“One Small Step,” a landmark approach to finding common ground between members of polarized American society, is coming to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
UTC is one of just six sites in the country selected to host “One Small Step” by StoryCorps, the National Public Radio-affiliated nonprofit that records, preserves and shares stories from everyday Americans.
StoryCorps selected the UTC PodLab, a student podcasting studio for training the next generation of professional podcasters, as one of its six production sites. The resulting podcast episodes produced at UTC will be available for download and will air on WUTC 88.1 FM, Chattanooga’s NPR affiliate.
“StoryCorps could have gone anywhere to do this important creative work, and they chose us,” said Professor Will Davis, who runs the UTC Podlab. “It’s an honor. ‘One Small Step’ is the right project at the right time.”
“One Small Step” organizers said the program aspires to repair the country’s frayed political discourse one conversation at a time. “One Small Step” invites participants to “Become part of the solution…” to growing divisions that “pose a threat to democracy.”
The approach is to bring together two strangers, people with opposing political views, to record a 50-minute conversation—not about politics, but about who they are as people. Trained facilitators guide the discussion to flow like conversation, helping participants connect and reflect on their passions, hopes and fears. The goal is not to convince them to agree but “to recognize each other’s humanity.”
StoryCorps officials describe Chattanooga as a politically diverse region that can serve as a model for other communities, “demonstrating what’s possible when people take time to listen to those with whom they disagree.”
“We’re big fans of (the) work you have put together in the past and excited to bring ‘One Small Step’ to Chattanooga!” StoryCorps’ Melissa Velasquez said. “Bringing the UTC PodLab into the fold for such a unique and important project will be an extension to the work and hopefully the voices we get to hear and learn from.”
Over the next eight months, staff at UTC and the five other partners from around the country chosen by StoryCorps will be trained to facilitate and record the “One Small Step” conversations on-site.
In spring 2019, StoryCorps parked its distinctive Airstream trailer/recording studio in Miller Park in downtown Chattanooga for three weeks and recorded more than 100 interviews that became the popular radio series and podcast “Tennessee Valley StoryCorps,” produced and edited by Davis.
“StoryCorps’ visit to Chattanooga in 2019 was remarkable for everyone involved,” Davis said. “I’m looking forward to growing our relationship with these master storytellers.”
StoryCorps is also helping its “One Small Step” partner sites with strategies to reach new audiences, create broadcast content and build personal connections between community members with different political beliefs.
StoryCorps conversations air weekly on National Public Radio, but StoryCorps founder Dave Isay seeks a broader audience for “One Small Step.”
“’One Small Step’ is a moonshot effort to counteract, one conversation at a time, the culture of contempt in this country,” Isay said, explaining the extensive amount of TV and radio coverage—on conservative, liberal and politically ambiguous outlet—he has sought to launch the program.
Since 2003, StoryCorps has given people of all backgrounds and beliefs, in thousands of towns in all 50 states, the opportunity to record interviews about their lives. StoryCorps recordings are preserved in its archive at the American Folklife Center at the national Library of Congress. The archive comprises the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered and shares select stories with the public through StoryCorps’ podcast episodes, NPR broadcasts, animated shorts, digital platforms and best-selling books.
As StoryCorps notes, “The stories reflect the vast range of American experiences, wisdom and values and aim to remind people how much more they have in common than what divides them.”