Braver Angels: Closing the Partisan Divide in Montgomery County
By Linda Willard
Braver Angels (BA) was founded in late 2016 in response to the increasing rancor and polarization between conservatives and liberals in America. Its founders started the organization shortly after the 2016 presidential election when they discovered two startlingly different reactions to the election from neighbors in their respective homes of rural Ohio and the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In short, the Manhattanites were having a funeral and the rural Ohioans were having a party. Are we really that different?
I joined BA in early 2019, and it’s been really helpful in understanding not only where neighbors on the left are coming from but also where many right-leaning neighbors are as well. The work BA does is particularly important in places like Montgomery County, where Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans. Alliances are required to have a membership that is half Red and half Blue, so it feels like a less hostile space than in other county organizations. It was refreshing to attend my first BA meeting and be able to articulate conservative values and beliefs outside of an echo chamber without harsh judgment or reactions from the other side. I also was stunned at my first local meeting to learn there are Democrats in our community who have “never met or interacted with” a Republican.
The philosophy of BA is not to convince the two sides to agree; rather, it is to foster listening to better understand motivations and values that drive those with conflicting partisan affiliations. When framing discussions about politics, participants are divided evenly between Reds and Blues, are asked to express their opinions as “I” statements, rather than objective truths.
One foundation of BA is the Red-Blue workshop, which takes place over a half-day or full-day between Reds and Blues living in the same local area. Two moderators, trained by BA, lead the workshop and ensure that ground rules are followed and participants treat one another with respect. In my first BA workshop, we examined immigration, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much the two sides had in common. I learned that none of my Blue counterparts supported open borders, as press outlets and partisan bloggers had led me to believe.
Another way in which BA engages Reds and Blues is through a BA debate, which is different from a traditional political debate. Instead of arguing a point to beat your opponent, a BA debate is a highly structured conversation in which a group of people listen to one another in a series of speeches supporting or opposing a resolution. The Montgomery County Alliance held a debate on the resolution “Socialism is a Threat to Freedom” in late 2019. It was well attended, and both sides of this issue learned a lot.
In reality, our political affiliation is just one small piece of what makes us who we are. Reds and Blues may be opponents in the political sphere, but if they act as enemies, they both lose, as does the country. In almost every Braver Angel exercise I have done, it becomes clear that conservatives and liberals share the same morals and values, and many of the same policy norms.
Our Montgomery County Alliance, of which I am co-chair, meets monthly, and we would be delighted to have more conservatives join us. Our voices are important in the County, and it would be terrific to share those voices with our neighbors.
Linda Willard is Co-Chair of the Montgomery County Alliance of Braver Angels, a member of the Chevy Chase Village Board of Managers and a member of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee. You can reach her via email to [email protected]