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Become a better angel

December 2017 Program Overview

December 11, 2017

The United States is disuniting. The last presidential election only made clear what many have feared – that we’re becoming two Americas, each angry with the other, and neither trusting the other’s basic humanity and good intentions. Today Americans increasingly view their political opponents not only as misguided, but also as bad people whose ways of thinking are both dangerous and incomprehensible. This degree of civic rancor threatens our democracy.

Our Mission

Launched in 2016, Better Angels is a bipartisan citizen’s movement to unify our divided nation. By bringing red and blue Americans together into a working alliance, we’re building new ways to talk to one another, participate together in public life, and influence the direction of the nation.

Our Pledge
  • As individuals, try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it.
  • In our communities, engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together.
  • In politics, support leaders and policies aiming to bring us together rather than divide us.
Our Rule

We are reds and blues together in approximately equal numbers; and we are upscale and grassroots, and of different colors, such that our organization looks like the country we seek to serve.

Our Strategy
  • Invent a community workshop that successfully helps reds and blues rebuild trust. We've already done this.
  • With partners, scale the workshops to reach a critical mass of Americans.
  • From the workshops, create ongoing red-blue alliances to continue the work.
  • Gather grass roots leaders together annually to support each other and determine national priorities.
  • Create new ways for red and blue thought leaders work together, to argue, and to make a case for depolarization.
  • Within a decade, create a citizen’s movement strong and smart enough to influence policy makers and cultural norms.
What We Did in 2017

1. Created a new way of bringing Americans together to rebuild civic trust.

These intensive, face-to-face gatherings bring red and blue Americans together in equal numbers to listen to each other with respect, rebuild trust in one another as people of good will, and look for common ground. The best way to understand this experience is to watch this video. As of today, we’ve held 42 of them around the country involving about 800 red and blue participants.

2. Developed a model for scaling this new way of bringing people together.

Since November 1, in one-day training sessions in Minneapolis, Nashville, Washington, D.C., and Durham, NC, we’ve trained 128 “citizen-moderators,” each of whom, with our ongoing supervision, will moderate at least 3 Better Angels workshops in 2018. Since November 1, a total of 510 Americans have signed up to volunteer for Better Angels in 2018, including 275 who’ve agreed to organize local workshops. To date we’ve recruited 7 partner organizations to help us with scaling in 2018. More broadly, on July 1, our mailing list was 2,330 and today it’s 6,454. And since July 1 we’ve received 578 online donations totaling $36,922.

3. Formed ongoing red-blue alliances to continue the work of depolarization.

Typically, from one or more of our workshops emerges a Better Angels Alliance – 6 or more members (half red, half blue) who form an ongoing Better Angels presence in the community. Our first Alliance launched in May, and as of today, 10 are either active or preparing to launch.

4. Brought together Better Angels leaders for a three-day national leadership gathering.

We held our first national gathering, attended by 35 Better Angels leaders, in June of 2017.

5. Assembled red and blue thinkers to model the “Better Angels way” of public debate.

We’ve attracted some of America’s most respected thinkers on polarization, including Hunter Baker, David Blankenhorn, Francis Fukuyama, William Galston, Jonathan Haidt, Karen Swallow Prior, and Jonathan Rauch, as well as a red-blue team of younger thought leaders, to participate in our Better Angels Media Network and our Council on the Common Good.

6. Created a program for teaching the skills for talking constructively with friends and family with whom you disagree.

We created and field-tested a 2.5 hour skills training session called “Talking across the Political Chasm: A Workshop on Difficult Personal Conversations.”

7. Developed a way to tell the Better Angels story.

A documentary film currently in the editing stage, and directed by the four-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jim Brown, focuses on how Better Angels works, how it can change the country, and how people can become involved.

What We Seek to Do in 2018
  • Hold at least 400 community workshops.
  • Launch at least 75 Alliances.
  • At least 100 leaders attend national leadership gathering to develop our national agenda.
  • Train and deploy at least 200 new citizen-moderators.
  • Launch Better Angels Media Network and Council for the Common Good.
  • Release documentary film on Better Angels.
Our Organization

We’re a small start-up, with a staff of six – three full-time salaried (David Blankenhorn, David Lapp, Ciaran O’Connor), one half-time volunteer (Prof. William Doherty), and two part-time salaried (Josephine Tramontano, Charity Navarrete). We’re doing what few others are doing or even attempting to do – systematically putting polarized red and blue Americans in the same room to find common ground and develop a new American alliance – and we’ve been recognized by national media for our efforts.

Our Name

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.

David Blankenhorn / 917.400.1045 /
Better Angels / 420 Lexington Avenue, Room 1706 / New York, NY 10170