Are there people you can’t talk to anymore because of politics? Most of us have stories of Facebook blocking or de-friending; some of us have experienced painfully damaged friendships in real life. In some families the number of ‘safe’ subjects dwindles weekly.
If you are looking for practical steps to make conversations easier, or just for hopeful reassurance that our divisions are not unbridgeable and permanent, register for the upcoming Better Angels Skills Workshop from 9:30 a.m. to noon May 4, at the Northside Library in Kenosha.
Registration is free, but the event is limited to 50 participants. Individuals may sign up by visiting www.better-angels.org, clicking on the Find Event tab on the top banner, and looking for Skills Workshop-Kenosha.
Better Angels is a national citizens’ movement to reduce political polarization in the United States by bringing liberals and conservatives together to understand each other beyond stereotypes, forming Red/Blue community alliances, teaching practical skills for communicating across political differences, and making a strong public argument for depolarization.
The workshop on May 4 will be the first Better Angels event in Wisconsin.
I was drawn to Better Angels because of their insistence upon the essential humanity of every person. The “Reds” and “Blues” of today’s politics spend so much energy purifying the message of their own side that they demonize the other. We too often reserve our empathy for individuals on our own team and have nothing but contempt for the ‘monsters’ on the other.
But progress is not made by shouting at monsters, only by working with people. Better Angels teaches ways to re-humanize the monsters by setting up structured and monitored events for conversations across the divide. Our local group hopes to build a coalition of “Reds” and “Blues” from this Skills Workshop as a basis for holding a more politically targeted Red/Blue Workshop in the fall.
At Carthage College in these first 21 months of John’s presidency, we have heard speakers emphasize that work only gets done “in the messy middle.” Our 2018 Commencement speaker Jon Meacham, speaking about his book “The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels,” reminded us that not all solutions need be centrist solutions, but that no solution was possible without engagement in the field. Meacham’s book references the same inaugural speech by Abraham Lincoln from which Better Angels takes its name; these angels are not celestial beings but parts of our essential human nature and thus available to all of us.
In February, Jim and Deb Fallows, the Sam and Gene Johnson Distinguished Visitors for 2019, spoke about their book “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America.” They collected many stories from many American towns that have weathered physical, economic, and cultural storms, and they found this refreshingly hopeful message: in a time of extreme dysfunction at the national level of politics, there are many local communities figuring out how to get things done. People listen to each other, find common ground, and use it to create common good.
Better Angels of Southeast Wisconsin aims to provide a local opportunity for learning and practicing depolarization. We hope to cultivate a culture of healthy conversation here in Kenosha and Racine, contributing to the grassroots, nationwide effort of Better Angels to depolarize our national civic discourse.
Cameron Swallow is wife of Carthage College President John Swallow.