Durham Red and Blue Participants at the June 2019 Better Angels National Convention – Reflections on Polarization and Steps to Bridge the Gap

How does a group that focuses on local dialogue of 12-25 people create a meaningful national convention of 300 delegates? Made up of people who deeply disagree with each other’s ideologies? Well, Better Angels did so June 20-23 in St. Louis.

Delegates register in pairs, one “Red” (a conservative viewpoint) and one “Blue” (a liberal viewpoint) from the same community. The rule insures balance of participants. I spoke with two Durham, NC participants.

Establishing Credibility

Better Angels aims to keep its integrity through balancing the Red/Blue in their work. That extends to:

  1. Board of Directors – balance by affiliation
  2. Funding sources: this really is the difference between commitment and talk.
  3. Not endorsing candidates or ballot measures (However, local affiliates of Better Angels might work on policy, which could lead to endorsing a policy created in a Red + Blue way).

Immanuel:  I listened carefully as the described the structure of Better Angels nationally. They were clear about their money sources, reasons to keep membership inexpensive and their foundations connections. Their commitment to only receive money to maintain a 50/50 balance from liberal and conservative sources is admirable. Money is the real test. Their team has taken that vow. That means a lot to me.  Integrity must permeate an enterprise such as Better Angels. Continue Reading

More Observations about the Red/Blue Better Angels Workshop in Pittsboro

I have been a facilitator for many years now and have been particularly interested in conversations that help bridge the political divide. I have attended several annual meetings organized by the National Council of Dialogue and Deliberation and there are more and more groups rising to try and address ways to bridge the political divide.

I have been working with a small group of politically diverse women for six years now. We meet once a month over lunch. We have various projects, including talking to the North Carolina legislature and how to end gerrymandering. The legislators were impressed when we came in as nonpartisan group with representatives from both sides.  I  realized for a while now that we have a lot of untapped power available if we could create groups that bridge the divide and make demands from a unified space.

So I was very interested to hear about the work that Better Angels is doing. I took a half day workshop in Durham in 2018 and was eager to see what the full-day workshop would be like because the half-day seemed to short. So I signed up for the full-day workshop in Pittsboro and then attended it on May 18th with about twelve other Red and Blue participants. (Click here for the previous blog post about this workshop).

Differences between the Half-Day and the Full-Day Workshops 

The half-day workshop seemed too short to really establish strong relationships or even examine similarities and differences very deeply. On the Better Angels website they recommend a full day over a half day experience and now I can see why. Continue Reading

Bridging Political Polarization: a Red/Blue Dialogue in Pittsboro, NC

Participants in May 18, 2019 Better Angels Red-Blue Dialogue, Pittsboro, NC Bonnie Gilliom

Why would about 15 citizens devote a Saturday to talking about political values when they know there are deep disagreements with half the people around the table? Because they want to explore and address negative stereotypes, practice respectful conversation and seek to understand more than to persuade.

Although community engagement often stays away from hot national political topics, we are glad to share this effort at local-level de-polarization.

The nonprofit group Better Angels has been organizing such dialogues across the U.S. since 2016. There were similar gatherings in 2018 in the Research Triangle (Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh), the Triad, Western NC, and the Gastonia/Charlotte area. A Raleigh dialogue was held Saturday, May 25th.

For the May 18th Pittsboro workshop, we were observers.  In Part One, we offer our thoughts. In Part Two, one of the participants – Ruth Backstrom – offers her reflections.

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