A few weeks ago, a lawless mob stormed the United States Capitol in anger over the Presidential election. Two weeks later a newly inaugurated President Biden said, “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. And unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail. We have never, ever, ever, ever failed in America when we’ve acted together.” It is easy to call for unity, but can a nation, so utterly divided, come together? Ben Rekhi’s documentary The Reunited States offers some visions of how to bridge the divide.
The film focuses on a handful of people who seek a new way. We meet a former Republican operative from Texas, who has had enough of the strife. Along with his wife and children, he sells his home, buys an RV and sets off to meet people in every state to hear their stories. We also meet the mother of the woman who was killed when a man drove into a crowd in Charlottesville. She was never very political, but she knows that her grief grows out of the anger that fills America. We meet the founder of the Millennial Action Project which brings together young state and federal legislators of both parties from around the country to connect them to each other and make reaching across the aisle more likely. And we meet an independent candidate running for governor in Kansas as he campaigns, seeking to say there are alternatives to just the blue and red divisions.
The common thread that runs through all of these experiences is hearing the stories of others. We see that especially in the journey of David and Erin Leaverton, the couple who traveled for a year. They would come to an area and invite people to dinner to talk, to listen, to empathize and understand. They met people very different from themselves. They heard stories that touched them. And we see as their trip progresses that it is changing them. Their friends and family fear that they will turn Democrat, but it seems more like they are becoming very independent. And they believe that it is through talking to people with different ideas that we can understand without anger.
The most hopeful part for me was the Millennial Action Project. For all the ridicule that has been directed at the Millennial Generation, the young men and women we meet here, those who have entered politics early on, have visions that often are not limited by political ideology, but rather by a calling to serve people in their state and nation. If they can connect to one another in the MAP settings, the relationships they build can be a way of breaking the partisan divide.
But the film is not blind to the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have grown for decades. It wants to show the world that there are options and that there are ways that each of us can take part in groups and activities that seek to reunite us rather than fuel further division. If they inspire viewers to become active in reconciliation efforts, the film will have done a valuable service.
I’ll leave with a bit more from President Biden’s Inaugural Address, words that I’m sure the filmmakers and participants in this film will applaud: “And so today at this time in this place, let’s start afresh, all of us. Let’s begin to listen to one another again. Hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.”
The Reunited States is available through virtual cinema via local theaters, and will soon be available on VOD.