Bill Shireman Believes We're All 'In This Together'

Bill Shireman, founder of In This Together, joins host T.J. O’Hara on Deconstructed to discuss the divisive political environment within which we find ourselves... and what can be done about it. Mr. Shireman is an author, social entrepreneur, environmental policy innovator, and serial political activist. He is the President and Founder of Future 500, a non-profit that strives to build trust between companies, advocates, investors, and philanthropists to advance business for the common good... as well as the surrogate founder of BridgeUSA, a youth-led nonprofit organization that creates spaces on high school and college campuses for students to have an open discussion about political issues. He also ran in San Francisco’s most recent primary for District 17’s State Assembly seat... as a Republican... which means he is an eternal optimist.

In This Together seeks to empower a common-sense majority to reclaim democracy. Mr. Shireman believes about 70 percent of voters fall into this category, but they are being held hostage by the political extremes. He suggests that the Parties have created “media silos” that “put people in boxes” and separate them by “amplifying the very worst” of whichever Party is not a target audience of the media outlets these voters tend to follow. This keeps these people apart and shuts down communication and collaboration.

Mr. Shireman says there are 15 swing states in which competitive races are held. The goal of In This Together is to activate “about 5 percent” of the common-sense majority in those states to dedicate their money and votes to candidates who “speak to the middle majority” rather than to the extreme elements of their Parties. He believes that is a sufficient percentage of the electorate to force candidates to become “problem solvers.”

Mr. Shireman emphasizes that In This Together will not endorse candidates. It simply is trying to change the focus of campaigns from political extremes to practical solutions. Correspondingly, he suggests that the common-sense majority can also pressure advertisers to influence the direction of media by calling for them to feature candidates who are proposing real solutions rather than inflammatory rhetoric.

Mr. Shireman shares the ugly truth about what he learned from his first foray as an environmental activist. Twelve years ago, he shockingly brought two perceived enemies, Greenpeace and Exxon Mobil, to an agreement about a federal carbon tax. Unfortunately, he describes how the media and political industries rejected the solution because it was too profitable to retain “climate” as a wedge issue. Maintaining the status quo helps keep people in their “boxes.”

This inspired Mr. Shireman to create what he describes as a “Climate of Unity,” which is a key component of the In This Together initiative’s attempt to carve out a common-sense majority in the 15 states he mentions. He uses America in One Room as an example: a 10-hour online event that brought together 962 Americans to discuss climate change. The group’s initial opinions were split along Party lines, but at the end of the event, the participants had reached a fact-based consensus. The consensus is being used as a fulcrum to provide a general agenda for candidates to address in an effort of eliminating climate as a wedge issue.

T.J. asks how In This Together can shift political competition away from a contest between hyper-partisan extremists. Mr. Shireman says the “Climate of Unity” agenda, when supported by 5 percent of the rational electorate in one of the targeted States, forces the issue. It has already been successful in seven of the eight races in which it has been used. The candidates abandoned their Parties’ extreme positions in favor of a more moderate one, and it spilled over to their positions on other issues as well. Mr. Shireman points out that this has happened in primary elections as well, which are almost always driven by extremes.

Mr. Shireman offers tangible reasons to believe there is a common-sense majority in which people can cast informed votes on candidates and critical  issues while still retaining their Party affiliation. If you would like to have hope in the future of our political process, listen to the show.