Jen Livingston’s origin story is different. She didn’t join Braver Angels because of a newspaper op-ed column. Nor was it because she attended a BA event with a friend.
She joined because in 2018, she’d been studying Braver Angels for her Master’s degree in organization development. “I chose three organizations to study their dialog methods, and BA was one of them,” she says.
Livingston, an organization development consultant and facilitator by trade, used America’s Constitutional Convention as her template for gauging which elements of meetings best support democratic dialog across deep ideological differences. She notes that back in 1787, even though Convention participants may be seen today as all “white male elites,” they had significant cultural differences as well as widely divergent political and financial interests to negotiate in their deliberations.
In her research, Livingston found that BA echoed the Constitutional Convention ideal, with rigor around dialog processes such as social contact, reciprocal listening, and openness. “I felt that Braver Angels really had their act together – the right momentum, the right message,” she says. “I saw the impact their events had on attendees, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
So it was only a small step for her to join. Her readiness to do so was accelerated by her continued concerns about growing polarization across the country – and by her own experiences as a Red (Jen calls herself a “libertarian-leaning heterodox conservative”) in deep-Blue suburban Philadelphia.
Soon after, Livingston attended BA’s own convention in St. Louis, where lead organizer Donna Murphy tapped her and Virginia delegate Bill Roos to develop an online library to house the organization’s knowledge and for members to share books and articles.
Fast-forward a bit, and Livingston, together with Library team members Roos and Bridget Kraft, now curates and maintains that library, hosting online book discussions, posting member book recommendations, doing occasional author interviews – and of course, managing a growing library of thought leadership and best practice on the fundamentals of democratic dialog. (Read more about the library and book discussions here.)
The book discussions have two stand-out attributes. They’re low-commitment; some people just want to listen. And they’re an easy on-ramp to other BA activities. About a fifth of attendees polled say the book discussions are their first-ever BA event. Livingston says they often hear from members who say the discussions are the first events in a long time where they’ve felt safe to voice their opinions.
“We try to make it a rich experience,” says Livingston. “We send out a discussion guide in advance – resources relating to the book with varied viewpoints, links, and a mix of audio and text.” Afterward, attendees receive a recording of the discussion along with a list of resources mentioned during the event. “It’s definitely a team effort,” Livingston says, “Bill, Bridget, and I do a lot, and of course we couldn’t do anything without the BA tech team, but it’s the members who make the discussions so great.”
Livingston hopes to extend the Library’s impact with a kind of “Book Club in a Box,” a collection of Library resources for BA alliances to host their own book discussions. So if your local alliance is looking for ideas for events, that’s one right there. Reach out to Jen Livingston here and you’ll find she and her team are more than ready to help.