[From the The Cincinnati Enquirer]
By Carl Weiser & Céilí Doyle
“What’s wrong with these people?”
If you’ve wondered that about your fellow Ohioans as they proclaimed their support for the candidate you can’t stand – Donald Trump or Joe Biden – we have a mission for you.
If you watched thousands storm the U.S. Capitol Wednesday and recognize how fractured our country is, there is something you can do right now.
We are not doomed to division.
We’re partnering with Braver Angels
Here’s what we’re doing, and how you can participate:
The USA TODAY Network Ohio is partnering with Braver Angels, a nonprofit founded in the wake of the 2016 election to help reunite “red” and “blue” America.
The three founders, including an Ohioan, assembled 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters in South Lebanon in what became the first “Red/Blue Workshop.” The group has conducted hundreds of similar events, including one-to-one conversations between urban and rural voters.
The organization since has expanded to more than 38,000 members and subscribers across the country.
“American politics is competitive, thrilling, frustrating – and infuriating. Issues are important. Outcomes matter. This is why we care, and should care, about our politics,” said Beverly Horstman of Springboro, who is Braver Angels’ volunteer Ohio state coordinator.
“But do our politics have to be demonizing? Do our politics have to destroy the goodwill of our society? Is the dehumanizing of our fellow Americans something we should accept?”
‘This gives me so much hope’
This year we plan to organize a series of these events, at first virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then later in person. Some are in groups; others are one-to-one.
Chris Watson, one of the participants in a Braver Angels rural/urban one-to-one conversation, lives in a rural area outside of Lebanon in Warren County, which heartily backed Trump in 2016 and 2020.
The 67-year-old joined Braver Angels at the urging of his wife, a “blue” Braver Angels member who was struggling to understand Watson, who voted for Trump.
“Being a part of this organization definitely helped my marriage because after 2016, it was awful,” he said. “It can make a difference, certainly.”
Watson’s partner in the rural/urban one-to-one conversation, Rebecca Johnson, joined Braver Angels two years ago and helped formed the Greater Cincinnati Braver Angels alliance group.
“This gives me so much hope,” said the Democrat from Wyoming in increasingly blue Hamilton County. “Even if all we do to help is just encourage people not to say the first thing that comes to your head when you log onto Facebook.”
“This conversation is one of the most important in the country right now”
The USA TODAY Network Ohio includes 21 news sites around Ohio, in cities such as Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus and smaller towns such as Alliance, Bucyrus and Chillicothe.
“One of our news organization’s roles is to help foster conversations,” said Alan D. Miller, regional editor for USA TODAY Network Ohio and editor of The Columbus Dispatch. “This conversation is one of the most important in the country right now. It’s one that will help bring people to a better understanding of our differences and focus on the many things that unite us.
“Our hope is that the discussions will help individuals and communities move forward together to accomplish our common hopes and dreams.”
How to sign up
Please let us know if you’d like to participate in the first workshop – “depolarizing within” for Ohioans – to be held online Saturday, Jan. 23, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. You can sign up at https://bit.ly/38jtOSP.
And let us know if you have other ideas for how to bridge Ohio’s divide. Please email Carl Weiser at [email protected].