The Cocktail Conversations

About the Show

It was 2018, and I had just finished a long day of interviewing Rohingya survivors of genocidal violence. The air was sticky-hot, and as I walked to the truck, I started to peel an orange, a trick I'd learned in my trauma training. In the mysterious ways of the brain, mine--broken a few years earlier by PTSD--responded to the smell of citrus. And I was thinking: How these things happen? What is it that stirs up such hate that a "normal" person can snap and, say, annihilate their neighbor? Scholars have mapped the way, as you might imagine, but I began thinking: What can I do?

And I started to think about what I had witnessed--well, lived, really, just in the course of my own career, in my own country. I worked on Capitol Hill in my first job, back when people from all sides spoke with one another. I watched that change just in the three years I was in Washington. I worked in broadcast journalism, where I was mentored by some wise folks of journalism--before that, too, changed, from a public service to a commodity. And the angrier and more anxious it made its audience, the more money it made.

I accidentally made documentary films. The first one, Haiti: Where Did the Money Go? tracked what happened to the donations by US citizens to US charities following the Haiti earthquake. The American Red Cross infamously tried to shut down this little film—which backfired. But, I also became aware that if that film hadn't been an independent production and aired on PBS, it probably wouldn't have happened.

The second film, The Uncondemned, brought me into the world of international criminal law, mass rape and genocide. It taught me how language is used to "other," how anger is manipulated and how trust can be abused until "truth" is lost. And it also taught me that people can make fortunes off of these tactics—and after traveling around the world a couple times, seeing first-hand what happens when truth becomes conspiracy, I found myself on that dusty hillside in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. What can I do?

Well, it’s hard to hate someone you’ve had a conversation and a glass of wine with (and water’s okay here, too)—and so it’s brought me here: to the largest ongoing cocktail party I’ve ever thrown, aimed at counteracting what I keep calling “the anger industrial complex.”

Building A New Kind of Party Animal, One Cocktail at a Time.