U.S. House of Representatives Retreat

Mark Gerzon

Private facilitator, Mediator, Trainer, Author and key organizer of the Congressional Civility Retreats

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: So, what happened in the retreat?

A: We designed a process. I had a facilitation team of ten people from the field, for both retreats. There were different teams, but it was me and ten other people. And the ten people were there support what we called the co-leaders, which were the Democratic and Republican co-leaders. So in each room, there was a Democratic and Republican co-leader and then a facilitator helping them in any way they needed to be. To use Bill Ury's terms, almost like a third side for the Democrats and the Republicans. There's a facilitator to be the third side in case the two of them, you know, went crazy. I'd say the most exciting part of it was the small group process.

That's where they actually sat in circles and would answer questions

like, "How does the quality of discourse of the House floor affect you personally?" Sitting in a circle with Democrats and Republicans and their spouses, talking about how it affects you. So you're sitting in a circle and the woman next to you is the wife of a member of the other party says "I couldn't stand watching my kids watch TV and hearing lies about their daddy" You're sitting there, and you realize, yeah, that happens to your people too. And so they discovered their shared pain about the process. They witnessed each other's pain and they developed through that experience the desire to do something about what wasn't working.

And I remember one moment, when one person said, at the end of the session, and I forgot who it was, a Democrat or a Republican, and that's the first time that's ever happened. So they really became human beings and that's exactly the process that happens in other settings. Whether it's Israeli and Palestinian, or black and white, or pro-life and pro-choice, that after a while, the clich‚, the powerful clich‚ disappears and you see the person behind the stereotype. And so that's a general answer to what happens, specifically in terms of output, they develop concrete proposals that they promise to work on after the retreat.