How a Virginia cafe helps warring factions become civilian neighbors

Lovettsville, Virginia.

When Maureen Donnelly Morris came from the nearby town of Leesburg to open her cafe in Lovettsville, neighbors rallied to her aid. The divisions that were tearing their city and their country apart were removed. America’s thunderous rage seemed far away.

People she didn’t know sunk poles for her parking signs. They brought lights for the cheery space outside, sharpened its blades for slicing bagels, and brought in plants, all to herald what would become the city’s civil common ground, Back Street Brews.

Forget, at least for a fraction of a second, red, blue, left, right, pro-Trump, anti-Trump. No one asked Leesburg’s wife: which side are you on?

In this northern Virginia community of some 2,200 people and others like it across the United States, good neighborly relations and social bonds persist, even in a country that appears to be at war with itself.

It is a quieter force than all the cries that separate Americans. But a nation’s redemption and the future of its democracy may depend on it as the anniversary of the Jan. 6 uprising on Capitol Hill approaches.

At least in the cafe, says Moe, as she is known, “You have every right to be a Republican and I don’t hate your guts. And you have the right to be a Democrat and I hope you like me if I don’t.

This feeling can no longer be taken for granted.

The United States is divided in almost every way. The shared sacrifice often appears to be an artefact. Americans are clearly not “all in the same boat” as the pandemic cliché claims. There is seldom agreement on a common set of facts.

Politics is often like “Mortal Kombat, the video game,” said Fiona Hill, who has served three presidents as a Russian analyst. “You kind of have to kill your enemy,” she said. “Everything is basically presented as a win-lose, a win-lose, red against blue, different factions and shades of blue fighting against themselves.”

This is America at war.

There is also another America, calmer. He asks about the family. He sympathizes with the water bill and pulls the breeze. It’s a place where people who can be mean on Facebook are polite face to face. Often, he gathers around a coffee.

There is no doubt that the double blow of political and social distancing has taken its toll.

President Donald Trump and the pandemic “have practically left a hole in the city center,” said Kris Consaul, left-wing activist and former planning commissioner for Lovettsville.

In the breach came Back Street Brews, which moved into a building shared with a craft store in late 2017, then expanded in 2021 to fill the space. It has become the social center of the city.

Praise groups, new moms group and other klatch cafes have taken root. Political discussions do arise, although rarely a heated argument.

When you sneeze in one locker, a stranger in another shouts, “Blessed be you.

“It’s not much of a pot shaker kind of place,” said Moe, who smiles brightly at everyone. “I’m just not inviting him. And if it comes back, you know, as long as it’s respectful, you can talk about your beliefs. I do not care. If you’re a this or that devotee, I always say, keep it out of here.

John Ferguson, a retired foreign service officer, supplied flags and solar lights to Back Street on Pennsylvania Avenue in Lovettsville, a lane barely wide enough for two cars. He was overwhelmingly relieved when Mr. Trump left the White House on this other Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

When it comes to upholding the integrity of the elections and guarding against further insurgencies, he said, “I don’t think you can get away with it right now and certainly not as long as Trump is on. places.

But what about the Democrats?

“They treat Trump voters like they’re stupid,” Ferguson said. “This is a huge mistake. It is extremely dangerous to alienate them.

Consultant Erik Necciai previously worked as an assistant to Democrats and Republicans on a Senate committee. He knows bipartisanship. It is also handy with a shovel.

So when another neighbor made wooden poles for the Back Street parking lot, Mr. Necciai bought the concrete, dug the holes and poured the footings.

“It’s very difficult to have conversations these days in public spaces,” he said. But he said patrons of the cafes had recently stumbled upon a discussion of the United States’ relationship with Russia and China. “Everyone’s opinion was widely accepted,” he said. “I think we need a little more of this.”

Jessica Sullivan, a tarot card reader who also works at Back Street, agrees: “I don’t need someone to think the same things I do to be a good person for me.

Yet, said Ms. Sullivan, “sometimes we have a kind of dark undercurrent” in the city.

A pro-Trump parade that passed through town during the 2020 campaign veered off Main Street and stopped outside the home of Ms Consaul and his wife, screaming horns. The parade was a clear sign of friction.

But behind the shield of social networks, where you can express an opinion without having to look someone in the eye, the tone is enraged.

In discussions on the local Facebook group, a downtown home and family displaying several pro-Trump banners were denounced as a “Trump dump.” On the other side, despicable insults have been hurled against homosexuals and anyone on the left.

In this forum, “people feel more free to say whatever they want and to attack,” said the woman whose court displays the pro-Trump feelings of her husband and herself. ” I heard everything. She asked not to be identified due to local tensions.

Outside of Facebook, the Trump supporter does not hesitate to visit Back Street, judging Moe as “definitely in the middle.”

“We take our little one for milkshakes and things like that,” she said.

Radical left-handers too. So do ordinary people.

They’re all gonna shoot the breeze, ask about family, complain about the water bill or something.

Then, often, it is the return to the ramparts.

“It affects people,” Moe said of the dangers of this time. “Not me. Not in my bubble. Everything will be fine, everyone! We’re going to land on our feet in my coffee bubble.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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