In large rooms across the Gaylord Texan Resort, passionate discussions played out among many groups just like this one on major issues in the 2020 election.
"If you're illegal, then you're just mooching off the country, "says Kathleen Mierzwa.
That could be the end of the immigration debate in the mainstream or social media, or lead a sharp turn to a much uglier debate, but at this gathering, that's not the case.  "What is your real concern?" asks Natalie Montgomery from the other side of the long table. The women met just hours before, one from the Pacific Northwest and the other from the South.
"They're illegal. They didn't follow the rules to get in here," Mierzwa says.
Call it the ultimate test kitchen for the survival of american democracy, with the hope that citizens are able to move out of the bitter, partisan gridlock permeating political discourse and find solutions.
"It's a pilot for what democracy could be," said Jim Fishkin, director of Stanford University's Center for Deliberative Democracy. "God knows if we don't experiment with democracy, it's just going to continue with the deadlock division. It's going to lose its legitimacy and we may lose our democracy."
America in One Room
The name represents the goal of the organizers – assemble a representative sample of what America looks like,
"We had the hypothesis that American people are not as polarized as the American political class, but not polarized as our elected representatives and politicians," said Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford University. All Americans need, say the researchers, is access to non-partisan information and discussion.
To test that belief, they have brought together participants from 47 states. The NORC at the University of Chicago, a social research organization, drew from a random sample of a nationally representative group of residents. By income, age, gender, political party affiliation, region, education and race, NORC says 526 participants reflect the population of registered voters.
The delegates all took a poll before arriving in the Dallas area.
the next four days, they are a large group to listen to experts talk about health care, foreign policy, immigration, the environment, the economy and taxes. Several Republican and Democratic candidates for President spoke to the group, including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, former Rep. Mark Sanford, former Rep. Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.
The big group broke down into smaller groups of 13 to 15 people to discuss key issues.
'They look at the US as a joke'
until sometimes they are just … inhumane, "says Desmond Holmes, 25. Holmes was in the US Navy and is now working in IT in Salisbury, North Carolina. He's the youngest in the group of 13, and one of three black participants in the room. He is a registered Democrat.
Half the group identifies as Republican or Independent, among them Kathleen Mierzwa, 40. Mierzwa is a home health nurse in Kennewick, Washington, who bluntly says her challenging job has taught her, "I can't help everyone and that's how I feel about the country. "
That's where Mierzwa draws her conservative position on immigration and DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
"I can tell you I have a strong opinion, but I don't have all the answers," says
Mary Krebs, 63, a retired psychotherapist, engages Mierzwa. Krebs was a registered Republican but changed parties in 2017. "I think you can guess why," says Krebs.
"We need laws, but we also need a rule with our heart," says Krebs.
"There are laws, "says Mierzwa.
" Yeah, and then you have a child "in the US, Krebs replies.
" You should have thought about that before you came over, "says Mierzwa.
entire room reacts.
"I'm empathetic. I don't want them separated from their families," Mierzwa adds.
Rev. Brian McQuiggin, pastor from nearby Clifton, Texas, jumps in. He's a Republican and donates his ministerial time in Mexico to help migrants. He is conflicted, he says – supporting the rule of law but questioning whether his faith should rise above US immigration laws.
McQuiggin paraphrases from Matthew 25. "Christ says, 'What do you do to the least of these, my brothers? , you do unto me. ' And so it's hard. You know, it's hard. And feel like it's back and forth. "
The group's next section involves foreign policy and conversation veers on President Donald Trump's actions on the world stage.
along the lines of being a dictator, ”says Lorenzo Spencer, 64, a retiree from Pasadena, California. "If it were to come down to a button, I would think he would push it before he would go to Congress and get their advice."
Jim Fredrickson, 68, who says he is a disillusioned Republican from Sharon, New Hampshire. says 1965: "I don't trust his decision making process."
Evelyn Sierra-Mynk, 34, of Bullhead City, Arizona, defends Trump, the head of the party she's registered to. "He's our chosen Commander in Chief," she reminds the room.
A weird utopia
At the end of the four days of "America in One Room," the group fills out another poll .
Those poll results, say the organizers, will show if the experiment worked. The results are expected to be published on October 2, organizers said.
Kathleen Mierzwa at the America in One Room gathering in Grapevine, Texas.
Final comments in the small group's comments suggest the researchers' hypothesis may have merit. 19659041] Kathleen Mierzwa at the One Room Gathering in Grapevine, Texas. ” class=”media__image” src=”http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190922172210-03-america-one-room-dallas-large-169.jpg”/>