Just a month before midterm elections, UCF hosted “Bipartisanship Matters: A National Forum.” Speakers included former senator Olympia Snowe, Bipartisan Policy Center founder Jason Grumet and Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker. Opened by SGA president Weston Bayes and moderated by Global Perspectives Office director John C. Bersia, the forum focused on the current polarization in Congress and possible solutions to the state of political gridlock. Bersia asked several questions for the panelists to discuss.

Why is bipartisanship important? Grumet stated that bipartisanship, which is when opposing political parties find common ground through compromise, to be essential because “you can’t pass meaningful legislation without members of the other party participating.” Grumet urged politicians to find a way to be “partisan and productive.” Snowe seconded this, stating that since her first years in office, the system has changed dramatically and as a result, “key issues such as medicine and security are being overlooked” as politicians squabble. Barker inserted that “part of leadership is about creating innovative solutions” and that “bipartisanship is the honoring of diversity,” which are both founts of strength in America.

Why don’t parties coordinate more effectively? Snowe pointed out that “there are a lot of people who benefit from this divide and fuel the divisions.” Grumet agreed, noting that incentives are the dividing factor in Congress because, “they have two jobs: one is to make decisions and one is to get elected.” He explained that the focus on earning votes hinders a politician’s ability to compromise for fear of seeming “weak” and losing voters. Barker suggested that “the polarization is a reflection of us…the constant ‘us’ or ‘them’ that we see in race, economics, gender and a whole host of other things.”

What can normal citizens do? Snowe warned that, in the U.S. system, there is a “small minority determining the future of this country” because nearly 80% of Americans do not identify with the extreme left or extreme right, but they do not use their voices. She urged moderates to “fight against the system” and use their voice because, if politicians “do not hear you, they respond to those they do.” The panelists provided many recommendations about how to be more involved and make your voice heard. A person can volunteer, attend local debates and work on campaigns, as well as educate themselves on civics and news. Barker also stressed the virtues of focusing less on social media and more on each other. On a cross country tour to assess the political opinions of average people, Barker learned that she had to get to know someone before she could appreciate the other person’s views. To Barker, bipartisanship starts with normal people interacting with each other, understanding one another in order to make a difference.

In March, 2013, the Bipartisan Policy Center launched the Commission on Political Reform to investigate the causes and consequences of America’s political division. The commission also advocates for reforms that will improve the political process in the current polarized atmosphere. This year, the center published the commission’s recommendations in a report entitled, “Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen Our Democracy.”

“Bipartisanship Matters” was hosted by the UCF Global Perspectives Office, in partnership with the Bipartisan Policy Center and the UCF Student Government Association. Other sponsors included the UCF Political Science Department, the Orlando Area Committee on Foreign Relations, UCF LIFE and the Global Connections Foundation.