It was February 28th, 2013, nearly six years ago, that WHQR broadcast the pilot episode of CoastLine. It was an hour on what was then the hottest topic in town: the debate about opening a cement plant in Castle Hayne.
One year later, we launched weekly CoastLine episodes starting with the debate over film incentives for North Carolina as a whole.
While Titan Cement eventually withdrew their application for a permit, and the film incentive shifted from a tax rebate to a grant fund, we've gone on to produce and broadcast more than 245 original editions of Coastline – not counting candidate interviews during election seasons. The discussions have ranged from gun control to the opioid crisis to linguistic questions to traffic, water quality, and bird rescue. (My personal favorite, the alligator population in North Carolina, hasn’t quite seemed to catch on.) But it’s a show those of us on the CoastLine team love doing, and we're incredibly grateful for the positive response we've gotten from you, our members and listeners.
Today, we are excited to launch something new and a bit different. In WHQR's mission statement, we acknowledge the importance of civil discourse. Now, instead of talking about it, we’re going to practice it with a citizens’ brigade of sorts.
We've assembled a roundtable -- a panel of thoughtful and engaged listeners who've agreed to be part of a year-long conversation. They are artists and engineers, teachers, nurses, military veterans, and entrepreneurs. Some have lived here all their lives; some are relatively new to the area. They are black and white, youngish and older. Their politics cover the spectrum left, right and center.
Jim moved here from New Jersey almost eight years ago. Now retired, he's an artist who works in glass, and he admits he's impatient with those who's views he doesn't agree with.
"I’m pretty opinionated on everything. I don't have a lot of discussions with people that differ from me on political and social issues -- because I get a little heated. And I get a little closed-minded. And I shut down. So I'm hoping that this may help me to become a little bit more open-minded. Maybe. If that's possible. We’ll see."
Kathryn is also a northern transplant who’s lived in Southport for 20 years. She still works as a nurse, and she’s Past President of Brunswick County Republican Women and Past Vice President of the North Carolina Federation of Republican Women:
"...politically active only since I moved to North Carolina, which is interesting. Before that, I was never involved in politics. And before that, I was a Democrat and worked in Young Dems. And so I have a vast array of background in that."
Carl is a life-long Wilmingtonian. He's retired twice—once from the Army, and once from a teaching career, and now sings and performs locally with his band. He wonders when it was that people lost the ability to disagree and remain friends.
"For me, the innocence of it is that I spent 20 years in the Army - which -- there was no discussion. I wasn't into politics. I wasn't into anything. I was serving my country. And so what we were told to do is what we did. There was no discussion. So when I came out of the military and back to civilians, I saw this confusion. Because things had changed. Disagreement meant that we had to just pull out knives or throw bones at each other or get into some… I still don’t understand why it’s not okay to disagree."
Beth is an 11th generation North Carolinian, a retired banker, and a former Chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners who tried when in office to reach across party lines. She's spent the last few years focused on caring for her elderly parents.
"Once you are elected and you represent over 230,000 citizens, it's no longer so politically important as it is doing what is in the best interest of the community. I've always prided myself in being able to build consensus among my colleagues and build bridges in the community and to look at all sides of every issue when making decisions."
Joe is a transplanted New Yorker, a psychologist and a hypnotherapist. After his family gatherings got so heated, they finally agreed to stop talking politics.
"In my house I have three grown sons, five grandchildren, and one of my sons is a very progressive individual and I’m to the right of Attila the Hun, and the instruction is that when he comes to visit, we can’t discuss politics. But we do have many great conversations, and I’m looking forward to that type of discourse here – so that we understand each other as persons and why we feel the way we do and I think I'm open to changing my mind, but that's going to be tough. I think Jim and I are going to have some interesting conversations over the course of the process."
Lydia is an artist and mom of an almost-3-year-old who has gotten involved with her Community Association in Carolina Place. She wonders in today's world about the relationship between what's personal and what's political.
"Where does polite society meet individual passions and feelings about the political system? And because I've gotten into trouble discussing these issues with other people that I'm not necessarily family with, so it's a difficult discussion... with the Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the restaurant -- is it okay to politely ask someone to leave your restaurant because you don't agree with them or is there a problem there with being disrespectful to her? In the American society, part of the thing that makes us free is that we are allowed to go to someone in power and say, 'This is my private space. I don't agree with you. I'm going to politely ask you to leave. I reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."
Lee started life as an actor – mainly in the theater. He and his wife moved to Wilmington to take care of her aging parents, and once they passed, the two discovered they’d made too many friends to leave. They’re now building a house in downtown Wilmington to accommodate Lee’s passion for woodworking. The wood shop takes up most of the first floor.
"I will listen to anything. Because I grew up in the theatre, I know it takes more than one opinion to make anything work."
Connette is an insurance broker for life, health, and long-term care policies. She’s also part of health insurance task force for the North Carolina Department of Insurance – and she says the current system could use some help.
"What can we do to do right by people? Instead of having political debates, it's very personal. And I've helped people for over thirty pick out what they need for their own protection. And there is not a one-size-fits-all, and right now we have a terrible mess for execution and peoples' rights, really."
Maxwell is a house painter and has lived in Wilmington for more than 40 years. He’s also an actor.
"I’ve been involved in politics helping people get elected. I've always known who the mayor is on a first-name basis, and I'll walk in your office any time I get ready…"
And Darrell. You might have seen him during a Trump rally at UNCW in 2016. He made national news when then-candidate Donald Trump suggested Second Amendment supporters do something if Hillary Clinton goes after gun rights. Clad in a red shirt just to the right of the podium, Darrell’s mouth dropped open as he turned to a companion. The reaction went viral. Darrell has spent his career as an engineer and an executive.
"You can unite people either towards a common cause or against a common enemy. And it became politically expedient about 20-some years ago to create a common enemy. It was easier than it was to unite them for a common cause."
Over the next 12 months, we hope these and our other roundtable voices will become part of a lively, respectful, and continuing Coastline Conversation called Beneath the Surface. We'll explore a range of topics -- issues both local and national. There will be agreements and disagreements. And while opinions might change, that is not the point.
We expect politics to play a part, but that's not the point, either. We’re focused on understanding how peoples' lived experiences shape their views. We’re working to separate the person from the easy labels – the boxes we like to put each other in. The goal is to cut through the bluster...and to listen more thoughtfully and more actively to what someone else is really trying to say.
So, let's begin. Today we're going to meet six of our panelists.
Segment 2: Carl, Lydia, Joe
Segment 3: Maxwell, Connette, Lee