California is a pretty remarkable place. The Golden State famously offers such a variety of natural beauty, that it’s often pointed out that one can go surfing, hiking and skiing, all in the same day.
But many people forget the other types of variety that California offers, in terms of its people. Not only is this state incredibly diverse racially and ethnically (less than 40% are white), but there’s a much wider variety of thought and culture here than most people from other areas of the country realize. That’s why California deserves it’s own Better Angels office.
Outsiders often think of this state as simply a blue state—California has voted pretty strongly Democratic in presidential elections since Bill Clinton—but Republicans have maintained a sizeable base, particularly given the robust history of the party here. There have been more Republican governors of California than Democrats, and Republicans Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon have been the only two presidents to hail from this state.
A similar misconception exists for religion. Despite the state’s reputation among some as a bastion of godlessness, Pew says that about half of Californians consider themselves “highly religious,” which is right in line with the rest of the country, and only 12% of Californians report not believing in God.
In fact, it wasn’t until I moved to Southern California that I realized how many of my fellow residents consider themselves evangelical Christians. These folks, who are often quite conservative, find themselves on the opposite side of many debates from the more liberal Hollywood crowd. The two groups live side-by-side, up and down the California coast.
This notable diversity, combined with California’s sheer size—the Golden State now has the world’s fifth largest economy, larger than that of the UK—put it in a unique position to serve as a proxy for the United States as a whole.
On top of that, California is consistently one of the most polarized states in the country, and has been for many years. In an academic study that has examined polarization within state legislatures since 1993, California has consistently been one of the most starkly split, though it was passed by Colorado for the top spot in 2016. This legislative divide certainly reflects the electorate that puts the legislature in office.
What does this all mean? Without a doubt, the success of Better Angels throughout America will be closely related to our success within California. When it comes to polarization in political discourse, as goes the Golden State, so goes the rest of the country.
The existence of these issues within California also presents itself as an opportunity, and not just a threat. What if our state could serve as a testing ground for new ideas and new approaches to addressing polarization? With many of the country’s issues existing here on the Left Coast, but in more concentrated form, there’s a chance to develop programs here that could be rolled out to the rest of the country if they proved successful.
Here’s an example: California has vast swaths of rural areas that feed much of the rest of the U.S; our “happy cows” produce one-fifth of the nation’s milk, for example, and our state is nearly the sole producer of foods like artichokes, almonds and olives. These areas also happen to be more conservative than the coastal regions of the state, and Better Angels’ mission would be well served by giving these people a bigger voice in our community of ideas.
But much like in other areas of the country, these folks often have a tougher time getting to a Better Angels workshop, with the nearest one perhaps being several hours away. Achieving a quorum of enough reds and blues—and a couple of available moderators—for a productive workshop might be pretty challenging in these more remote regions. So we’re developing a plan to partner with local libraries—which are often some of the best-connected places in these small communities—to enable virtual workshops. We’re hoping a few people can gather at each of their local libraries, and a cluster of libraries—which are often already networked together—might enable this sort of meeting of the minds.
There are plenty of other programs that the California office can develop to help us achieve success in this state. The California office can simultaneously help the national organization to expand its footprint, and to better reflect the country that we seek to serve.
The California office is also uniquely positioned for other reasons. Our state has a particularly high concentration of wealth in certain areas, and with that wealth comes a plethora of available funding, both from private individuals and from grant-making foundations. These foundations span a wide range of political ideologies, as well as non-political orientations. As director of the California office, I’m also a member of the Better Angels fundraising team, which aims to strengthen our resources and enable the organization to reach many more people.
Speaking of reaching more people, California is home base for much of the country’s media and entertainment business. While there are plenty of liberal-leaning organizations in this universe, California also hosts much of the core of the conservative media, like a Fox News studio, Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire, and Breitbart News. Our proximity to these and many other media outlets, and even the entertainment side of things, can help Better Angels to amplify its voice and be heard by many more people throughout the country.
In fact, many of our staff members, particularly those focused on getting our voice out into the world, are already here on the West Coast. Chief Marketing Officer Ciaran O’Connor, Director of Media Development John Wood, Jr., and Social Media Manager Greg Steinbrecher all live in Los Angeles. Eventually we hope to have a physical office location there, though the California office currently exists only in the hearts and homes of those of us living here.
One major obstacle to the California office’s mission still remains: funding. Currently we’re in search of some sizeable grant funding to sustain the work of the office. But this is the sort of thing that takes a while to materialize. We’ve taken a leap of faith that this money will appear, but until then, we need your help.
Yes, you. The person who’s reading this.
Currently we have around 1,200 subscribers in California. Even if every single one of them were to give $12—the cost of a yearly Better Angels membership—straight to the California office, it would get us just under half-way towards the $30,000 goal that we’ve established to bridge the gap until we can secure grant funding.
So if you believe in the mission of Better Angels, and you believe in the potential of the California office to advance this mission and magnify our voice to a nation desperate for some semblance of respect in our civil discourse, please consider donating a bit.
As a bonus, if you give $50 or more, you’ll get a free, super-cool Better Angels California t-shirt.
And if you have relationships with grant-making foundations or donors who might want to support this cause, please reach out!
With your help, we can turn the passion our California activists and staff have into results on the ground, and help bolster the influence of an organization that we all love.
To donate to the California office, go to better-angels.org/california.