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?


Heidi, 62, Price, Utah

Occupation Retired school teacher

Voting record Usually Democrat

Amuse bouche Heidi is an enthusiastic archaeologist and anthropologist. “We can learn a lot about how to use the land and protect it,” she says


Janalee, 59, South Jordan, Utah

Occupation Campaigner for God, guns and urban green space

Voting record Has previously voted Democrat or Independent. Now straight-ticket Republican

Amuse bouche Janalee’s great-grandfather, Jesse, had five wives and 44 children. She has 80,000 cousins, she says, “like a multilevel marketing scheme”

For starters

Janalee We shared an appetizer of loaded rock chips, then I had an omelet with vegetables, bacon and sausage. I was worried we were going to fight. I told Heidi I lost my best friend over Donald Trump, but she wasn’t mean to me about supporting him. It never felt confrontational. We weren’t representing corporations; we were there as grandmothers who care.

Heidi I had a Reuben sandwich and fries. Janalee told me she’s a Trump person. I said that’s OK. She said something about a stolen election. I thought, “Oh good grief.” I don’t think the election was stolen. A lot of people like Trump because of his personality, but that’s the reason I don’t like him.

Janalee and Heidi sitting at a restaurant table

The big beef

Heidi Janalee tried to educate me on why AR-15s aren’t really military-style weapons. I don’t have a problem with handguns, shotguns and rifles, but these new fancy guns – the ARs, the Uzis that became a problem in 90s – should not be in the hands of the public. It’s a war tool and we just don’t need it. I said no to guns in the classroom, absolutely not.

Janalee I prefer to talk about people violence not gun violence. A gun doesn’t do anything – it can just sit on a table fully loaded for 1,000 years. An AR-15 isn’t a military weapon. We have a constitutional right to own them. We did agree that schools should have some kind of sign, maybe like: “Warning to criminals: we protect our children”. We agreed that the news media is irresponsible in the way they report stories about guns.

Heidi I agree that some news channels only focus on the group that watches them. That’s true on the left and right. They fearmonger and rile people up.

Janalee and Heidi sitting at a restaurant table

Sharing plate

Janalee Abortion was the subject that scared us both the most. She said women should be able to get an abortion. So I said: “What’s your understanding of the supreme court ruling?” She said: “To turn it back to the states.” I said: “Yes, it did.” Heidi asked if I could bend on abortion. She said: “Maybe we could agree on 10 weeks?” I said: “OK, maybe we can agree on 10 weeks, but the methods used to kill babies are still barbaric.”

Heidi Janalee is totally against abortion. I think every women should have the right to make that decision, and there should be a federal right to abortion up to 10 weeks to ensure the safety of the woman. Most women know they’re pregnant by eight weeks. If you go beyond that, then you have to decide to keep the baby or give it up for adoption. There needs to be more support for women to make that decision privately.

Janalee and Heidi sitting at a restaurant table

For afters

Janalee Heidi is a teacher so I listened and learned a lot from her about how slavery is taught in schools. We learned about it in elementary school. Heidi said high school students probably need a refresher course. I remembered that in school we created a slave cell as a classroom exercise. Someone would be the enslaver and someone the slave. It was really powerful. I said: “Why don’t we do role play about the civil war? One side fights to keep slavery, and the other to end it.” Because America ended slavery. It’s not the evil empire. But I’m sure slavery still exists, like in China.

Heidi We have to learn about slavery and other bad things that happened in this country, so we don’t repeat them. Janalee said: “Well, what about other countries?” I said that can be done in a world history class. I just stressed: teach the facts. I want students to think on their own. But we shouldn’t be doing slavery role play.

Heidi holding a Pro-Women Pro-Choice sign and Janalee holding a gun, sitting at a table with the US flag behind them


Heidi We live in a conservative state, but we’re pretty mellow about it. People have different opinions, but we’re not going to get in your face about it. We respected each other’s opinions and considered each other’s proposals. Sometimes you have to give a little to get what you want.

Janalee Heidi was delightful. We agreed that we need to come together as Americans and stop being divided. We felt like some kind of power is trying to separate us and keep us fighting. We wondered, why is this happening?
Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

• Heidi and Janalee ate at Balance Rock Eatery & Pub in Helper, Utah.

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


Edward Helmore

The GuardianTramp

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