really has to be a set of ideals or standards toward which you strive. It doesn’t mean you get it right from the beginning—I mean, ‘all men are created equal’ but we were a slave nation, how contradictory can you be?—but it doesn’t invalidate the principle, and it doesn’t mean that over time you don’t work toward that goal, and toward making those things right.
“So I go back to things like all men, and women, are created equal; I go to things like separation of church and state, that people need to have religious freedom; I go back to a free press, the first amendment. I go back to some of these core principles.”
Anything else you want to say?
“I think there’s also a great leveling that is happening around the world, where developing countries are coming up, and countries like the US are coming down. Is there going to be loss in that? Yes there is. People are going to lose their right to the gilded palaces kind of thing. And in our country we have to start looking at poverty and illiteracy as though we live in a developing country because to a large extent we do, when you really look at the statistics.
I think there’s a great leveling that is happening around the world.
“In a weird way, I almost think this is the death throes. I mean electing somebody like Donald Trump is like a last gasp. The dragon is fuming, right? It’s that last one burst of energy before it collapses, And it doesn’t have to be a bad thing…I mean the word ‘collapse’ has so many negative connotations, that’s the problem with words like that.”
What’s a better word?
“Maybe regeneration, revitalization, renewal, rebirth. Those are words maybe.”