Colleague of the Week: Elizabeth Doll

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It was the aggressive homeless person trying to open her passenger door in Seattle traffic that most surprised Elizabeth Doll.

“I grew up here; I’ve seen different versions of downtown Seattle,” she says. “But in 2020, it was a completely different and scary place.” As the pandemic deepened and commuting ground to a halt, active policing declined too. And then policing itself became a flashpoint issue following the killing of George Floyd. Activists turned several Seattle city blocks into a no-go zone. “It became impossible to ignore that you were living in a place that was deeply hostile to your politics,” says Doll.

Those were the kinds of experiences that make Doll, the Red co-chair of Braver Angels Kitsap County Alliance, more determined than ever to depolarize her community, her region – and her nation.

She’s not exactly new to such efforts. Doll began working in politics a decade ago as a 16-year-old. While interning on a congressional campaign at 17, she discovered a passion for the work of improving her community. Since then, Doll has volunteered, worked, consulted for, and managed multiple Washington state campaigns, from statewide gubernatorial races to local fire commissioner races.

Passion is the operative word: Doll never met a political discussion she didn’t love. “I’m basically fearless about conversations with anyone, regardless of their views,” she says.

That helps explain why she had begun organizing her own version of Braver Angels more than three years ago – before she even knew about Braver Angels. “Bainbridge Island, where I live, is an extremely Blue city,” says Doll. “People there don’t even associate with many people elsewhere in the county.” Except for one: a Blue-leaning woman, eager to hear other views, who contacted Doll to ask if she’d be willing to get together to talk.

Their subsequent and highly successful conversation led the two women to invite friends to a broader discussion on carefully selected issues. “It was three Reds plus three Blues for dinner, with a very structured agenda,” Doll recalls. “We broke up into pairs, asked each other questions. It went really well.”

So well that the women expanded it to four plus four. One of the new participants already knew about Braver Angels and it was a very short step for the group to realize that they didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Doll had already concluded that the work of depolarization was a community-based, conversation-by-conversation thing, so when she came across an organization that was already doing that on a national scale, she jumped at the chance.

The group of women joined BA and formed their own small alliance in Kitsap county. They held their first Red/Blue workshop not long after. Doll estimates that in 2020, she was putting in 20-25 volunteer hours a week on BA activities.

Today, she has fewer hours to spare, working as Team Coordinator at the Family Policy Institute of Washington and independently continuing her political consulting right now. (Currently, she’s writing a legislative summary on police reform). But she packs plenty into those hours.

Aside from co-chairing her county’s alliance, she’s on the leadership team of the Western Washington Alliance – effectively the parent group for her local group. She has been the Red half of perhaps 10 one-on-one Red/Blue conversations. She’s an active member of BA’s Red Caucus. And she works each week with Luke Nathan Phillips on BA’s America’s Public Forum initiative.

Working with Braver Angels across the country has opened her eyes to the range of issues that can lead to polarization. “I’ve seen that the political concerns of people who live near me aren’t the political concerns of people in Oklahoma or Florida,” she says. “Those other perspectives have tempered the reactionary part of me.” That has helped sharpen her contributions as a political consultant; she is able to remind candidates that they must attend to the issues that matter to their voters – traffic congestion, economic revitalization, or whatever – rather than being pulled into reactions to the national headline issues of the day, no matter how inflammatory.

The broader Braver Angels experiences have also heightened Doll’s sensitivities to silent and untapped communities – particularly those in different socio-economic groups than the typical BA member. “There are Red and Blue perspectives that are just not part of the depolarization conversation,” she observes.

And not surprisingly, she wants to do whatever she can to draw in more Reds. “I hear continually about Red/Blue workshops being organized by Blues who can’t find Reds,” she notes. “But if you don’t know how to find Reds in Red state, it’s not just a question of calling for Red Caucus representatives to come help; it’s a question of stepping out of your bubble and going to some activities and communities where Reds are already present.”

Another push for Doll is to reach out to other young people. “In our alliance, we’ve connected with the Washington Policy Center, a non-profit that has an enormous group of young professionals,” she says. “Their policy work is stellar; they host wonderful discussions with a focus on encouraging people to think of actual solutions.”

Over the next year, she intends to help put more of what she’s passionate about into action locally. She wants the Kitsap County Alliance to grow – recruiting more Reds wherever possible. Other events, such as shared movie-watching and discussion – are on the agenda. In the Western Washington Alliance, a discussion about police reform in the state is in planning stages. Given last year’s outburst of activism downtown Seattle – much of it centered on policing – the discussion is sure to be electric.

Elizabeth Doll is only just getting started. It’s a good bet that Braver Angels will be using her talents and smarts and energy for a long time to come.

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