On December 30, 1994, a man carrying a back duffle bag entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts and opened fire. Before the day’s end, two women were killed at their desks, and the trial that followed captivated the media and polarized the public. But literally beneath that story, in a windowless basement in Watertown, six women began meeting in a clandestine dialogue.

The Basement Talks is an inspiring docuseries that follows six women—leaders on opposing sides of the abortion debate—who met secretly and under threat of violence in an effort to replace dangerous and divisive stereotypes, strategies, and rhetoric with empathy, tolerance, and genuine friendship.

The initial agreement was to meet 4 times. They didn’t tell their coworkers. They didn’t tell their families. Nobody knew. And it was rough. The first meetings were tense and slow going. The women weren’t used to listening to each other—they were used to arguing their next points. They couldn’t agree on what terms to use and had to co-author a language with which to discuss the issue of abortion in a way that would not shut the conversation down.

But overtime, something happened. They learned to listen. They practiced repeating back what was said to make sure they understood. Hearts softened. Friendship grew. After six years and over 150 hours of conversation, no one had changed their mind (in fact, they report becoming more committed to their position). But their understanding of each other had changed, and that changed everything else.

They toned down the rhetoric they used in the public sphere. They acknowledged each other in public with familiarity and warmth. They responded to each other with respect and kindness on radio segments. They stretched each other and made each other better—both intellectually and, in their own words, “spiritually”, describing the experience as “mysterious” and “holy ground”. 

And eventually, they did go public about their participation in the dialogue by releasing a featured article in The Boston Globe. In it, the women wrote, “In this world of polarizing conflicts, we have glimpsed a new possibility: a way in which people can disagree frankly and passionately, become clearer in heart and mind about their activism, and, at the same time, contribute to a more civil and compassionate society.”

What these women accomplished is astonishing. Their story is a remarkable instance of peacemaking across an intractable divide during an intensely divisive moment. It’s a story for our time, a moment when social tensions are peaking and toxic polarization is tipping into dangerous extremes.

But there’s hope. As President Nelson reminded us, “there is a peaceful, respectful way to resolve complex issues and an enlightened way to work out disagreements.” It is a big ask. But it is possible. The women of The Basement Talks have shown us a way forward.

The Basement Talks is available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and Google Play. For more information, visit mattersmedia.org.

A live screening of The Basement Talks film will be hosted by Mrs. Utah American, Stacie Proctor, and Braver Angels Utah on Saturday, July 27th, 6pm at 2414 East Oakhill Drive, Holladay 84121. All are invited. Please RSVP to lc*********@br**********.org. Come be a part of the community working towards bridging divides!