Dining across the divide US special: ‘I read an article he wrote about being attacked at a Black Lives Matter protest’

One is centre-right, the other 100% Democrat. Where do they stand on immigration, defunding the police, and closing Guantánamo?


Atam, 74, San Francisco, California

Occupation Retired nuclear engineer

Voting record 100% Democrat for the past 40 years

Amuse bouche Atam is a lifetime member of both the Sierra Club (a conservation organization) and the American Nuclear Society


Don, 38, the Bay Area, California, and Reno, Nevada

Occupation Freelance journalist and urban studies student

Voting record Mostly centre-right. Was Republican, but now identifies as independent

Amuse bouche Voted for Trump in 2020 because he didn’t want him to win – “I have a tendency to vote for the loser, so I hoped that would help”

For starters

Atam My first impression was that he was 30 minutes late and didn’t say sorry. But I was happy waiting at the restaurant; my daughter-in-law had been the pastry chef there.

Don By default, I like to listen to what people have to say. He talked about his family and how he liked to travel. We talked about Reno, where I’m from, and how he used to go there to ski.

Atam I had two starters: a crab salad and some trout. Most of the food on the menu I try to avoid for health reasons.

Don I had crab salad and fried chicken.

Don and Atam sitting at a restaurant table

The big beef

Atam We talked about Guantánamo Bay. He thinks it should remain open and that the detainees shouldn’t be put on trial. He believes that if one of them gets released, they’ll go back and start another war against us.

Don These people are enemy combatants. I don’t believe they are due a trial because of their special criminal status. Atam said everyone should be allowed a trial regardless of status.

Atam Don’t we have a system where we presume innocence until proven guilty? I said we’re causing more harm in the world than good by holding people without trial. There were 750 detainees and there are 30 or 40 left and we’re spending half a billion a year to hold them.

Don He was very knowledgable on the numbers, but I stuck to my position. These are wartime combatants and it’s not a normal situation.

Atam There didn’t appear to be any facts behind his position; it seemed to be all based on feeling.

Don and Atam sitting at a restaurant table

Sharing plate

Atam A country needs immigrants from all different backgrounds – that’s what’s given the US its strength.

Don Immigration is a good thing when it’s done correctly. But our southern border is porous and broken; we need to stop the influx of people from South and Central America. We need more immigration judges and personnel to track those who come across. People from other countries must wait in line.

Atam It’s partly our policies in Central America that have given us the drug lords and dictatorships that people are fleeing from. We should be more open to those leaving. There’s also a huge shortage of workers in our country.

Don and Atam sitting at a restaurant table

For afters

Atam I looked Don up before we met, and read an article he wrote about being attacked at a Black Lives Matter protest. I wanted to know more about it and understand how it had affected him. I went to three protests myself. One was in my neighbourhood, which I will say is the whitest neighbourhood in San Francisco, and there was not a single Black person in the protest. The message from that was that all of society had woken up and realised something was wrong.

Don I was covering a BLM protest for a local news outlet and it turned violent. A pair of hooligans who were ransacking Reno city hall beat me up for filming them. I understood why they were protesting, but I didn’t think it was necessary for them to turn to violence. The incident softened me to both the protesters and the police. It also made me aware of the fact that I’m Black in America. Atam understood why I didn’t support the Defund the Police movement.

Atam To me, Defund the Police means we need to spend more money on the root causes of crime rather than putting more people with guns on the street. San Francisco has more than 20 police for every 10,000 people and crime is still high.

Don The intentions behind Defund the Police are good, but the follow-through is not. I get what they are trying to do – fund services that help minority communities – but I’m not in favour. It won’t work, it’s too extreme.

Don and Atam sitting at a restaurant table


Atam It was a very civil conversation, but I don’t think we clicked. He suggested we share contact details, but I don’t think we’ll be meeting up.

Don We got on very well. We didn’t find common ground, but I got an understanding of where he was coming from on a few issues.
Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

Atam and Don ate at Nopa in San Francisco.

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Find out how to take part


Candice Pires

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Dining across the divide US special: ‘We were on the brink of an uncomfortable conversation’
They are both Democrats, but what subjects – from Ukraine to defunding the police – would leave them at odds?

Edward Helmore

27, Feb, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
Dining across the divide US special: ‘She said there are no leaders in the Republican party, just idiots’
Neither of them likes Donald Trump, but would they agree on the economy, healthcare or immigration?

Arwa Mahdawi

26, Feb, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Dining across the divide US special: ‘I got the impression he felt all Democrats were horrible. He made us sound like Bond villains’
One votes Democrat and the other wants Donald Trump to win in 2024. Where does that leave them on immigration, abortion or Ukraine?

Arwa Mahdawi

26, Feb, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
Dining across the divide US special: ‘She tried to educate me on why AR-15s aren’t really military-style weapons’
One is anti-abortion and pro-guns. The other is pro-choice and thinks ‘war tools’ shouldn’t be in the hands of the public. Could they agree to disagree?

Edward Helmore

25, Feb, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
Dining across the divide US special: ‘He said it was my opinion that humans caused climate change. No, it’s science’
He’s a Republican, she is a Democrat – can they find any common ground on the climate crisis, taxes or the truth about the Capitol attack?

Arwa Mahdawi

25, Feb, 2023 @11:00 AM

Article image
Dining across the divide: ‘I can get quite French Revolutionary about the monarchy’
He thinks the monarchy has value, she finds attributing privilege by birth offensive. Can they agree on nurses striking?

Sam Wollaston

22, Dec, 2022 @12:30 PM

Article image
Dining across the divide: ‘Being two blokes in middle age, we did talk a bit about military history’
An IT worker and a barrister are both interested in policing. But where do they stand on Brexit?

Zoe Williams

06, Oct, 2022 @11:30 AM

Article image
Dining across the divide: ‘He talked about his hatred of communism a lot’
A Brexit-voting diplomat and a remainer NHS worker lock horns over social justice – but will they agree on the ills of social media?

Sam Wollaston

13, Oct, 2022 @11:30 AM

Article image
Dining across the divide: ‘I don’t agree with his overblown fears about what Brexit would unleash’
They both think Brexit has been economically bad – but can they agree on the problems faced by young people?

Sam Wollaston

27, Apr, 2023 @11:30 AM

Article image
Dining across the divide: ‘When I got home, I Googled “bromance”’
Two Labour voters with an equal loathing of the Tories lock horns over retirement age and religion

Zoe Williams

01, Sep, 2022 @11:30 AM