After the 2016 presidential election, David Blankenhorn, president of the national organization Better Angels, wanted to bring voters together to try to find common ground despite their political differences.
Blankenhorn gathered 10 Democratic Party voters and 10 Republican Party voters in South Lebanon, Ohio, to discuss the election and explore how to rebuild a civil society. This groundwork led Blankenhorn to founding his organization.
The group has hosted over 400 community events in the past three years, and will host a three-day convention beginning Thursday at Washington University to tear down political stereotyping and conversation barriers among voters.
Blankenhorn said that the forces of polarization are still extremely strong, and that “if we begin to depolarize, you will see more trust in your fellow citizens and less hostility to people in other parties.”
The convention is a blend of one-on-one political conversations geared toward sharing and listening, political debates, student exchanges and workshops to depolarize negative political typecasting.
“The election of 2016 was a result of something and the cause of something,” Blankenhorn said. “I think this animosity that we have been experiencing and the ugliness of our public conversation have been building for some time.”
To headline the event, Black Lives Matter New York President Hawk Newsome and Cincinnati Tea Party leader Ray Warrick will lead a discussion about opposing political views and ways to rebuild civic friendships.
Blankenhorn stressed that the organization does not want to transform voting ideologies or stances on political issues, but the group does want to stand in the middle to encourage conversation for change.
“By creating opportunities for meaningful discussions, Better Angels works to dial down the rancorous rhetoric that gets in the way of real conversations and accurate understanding of our differences,” said Ciaran O’Connor, Better Angels communications and strategic initiatives director, in a press release. “The objective is not to push a centrist political agenda, change participants’ minds, or paper over disagreements — but rather to provide a place for deeper understanding.”
The convention will include a screening of the organization’s new documentary, a concert and political conversation training.
Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea on Twitter @drebjournalist.
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