What is Better Angels?
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.
We've designed several workshops that successfully help red and blue Americans rebuild trust and better understand each others' perspectives. Our signature "Red/Blue Workshop" brings together 7 conservative-leaning participants and 7 progressive-leaning participants for moderated activities and discussions that clarify disagreements, reduce stereotyped thinking, and begin building the relationships needed to find common ground. Our "Skills Workshop" teaches practical skills for having better conversations with friends and family members with whom you have strong political disagreements.
To further the work of depolarization nationwide, we're building a grassroots movement of local "red-blue alliances" that work together to continue the trust-building and mutual understanding begun in the workshops, reach out to others in the community with the Better Angels message, and look for ways to work together on issues connected to polarization. Each year, we bring together local red and blue leaders from across the country to democratically determine our national priorities for the coming year – and build a national alliance that can influence the direction of our nation.
We're also bringing together leading scholars, writers, and ordinary citizens from across the political spectrum to model the “Better Angels Way” of public debate: constructively engaging with opposing points of view rather than name-calling and partisan posturing. Better Angels Media is for anyone who's sick and tired of partisan talking points – and wants to make their voice heard.
Better Angels is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit. From our board of directors to our staff, workshop participants, and funding sources, we are evenly split between liberals and conservatives. We call it the Better Angels Rule: At every level of leadership we are half red and half blue. Our leaders and members range from working class to affluent, and come from many backgrounds, so that our organization can reflect the country we seek to serve.
Better Angels Alliances are local members of a community – evenly split between red and blue – that meet on an ongoing basis to organize workshops and democratically take up issues on which they agree.
In today's poltical climate, many of us believe that our political adversaries are not simply misguided, but that they are also bad people.
Instead of asking people to change their minds about issues, we give Americans a chance to better understand each other, to absorb the values and experiences that inform our political philosophies, and to ultimately recognize our common humanity.
Our approach is informed by the Better Angels Pledge:
As individuals, we try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it.
In our communities, we engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together.
In politics, we support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.
Why “Better Angels” ?
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory…will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
–Abraham Lincoln, 1861
The idea of recognizing something that’s shared with the other – even in moments of fierce conflict – is beautifully reflected in Abraham Lincoln’s use of the term “better angels” in his First Inaugural Address in 1861, on the eve of the Civil War. William Seward, who would serve as Lincoln’s Secretary of State, had suggested that Lincoln close his speech by calling upon the “the guardian angel of the nation.” Lincoln changed it to “the better angels of our nature.” In Seward’s version, what was needed would come from outside us. In Lincoln’s version, it would come from within us, something “better” in the “nature” of both Northerners and Southerners.
In America today we haven’t reached the point of violence and chaos – yet. But surely in our increasingly and dangerously fractured nation, we all need to be touched by something “better” within us and within the institutions that we build together.
Organizing with Better Angels
Better Angels Organizers are red and blue organizers who, working together, begin the process of depolarizing our communities and, gradually, our nation, by offering community-based Red/Blue Workshops. Organizers are the key leaders who actually bring the two sides together.
Each Red/Blue Workshop requires at least one red organizer and one blue organizer. There are two versions of the Red/Blue Workshop: a 3-hour version and a day-long version (7 hours).
What does an organizer do?
- Find an organizer of the opposite color to form an organizing team.
- As an organizing team, secure a venue for the workshop.
- Recruit 5-7 participants of your own political color for a Red/Blue Workshop. (An organizer may be a participant in the workshop.)
- As an organizing team, coordinate logistics for the workshop or secure a logistics coordinator. Logistics to consider include setting up the venue, providing name tags, registering people into the workshop, providing any food/snacks, and cleaning up the venue.
- Provide interested workshop participants with information on how to form a Better Angels Alliance—a group of local reds and blues who have participated in a Better Angels workshop and want to keep the conversation going—or connect them to an existing local Alliance.
Note that an organizer is not responsible for facilitating the workshop itself; two trained Better Angels moderators facilitate the workshops. Better Angels will connect you with volunteer moderators, or give you information on how to recruit moderators in your region if there are no moderators in your region.
How does Better Angels support organizers?
- Monthly support calls and opportunities to connect with other Better Angels organizers across the country.
- A Workshop Resources page that includes materials for finding organizers of opposite political color, recruiting workshop participants, how-to-manuals, and video demonstrations of workshops.
- Responses to questions on organizing workshops, including trouble shooting challenges you experience. This will be provided mainly through email responses and the monthly support calls.
- Connections with Better Angels moderators, who facilitate the workshops.
Listen to the Better Angels Organizer Orientation for more information:
Let’s go out there and depolarize America!
Moderating with Better Angels
Better Angels moderators lead the red/blue and skills workshops in their communities. They work with workshop organizers and sponsoring institutions, and they may be invited to give presentations about Better Angels in their communities.
Listen below to lead workshop designer Bill Doherty’s overview of what a Better Angels moderator does, our workshops, and the qualifications for a moderator:
If after listening to Doherty’s audio introduction you think you are a good fit to be a Better Angels moderator, please CLICK HERE to apply.
Please note: only Better Angels members can apply as a moderator. CLICK HERE to become a member—it’s easy, and it only costs $10.
Once we receive your application, we’ll try to get back to you within 15 days.
One thing to keep in mind: becoming a moderator is just the first step in being able to do workshops. We’ve learned that it takes effort to recruit local workshop organizers who will then help recruit participants. Once a local Better Angels team is in place, the workshop opportunities begin to flow. Bottom line: apply as a moderator if you are ready to roll up your sleeves to help make workshops happen in your community.