Building a House United
The Challenge: Political Polarization
Politics is tough. It always has been. American politics is competitive, thrilling, frustrating – and infuriating. The stakes are high. Issues are important. Outcomes matter. This is why we care, and should care, about our politics.
But do our politics have to be demonizing? Does it have to bring out the worst in us? Do our politics have to destroy the goodwill of our society? Is the dehumanizing of our fellow Americans something we should accept?
Affective political polarization (not only disagreement on issues but personal contempt and distrust) has been growing between us for at least 25 years. In other words the vitriol in American politics was a problem long before Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election.
Yet today, there is evidence to suggest that we are now as polarized as we have been since the Civil War. We are in what some are calling a “cold civil war” right at the moment when a spreading pandemic, vast economic trouble, and other national and global challenges call upon us to support each other like never before.
We do not accept this.
At Braver Angels we do not accept this division. We reject the normalizing of this extreme polarization. We say no to the break down of political and social life that it brings.
Our work is about restoring civic trust in the USA. It is about healing the wounds between left and right. It is about challenging institutions to be better, building community together, and discovering what it means to be American in our time.
Our work is about supporting a more perfect union. Our work is about inspiring the beloved community.
At Braver Angels, our work is about building a house united.
A Braver Beginning
December 2016: America had suffered through the most divisive election in our history. A couple days later author David Blankenhorn called family research scholar David Lapp of Ohio asking if he could bring a handful of local Trump supporters and Clinton supporters together for a weekend. Professor Bill Doherty, noted family therapist and community organizer, developed a structure and program for the unlikely gathering…
With passions still high following the election we assembled 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters in South Lebanon, Ohio. This would become our first Red/Blue Workshop. The goal was simple. We needed to see if Americans could still disagree respectfully – and just maybe, find common ground. Some thought it wasn’t likely.
We proved our skeptics wrong.
Republican and Democrat, native born and immigrant: these Americans liked each other. But first they had to hear one another’s stories. Black and white, Christian and Muslim: these Americans could appreciate each others opinions. But first they needed to see where these opinions came from. They could listen to each others points of view once they saw one another, not as stereotypes, but as neighbors in a country they shared.
The first gathering was successful. Everyone agreed: this needed to be just the beginning.
And it was. This was the beginning of the organization originally called Better Angels, and of a powerful new approach to political depolarization that would soon sprout across the country.
In South Lebanon, Ohio the first Better Angels Alliance was born. National Public Radio discovered our efforts and dedicated an hour-long segment to covering our work.
The word spread. We began receiving emails from people across the country asking, “Can you please come to my community?”
Meanwhile, the divisions in the nation rose. Against the backdrop of demonstrations in the streets, bitter fighting in congress, national uproar over healthcare, immigration and gun control, and irresponsible pundits and politicians inflaming the discourse at every turn, Better Angels took action.
Responding to popular demand we launched a summer bus tour, starting in Waynesville, Ohio, and ending in Philadelphia, PA. A fall tour followed, starting in Washington, DC running through North Carolina and ending in Nashville. We held workshops, trained over 100 workshop moderators, built friendships and changed lives. By the end of 2017 our members and volunteers stretched across the country.
In 2018 our work only grew. We launched The Better Angels Podcast — now known as The Braver Angels Podcast — interviewing leading voices from the left and the right and changing the conversation online. We expanded to college campuses, held our first national convention, and were featured regularly in the press across the country.
By 2019 it was clear – Better Angels was at the head of a movement not just to depolarize politics, but to re-imagine what it means to be an American.
In early 2020, in the midst of our divisions, the U.S. was confronted with the COVID-19 Pandemic. Around the same time, Better Angels amicably concluded settlement negotiations related to a trademark dispute. In short – we needed to a find a new name.
Braver Angels was inspired by the words of Abraham Lincoln, who not only called on Americans to summon the “better angels” of our nature — but called on us to find the courage needed to pursue a more perfect union, “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right.”
To meet the current moment, at this time of national crisis, we need more than civility. We need bravery.
Braver Angels seeks to depolarize American politics. Our work is rooted in grassroots organizing. From the grassroots however, our volunteer leaders (supported by a small staff) leverage Braver Angels programs and unique organizing structure to impact community life and American institutions.
Specifically, our efforts are focused on:
- Politics & Government
If feelings about our political adversaries can be represented on a spectrum, our objective is to move Americans from hatred or disdain to respect & appreciation. (See diagram below.)
Our approach is guided by the Braver Angels Pledge:
- As individuals, we try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it.
- In our communities, we engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together.
- In politics, we support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.
How We Are Funded
Our primary source of funds comes from membership fees from individual Americans who believe in the mission of Braver Angels and who want to make a difference.
Sources of Funding
Our Red/Blue rule applies to our funding sources as well as our leadership. In other words, we strive for roughly equal funding from foundations that are considered to be more liberal or progressive, and those foundations that are more closely associated with conservative causes.
How We Use the Funds
Braver Angels is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Roughly half of our budget goes to our paid staff. The other half goes to support our various programs, including Red/Blue workshops, skills training, Braver Angels debates and our Braver Angels media.
Why Funding is Needed
We strive to reflect the demographic composition of the United States, both politically and economically. We keep our dues very low so that anyone can afford to join Braver Angels, enjoy the benefits of membership and make a difference.
Braver Angels also draws funding from foundations across the political spectrum. Our 990 Forms – the annual IRS-required “Returns of Organizations Exempt from Income Tax” – filed as Institute for American Values, are the most detailed reports of our yearly expenditures and sources of income. These reports are publicly available online at www.guidestar.org.
Show Your Support
President & Co-Founder
David Blankenhorn is the founder and president of the Institute for American Values as well as the President and one of the founders of Braver Angels. He is also the author of Fatherless America and The Future of Marriage.
William J. Doherty is Professor and Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in the Department of Family Social Science, College of Education and Human Development, at the University of Minnesota, where he is also an adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.
David Lapp was an Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for American Values, and co-investigator of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, a qualitative research inquiry into how working-class young adults form relationships and families.
Chief Marketing Officer
Ciaran O’Connor is a digital and communications strategist who previously served on the 2012 Obama campaign and the 2016 Clinton campaign. He holds a BA in public policy from Duke University.
Director of Debates
April Lawson grew up in Kansas, studied anthropology at Yale, and now lives in Washington, D.C. with her dog June. She worked for David Brooks at The New York Times for 4 years and previously served as the Associate Director of Weave: The Social Fabric Project at the Aspen Institute.
John Wood, Jr.
John Wood, Jr. is a national leader for Braver Angels, a former nominee for Congress, former Vice-Chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, and a noted writer and speaker on issues of political and racial reconciliation.
Donna Nielsen Murphy has lived on the east coast, Midwest, and west coast, and for nine years in Japan and South Korea. She has worked as an economist in both the public and private sector, most recently at the U.S. State Department, and is the author of three books.
Director of Online Experience
Randy Lioz studied economics at Duke and earned a business degree at Michigan. While he leads Braver Angels’ development of online programs, he has several other roles, including state coordinator, moderator, and writer. He worked in the auto industry for over 15 years before joining the organization.
Director of Administration
Hillary Luehring-Jones is a graduate of Connecticut College, where she studied film and digital media. Before joining Braver Angels, Hillary was an event planner working specifically with nonprofit organizations, and later wrote for a popular news website.
Chief Development Officer
With training in computer science, Rachel Weinstein has had extensive professional experience in fundraising, technology, and organizational growth. She’s held senior positions at several non-profits and founded three companies. As CDO, she directs Braver Angels’ fundraising activities.
Senior Media Adviser
Mónica Guzmán is a Seattle-based journalist and upcoming author who lives for good conversation sparked by challenging questions. She’s cofounder of The Evergrey, a former columnist at The Seattle Times, a recent fellow at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, an immigrant and dual U.S.-Mexico citizen, and the mom of two bilingual kiddos.
Director of grants
Julie Boler’s expertise is in nonprofit work addressing sociopolitical problems, comprising decades of experience in training and curriculum development, staff supervision, research, writing, and quality assurance. She began volunteering with Braver Angels in 2018 and joined the national leadership team in January of 2020.
Director of Arts & Culture
Sage Snider is a performer, songwriter, and music historian based in Nashville, TN— where she performs with artists across the political spectrum. She began bringing arts and politics together by designing a “Music and Democracy in Ancient Greece” program for the Yale University Art Gallery. She later ran a Civil War music program for the Smithsonian of American History.
Luke Nathan Phillips is a writer and editor living in the Washington D.C. area, whose life’s quest is to better understand America, and help Americans to understand America a little better. He’s done odd jobs in journalism, restaurants, band gigs, campaigns, tourism, conservation, and museums.
Blake Lundquist is a web developer and educator based in Seattle. He builds and researches applications that create a healthier and more equitable internet, and teaches front-end engineering.
Moderator Call Coordinator
Tom Smerling has worked for over 30 years on foreign and domestic policy, including positions with Minneapolis Mayor Donald Fraser and various Washington think tanks. He was founding director of an NGO to support active U.S. mediation of Arab-Israeli negotiations, and served in NOAA’s Ocean Service.
Richard Stoff is founder and retired president of the Ohio Business Roundtable, having served five governors and hundreds of corporate CEOs over 25 years to foster innovation, improve competitiveness and Ohio’s quality of life. Previously, he was a Partner in the worldwide management consulting practice of Ernst & Young.
Moderator Call Coordinator
Randy Freeman is a practicing Psychotherapist. She had been the Braver Angels state coordinator in NJ and recently became one of the NY coordinators. A member since 2016, she has moderated many red/blue workshops and skills workshops and co-hosts monthly moderator calls.
Mark Beckwith is the retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark (NJ), and now serves as the Bishop Liaison for Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of 100 bishops. He is co-host of A Matter of Faith on NJ Public Television, and is also a spiritual director and a life coach.
Glenn T. Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family and the author of nine books, senior contributor to the Federalist blog and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. He debates and lectures extensively on the issues of gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the world.
Moderator Orientation Call Coordinator
Dee Endelman lives in Seattle, WA and has a Masters Degree in Organizational Development from Antioch University. Before retiring, she worked on the people side of business for 40 years, first as a Human Resources executive, and then as a group facilitator, trainer and leadership coach.
Organizer Call Coordinator
After graduating Springfield College,
Bruce France spent 40 years in business. Positions included sales, operations, management and a five-year stint running his own retail store. He is now in a second career as Executive Director for the Capital Area Council of Churches in Albany, NY.
Organizer Call Coordinator
Ron Heady taught in public schools for many years, primarily high school English and Latin. Since leaving the face-to-face classroom, Ron has continued teaching in various online environments and volunteers with a social justice advocacy group in Nashville, TN, in addition to his work with Braver Angels.
State Coordinator Call Coordinator
After her life as a homemaker changed, Barbara Boldt Brown spent six years selling cars before buying and operating several child development schools. She then worked with a school district doing parenting and prenatal training along with home visits. Now she is a middle school substitute and is pursuing an M.A.
Steve Saltwick is a bio-psychologist whose career took a path through high-tech on six continents. He studies the guiding principles of the mammalian brain especially as it relates to artificial intelligence. He has published in SCIENCE but prefers to dote on his first grandchild and two border collies.
Evaluation and Data Analytics Coordinator
Paul Kuhne works as the Roundtables Programs Manager at the Center for Open Data Enterprise, convening different stakeholders to identify best practices to improve open data use. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Temple University and an M.A. in Global Policy Studies at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Lynn Heady is a life-long educator with her degree in Curriculum. She served as Curriculum Director in two public school districts, and also helped design and direct a world-class preschool while teaching graduate-level curriculum courses both on land and online.