As Boise resident Ian Andersen biked from the very top Alaska to the bottom of Argentina, he found a surprising amount of his time was spent speaking with everyday individuals along the way.
“You’re constantly interacting with people from all over the map,” Andersen said. “Talking with every different socioeconomic class, cultural background and norms, It was a mind-broadening experience.”
In January 2018, Andersen, 26, returned to his then-home of Los Angeles. With these experiences in his mind, his attention was soon drawn to the growing political divisions in the United States. And not long after his return, plans for his next biking trip began.
Beginning in summer 2019, Andersen, along with fellow athletes Yuval Arian and Sarah Solnit — and a dog named Booter — will bike across the United States over the course of five to six months with the goal to help the nation begin to heal some of its political wounds. In cities and towns from the Pacific Coast to the Deep South, this group, which Andersen named the American Renaissance Project, will hold workshops in which people from all backgrounds are invited to sit down together and participate in difficult discussions.
“It’s less about trying to change people’s minds than it is about productive disagreement and learning to understand where someone who disagrees with you is coming from,” Andersen said.
In these workshops, the American Renaissance Project will use curriculum created by Open Mind, an online resource developed by American thinkers Jonathan Haidt and Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz with the goal of helping individuals overcome political chasms. On top of the workshops, members of the project also offer a pledge on their website, detailing guidelines for conduct and attitudes for political discussion.
Though the trip is still months away, Andersen and fellow advocate Claire Quade will hold a trial workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, at the Boise Public Library at Bown Crossing, 2153 E. Riverwalk Drive. All are invited to attend and participate in what the American Renaissance Project hopes will model the kind of discussion Andersen said is needed to move past the political divisions of today.
“We’re not going to fix political polarization with this one bike ride. But if we can change the tone of the conversation and get enough people together, that’s the best we can hope for,” Andersen said. “That’s the first step.”