Over the last few years, there has been a growing tension between people who are politically liberal and people who are politically conservative. Despite appearances, though, conservatives and liberals actually have more in common than you might think, and a friendly conversation can go a long way in rebuilding that bridge.
This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Liz Boulware and Laura Gilliom, leaders in the organization Braver Angels, to discuss the organization and the benefits of bringing together individuals from both sides of the political aisle.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. In our increasingly polarized society, it can feel impossible for Americans of different political parties or philosophical backgrounds to find common ground on anything. But there is a legion of Americans who believe that the fight to save our nation begins with a ceasefire among ourselves. These braver angels are members of a nationwide organization that brings conservatives and progressives together on equal terms to understand our differences, find common ground where it exists, and help the country we all love find a better way. Well, today, we’re joined by two Braver Angels leaders here in North Carolina. Liz Boulware is the red co-chair for Braver Angels of Central North Carolina. She’s a Wake Forest University graduate, and she works full-time in risk management while living in Charlotte. Laura Gilliom is the blue co-chair of the Braver Angels alliance of central North Carolina. She’s a child psychologist and lives in Durham. Liz and Laura, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
LIZ BOULWARE: Hi Traci!
LAURA GILLIOM: It’s great to be here!
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right, we’ll start by introducing our audience to braver angels. What is the organization’s mission? Who are the participants, all that? And why don’t you start with the National because it started on a nationwide level, right. And now it’s in North Carolina and many other states.
LAURA GILLIOM: The mission of Braver Angels is to bring Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic. And it’s a grassroots organization made up of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, or as we say, reds, blues, and others. And nationwide, there are over 11,000 members across the country. And more than twice that many have at least participated in one of our events or more. Leadership that’s politically balanced at every level. And we’re mostly volunteers, although there is a small paid staff at the national level. And the majority of the work is done on the ground by local chapters or alliances like the one that lives in my league.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Talk a little bit about the history. Who started this and why?
LAURA GILLIOM David Blankenhorn started it right after the 2016 elections. He called a friend of his in Ohio and, so David Blankenhorn is in New York, David Lapp is in Ohio. And they talked about the different moods of people in New York and Ohio about the election that just happened. And they said, “This is not so good to have our country so split over these results. Let’s talk about this.” And they got a third person, Bill Doherty, who is kind of a well-known family therapist, to help them design a workshop to bring together Trump voters and Clinton voters and talk about their perspectives and listen to each other. So that’s how it started back in 2016. And yeah, it’s grown and grown and grown.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Alright. Well, talk a little bit about what motivated each of you to get involved in Braver Angels. Liz, do you want to start?
LIZ BOULWARE: Yeah, sure. I’ll tackle that one. In 2020. I found myself a little sideways, both in my church and my, even in my community. I live close to downtown here in Charlotte. And as a more conservative, someone who, you know, holds a few more conservative beliefs than a lot of my neighbors and fellow church members, I was just sort of looking for a place where I could talk about these things in an open forum and came across John Wood Jr., who is also one of the leaders here at Braver Angels. And read Jonathan Haidt and some other things. And so a lot of these heterodox thinkers that were involved with Braver Angels kind of drew me in. And then, you know, came to learn that there was a local alliance here in North Carolina, and I got connected with them. So it just was a place, you know, of calm, a place where you could talk, you know, talk openly about some of these issues. So yeah, very welcoming group.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right, Laura, what drew you to the group?
LAURA GILLIOM: I mentioned Bill Doherty. I was familiar with him in my professional world. I’ve done some trainings with him and I just thought it was really interesting that he was using techniques of marriage counseling, which is something I do a lot of, to bringing that to political conversations. I also was part of a group at my church that were working to facilitate discussions of controversial topics, and we had been wanting to bring it out into the community. So Braver Angels just seemed like a natural fit.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, you mentioned the techniques. Talk a little bit about that. How does Braver Angels work in a practical way,
LAURA GILLIOM: The heart of what we do is bringing people together to listen to each other and talk with each other. And there are some skills that we teach in our skills workshops. We have kind of skills workshops and experiential workshops. The skills workshops focus on, you know, how to kind of identify your own inner polarizer, as it’s called, and you know, the way that we tend to discount and dismiss and distrust people on the other side, and kind of working on that and listening with curiosity and openness and acknowledging common ground when we see it, you know, we’re kind of saying back what we hear, seeing if we’ve gotten it, right. And those kinds of things are a big part of the skills.
LIZ BOULWARE: And I think really like that listening to understand as opposed to listening to respond. It sounds really simple. But when you work on that, in a workshop, it’s really impactful.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: But I know a lot of people that just really don’t think they could handle that kind of discussion. How do you get people to that point,
LIZ BOULWARE: We do have trained moderators, and it’s facilitated to set people up to be able to do this.
LAURA GILLIOM: One thing that happens is you’ll have one side talking with each other about what they see as you know, what is good about their sides, values and policies, and then also what concerns they have about their own side. And so you get to hear the other side kind of self-reflect on why they think their side is good. And then also what, what’s maybe not so great. And that is really kind of disarming to hear that. And so it’s not directly challenging each other, you can also come up with questions you want to ask the other side. But the moderators help you design questions that are, you know, respectful, and they’re not gotcha questions and things like that. So there’s just a lot of facilitation to keep people not on the defensive but keep them curious.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So why do you suppose it’s so hard for some of us, in particular, to encounter and then thoughtfully and respectfully engage people with whom we disagree?
LIZ BOULWARE: I think it’s actually harder with friends and family and people you know. So, for one, I think it’s good to practice in these workshops. And oftentimes, in these workshops, it’s not people, you know, you maybe encounter every day. And I think people more and more are personally identifying with their political views versus this just being one thing about them, right, they’re almost too attached to these views. And if you, you know, people feel attacked, if you have a different idea about how to approach some of these things.
LAURA GILLIOM: I agree with that. It’s part politics, you know, our political identities become a huge part of our identity instead of just who we vote for. It’s become much bigger than that for a lot of reasons. But that sort of includes our morality and our values. So it’s really easy to think, well, somebody who has a different, comes from a different political tribe, they don’t share my morality or my values, so maybe I shouldn’t trust them.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What kind of changes have you seen happen? Are you, do you feel like you’re winning the war, so to speak?
LAURA GILLIOM: I do think polarization is, you know, still quite strong and maybe getting stronger at the moment. But, you know, on the other hand, I’ve seen this organization grow, you know, just talking about North Carolina, I’ve seen it go from like a few dozen people that were Braver Angels members in North Carolina to, we have about a little over 500 active members, but we also have several thousand people who are, you know, subscribed to our newsletter and participate in events and so forth. And we’ve gone from one alliance to, I think, we have about five now across the state. So there’s a much bigger presence. So I hope that means that more people have seen a different way to talk with each other instead of about each other or at each other.
LIZ BOULWARE: Yeah, and I think the other piece That’s been really heartening for us is, we see this more and more on college campuses. I got to do a film club presentation with some students from UVA who made a movie about, you know, the events that occurred at the UVA campus a few years back. And that was a very, you know, red-blue group of students that came together to produce that. And then here in North Carolina, there’s a number of campus initiatives that are going on where we partner with, you know, campuses for different kinds of debates and things like that. So it seems like there’s interest, you know, a lot of interest in colleges as well to, you know, face this head-on.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Great. So besides college campuses and then the ones that you do within communities, what are some other events that you do? And how are those working?
LAURA GILLIOM: So I mentioned different kinds of kinds of workshops. There are also debates, which are a different type of debate where it’s less about winning, and more about kind of just hearing from lots of different points of view. And they’re called a collective search for truth. There are, our alliance has monthly discussions, which are not a debate, just it’s a more casual discussion of different political topics that are a lot of fun, and we have a different topic every month. We are doing a new kind of event on October 18, called Dinner and a Fight, which is sort of tongue-in-cheek, and it is dinner. It’s not actually a fight. But it’s a discussion about a controversial topic, which will be announced at the event. So it’ll be a surprise. So those are some of the things that we’ve done here,
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We talked about at the beginning about finding common ground where it exists. Do you find common ground? Because some people might find that to be surprising.
LIZ BOULWARE: Yes, we do, actually, in on a number of issues. In one of our discussions, we even talked about abortion, I mean, we don’t shy away from the really tough topics. And the group was able to find especially, you know, it’s not always around the policy, but it’s around the, you know, the beliefs behind certain things. And you know, what motivates our thinking. So we are able to find that. And then recently, we’ve been doing some work around elections in North Carolina, with groups of reds and blues, and identifying specific policies that the reds and blues could agree upon, you know, considering to, you know, keep our elections, both safe and fair
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Laura, any success stories that kind of jumped out at you?
LAURA GILLIOM: Consistently, at the end of the red-blue workshops, people almost always say, “Wow, I didn’t realize, you know, we had that much in common. We have more in common than we thought than I thought. And there are really reasonable people on the other side.” Yeah, so that was that one is a big one, that’s just consistent. And then I also remember stories from alliance members of being able to talk to someone in their family in a better way than they had in a long time. And people just feeling relieved to be able to talk about issues that are controversial without, you know, being canceled, or that kind of thing, looked down on or whatever.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right. So it’s good practice, I guess, for people that are in your groups. That’s good to hear. You mentioned that there are five Braver Angel groups in North Carolina. Tell us how people who are listening can get more information on that and possibly join one of those groups.
LAURA GILLIOM: We have a website, that it’s got kind of a funny name, but if you just Google Braver Angels of North Carolina, that you will find the website or Braver Angels in North Carolina, either one I think should bring it up. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And we’ll get you connected to the right Alliance. And you can sign up for our newsletter if you want. We’d love for your listeners to check us out and join us and see what Braver Angels is all about.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Sounds great. Liz Boulware and Laura Gillion with Braver Angels of Central North Carolina. Thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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