With the strident level of discourse as the presidential campaign enters its final weeks, it may be hard to imagine that Americans are able to put their political differences aside to work and play together. But they can. This month, a national organization planned a night of friendly athletic competition in hopes of changing the political atmosphere somewhat across the country
The Great American Meetup Bowl-Off was planned by Meetup.com a website that brings people with a common interest together on-line or in person. This event definitely called for being there in person.
On one October evening, nearly 2,000 supporters of President Bush, Senator Kerry and candidates of smaller parties showed up at bowling alleys in 40 states. Some places drew large crowds others, much smaller. But in each case, Meetup organizers say, they got along, and had fun.
Six people came to the U.S. Play Bowling Alley in Kennesaw, Georgia. The organizer, Carol Chapman, said it was a chance for those of different political persuasions to think about their similarities as much as their differences.
"People that are involved politically at this level no matter what candidate truly love their country and are civic minded and we have that in common, and if we like bowling too that's great, so have some fun!"
The retired nurse was bedecked with an American flag t-shirt and pins for Democratic candidates including John Kerry. Also in attendance was Mary Eloquin-Kraus who said she lives in a heavily Republican area, and looked forward to spending some time around fellow Democrats.
"Definitely it's not like you feel like you're on the defensive if you mention that you don't agree with what's going on everybody doesn't jump down your throat."
She got into a minor political debate with Merle Arlands, the only Bush supporter to show up.
Merle: I think he's doing a great job.
Mary: In what respect?
Merle: As president.
Mary: President of what?
Merle: Of the United States.
Mary: Aha. And what has he done that's great?
The discussion remained friendly and quickly turned to the finer points of bowling. Meetup.com said the night went just as smoothly at the other alleys around the country, with slightly more Republicans than Democrats taking part.
The Bowl-Off was open to everyone. The Kennesaw event drew three supporters of the small Libertarian party, which promotes a free-market economy, free trade, and a policy of non-intervention overseas. Zach Sykes said he likes to come to events where he's exposed to other people's views.
"I don't try to surround myself with one ideology, I think it's important to hear what everybody has to say."
But the night was about knocking down barriers AND pins. Zach Sykes' girlfriend Nellie Christie joked she wanted to engage in a sabotage of sorts and bowl for the Republican team.
"I offered to offer up my terrible bowling skills to help Bush lose."
The first strike went to Katherine Weitzel, an organizer for Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik.
"I'm always for the underdog score." (laughs)
Not to be outdone, Merle Arlands followed up with a strike of her own.
"Woohoo! I told you Bush is gonna win!"
At a time when it seems the presidential campaign is getting especially mean-spirited, these political bowlers agreed it was nice to play with folks from across the spectrum.
As the Bowl-Off drew to a close in Kennesaw, the Libertarians had the best score. Nationally, though, Meetup.com said Bush supporters were the overall victors by a margin of about two to one. Using a bowling analogy, the group said for at least this night, some voters across the country did what they could to keep the race for the White House out of the gutter.