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Almost since the moment I heard that Tina Turner died, every radio station and cafe in Philadelphia, where I live and where she performed what was described as the most-viewed concert in history, has honored her in their music and outfit choices. The love is real. We are mourning in community. 

Ms. Turner is doing something that few people can do — uniting all kinds of people no matter their background, not only through her music and extreme talent, but also her light, strength, and resilience.

At a time when our country still feels so fragmented, who else besides Ms. Turner could do this? Very few people can bring together generations, backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses into one joyful place — in life, let alone in death.

For more than a decade, I (and others) have been thinking about what it means when people in arguably the most diverse country on earth no longer watch the same TV shows and news, listen to the same music, get a similar education, or share experiences (both positive and tragic). 

We are already seeing the results of this national experiment. Those we elected to Congress in the most recent election have never been more polarized. In 2021, Pew Research dug in deep on race relations in America to find many people believe we don’t need to address the racial injustices of our past, while others think we haven’t yet gone far enough to address them. These statistics are compounded — or maybe even caused — by large swaths of the country getting a daily dose of propaganda from far-left or far-right news sources and others ignoring the news altogether.

At the same time, we are in the Golden Age of television — never-ending streams of (mostly) great shows catering to different groups of generally younger folks, while older people get what they’re fed on cable TV. Spotify, satellite radio, and other streaming services mean only the poor or the old (and me) listen to FM radio, as AM radio is made virtually obsolete. This new world is fantastic for new and emerging artists, actors and their devotees. But fast forward 20 years — will everyone in America be able to sing 2023’s equivalent of “What’s Love Got to do with It” or “Simply the Best”? 

Shared experiences are what link us together. When we don’t have those experiences, we are less likely to have connection points, intimacy, and understanding of others. Just as technology is propelling us forward to better individual experiences, we may be losing out on collective ones.

And, as our country’s polarization is increasing and loneliness is the country’s latest health epidemic, we need shared experiences more than ever.

I’m not going to stop watching Ted Lasso or listening to The Chicks tomorrow, as middle-aged white ladies like me are wont to do, but I can watch and listen to things that aren’t “made for me.” I can talk to people in my community — and beyond — who don’t think like me, and I can engage them in conversation and really listen to the thoughts behind their words. I can advocate for all Americans to have the same quality, basic education regardless of the state they are born in. And you can, too.

After all, it’s what Ms. Turner would have wanted — a better, brighter world for all.

Christina M. Hartman is a global democracy advocate who served as an international election observer for the National Democratic Institute during the 2019 Ukrainian presidential elections. She ran for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 16th district in 2016. She is currently a senior associate (non-resident) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

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