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. Americans no longer see their political opponents as simply wrong or misguided. They see them as enemies who must be defeated at all costs.
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 building 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.
Our mission is to bring Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic.
We do so by observing the Braver Angels Way:
We state ours views freely and fully, without fear.
We welcome opportunities to engage with those with whom we disagree.
We treat people who disagree with us with honesty and respect.
We seek to disagree accurately, avoiding exaggeration and stereotypes.
We look for common ground where it exists, and if possible, find ways to work together.
We believe that all of us have blind spots and none of us are not worth talking to.
We believe that, in disagreements, both sides share and learn. In Braver Angels, neither side is teaching the other or giving feedback on how to think or say things differently.
Our work ethic is citizen-leadership; we’re many volunteers assisted by a professional staff.
We’re guided by the Braver Angels Rule: At every level of organizational guidance, red and blue leaders are equally represented. Regarding race, ethnicity, and social and economic class, our constant striving is to be an organization that reflects the country we seek to serve.
A Braver Beginning
December 2016: America had suffered one of the most divisive elections in our history. In this unprecedented moment, co-founders David Blankenhorn, Bill Doherty, and David Lapp came together with an idea for an 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, Better Angels changed its name to Braver Angels to reflect the courage needed to bridge the divide.
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 to challenge ourselves to work together when we disagree. 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. Braver Angels also draws funding from foundations across the political spectrum.
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.
We invite you to use the links above to peruse detailed reports of our yearly expenditures and sources of income, as well as our commitments to donor privacy.
In 2021, Braver Angels was awarded Guidestar’s Platinum Seal, its highest transparency rating for nonprofits:
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CHIEF DEVELOPMENT OFFICER
Eduardo Andino leads the fundraising team at Braver Angels. He was previously Director of Development for First Things, an influential journal of religion and public life, and a consultant at American Philanthropic.
Director of finance
Kira Barone joined Braver Angels in August of 2021. She leads the finance team and oversees budgeting, audits and strategic financial forecasting. She has worked most of her career with non-profits especially start up non-profits or those in phases of rapid growth. She grew up in Iowa and now lives in Vermont with her husband and two daughters.
Moderator training coordinator
Maggie Bayless is an entrepreneur who founded ZingTrain, a business to business training company, and is now focused on working less and volunteering more. As Braver Angels’ Moderator Training Coordinator, Maggie leads Moderator Office Hours, helps design the monthly Moderator Forums and co-facilities Moderator Orientation meetings with Bill Doherty. She’s also happy to be the point person for any Moderator-related training questions!
cO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT
David Blankenhorn is president and co-founder of Braver Angels. He is the author of In search of Braver Angels. He co-founded the National Fatherhood Initiative in 1995, founded the Institute for American Values in 1988, and has authored or co-edited 14 books. He grew up in Mississippi and now lives with his family in New York City.
organizer call coordinator (blue)
Yvonne Boyd trained as a volunteer organizer in January 2021 and enjoys training new organizers and helping alliances with their first workshop. She is a Zoom participant manager and a member of the BA Ambassador Team. In March 2022, she became the Organizer Call Coordinator (blue) and works closely with Casey (red). Yvonne is a middle school secretary and lives in SE Washington State with her husband and two teenagers.
co-director of office of field operations
April Chatham-Carpenter is a faculty member at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Department of Applied Communication. Along with serving as a volunteer co-director for the BA office of Field Operations, she is a Regional Team Lead for the West South Central Region of Braver Angels and a co-facilitator for the monthly moderator forum for Braver Angels (BA). She loves teaching and researching how dialogue can be used in the public square to create relationships between people.
Bill Doherty is a co-founder of Braver Angels and the creator of the Braver Angels workshop approach. Bill is a Professor and Director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. Bill combines a background in family therapy and community engagement.
Director of braver politics
Elizabeth Doll joined Braver Angels in March 2022 as the Director of Braver Politics after four years of volunteering with the organization and many years working in politics in the Pacific Northwest. She began political work as a teen, when, while interning on a Congressional campaign, she became passionate about improving her community through civic engagement. Since then, Elizabeth has consulted for and worked on many state and local campaigns. She and her husband live on Bainbridge Island and when not engaged in politics, she enjoys photography, hiking, and horseback riding.
Director of digital and storytelling
Mónica Guzmán is a Seattle-based journalist 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.
EVALUATION TEAM COORDINATOR
Eliza Hawkins started volunteering with Braver Angels in 2019 and quickly got involved in the evaluation team to help out with the feedback forms. She moved into the coordinator position in January 2022. She holds a Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication and teaches media ethics at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. As an adjunct faculty member at BYU, she also conducts research on depolarization when she is not taking care of her four children, dog, cat, and chickens.
Senior director of strategic initiatives
Steve has worked for more 35 years in a variety of executive leadership roles in the healthcare industry. Steve served as Adams County Republican Party Chairman and State GOP Chairman from 2013-2017. Steve was the Republican Candidate for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District in the November 2020 election.
Workshop delivery manager
Martin Hunke is the Workshop Delivery Manager of Braver Angels who ensures our ability to deliver workshops in an environment of rapid growth. He also leads the moderator and Zoom Event Manager training teams.
Martin has a M.S. in Computer Science and immigrated to the U.S. in the 90s to work on A.I. in the Bay Area. Before joining Braver Angels, he developed apps for Android as a freelancer for companies such as SAP and owned a Yoga studio in Berkeley.
ORGANIZER CALL COORDINATOR (RED)
Casey is a Red State Co-Coordinator and Event Organizer. Originally from Boise, she has lived in/near Salt Lake City since 1990. Her education is in marketing, and she worked as an Executive Assistant until she and her husband, Dean (from Alberta, Canada) had their first of three children (who are now grown.) She has served as a GOP Precinct Chair and Delegate, URLEND Parent Advocate, Patriot Camp Founder/Director, and UHEIA Board Member. Casey loves live theater, is a devout Latter-day Saint, and feels honored to work with truly Braver Angels.
April Lawson Kornfield
managing Director of Debates and public discourse
April Lawson Kornfield leads Braver Angels’ Debate and Public Discourse Program. She 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 co-founded and served as Associate Director of Weave: The Social Fabric Project at the Aspen Institute.
Director of Human Resources
Olivia serves as our Director of Human Resources, bringing over 15 years of diverse, strategic human resources experience. As a senior level HR professional, Olivia has been responsible for providing strategic guidance and leadership for all aspects of the human resources function and establishing a vision and direction for the full complement of core human capital programs, policies and services. Olivia has served on several non-profit boards in the capacity of the HR chair providing strategic guidance to the board and organization.
Co-Founder and director of we the people's project
David Lapp leads We the People’s Project, an initiative within Braver Angels by a multiracial team of working people to take on polarization, build trust, and empower ordinary Americans to participate as citizen leaders in American political life. David spent several years interviewing working-class Ohioans about their life experiences and families before helping to start Braver Angels. David lives with his wife Amber and five children in South Lebanon, Ohio, the home of the first-ever Braver Angels workshop in December 2016.
Senior Director of Events & Partner Engagement
Randy Lioz studied economics at Duke and earned a business degree at Michigan. He previously led Braver Angels’ development of online programs, and has several other roles, including state coordinator, moderator, and writer. He worked in the auto industry for over 15 years before joining the organization, and also officiates weddings professionally.
director of 1:1 conversations
Donna Nielsen Murphy joined Braver Angels in 2017 and has served in a variety of leadership roles in the organization. Matching people for 1:1 Conversations is her all-time favorite Braver Angels activity. 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.
Chief Marketing Officer
Ciaran O’Connor leads marketing, digital, and communications strategy for Braver Angels. Before joining Braver Angels in June 2017, Ciaran served as a staffer on the 2012 Obama campaign and the 2016 Clinton campaign, and worked as a political consultant at Precision Strategies. A native New Yorker, Ciaran holds a BA in public policy from Duke University.
Luke Nathan Phillips
publius fellow for public discourse
Luke Nathan Phillips is director of the America’s Public Forum program and works with the Debates, Media, and Braver U teams. He is based in the DC area.
Co-CHAIR (red) - OFFICE OF FIELD operations
Steve Saltwick partners with Barbara Thomas to catalyze the growth and impact of our field organization (local Alliances and the 50 States). He is a bio-psychologist whose career took a path through high-tech on six continents. He researches the guiding principles of the mammalian brain. He has published in SCIENCE but prefers to dote on his first grandchild and two border collies.
CHIEF OF STAFF, DEBATES AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE
Leah Sargeant studied political science at Yale and met her husband through her college debating circle. She helps coordinate national and collegiate debates for Braver Angels. She has worked as a data journalist and is the author of two books.
PROGRAM MANAGER, DEBATES AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE
Chandler Skinner joined Braver Angels in July 2021 as a member of the Debates and Public Discourse team. He coordinates operations and planning for national debates, supports the college debates program, and leads the internship program for debates. Chandler graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in music education with coursework in political science and economics, and he currently resides in Houston, TX.
Chief Technology Officer
Andrew Stillman brings over a decade of leadership and technical skill in software and systems development in the non-profit and for-profit startup worlds, where he developed popular tools for schools in Google’s cloud ecosystem. Prior to his life as a technologist, Andrew spent two decades as educator: first as construction crew boss leading teens in the rural mountain West and then as a public school teacher and school founder in NYC. Andrew directs Braver Angels technology roadmap.
DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
Dawn Strauss has extensive experience bridging the partisan divide having been raised by conservative parents in a very liberal suburb outside of Boston. After graduating from the University of Michigan and completing an MBA at the University of Texas at Dallas, Dawn started working in fundraising in a volunteer capacity. In 2016, she left the business world to begin a career in fundraising and development. Today, she manages individual giving as the Director of Development at Braver Angels. Dawn lives in Dallas, Texas with her four children.
Co-CHAIR (BLUE) - OFFICE OF FIELD operations
Barbara Thomas partners with Steve Saltwick to support a growing and thriving Braver Angels field organization in all 50 states. She is a retired U.S. diplomat with 20 years of experience in strategic planning, crisis management, cross-cultural communication, policy advocacy and organizational reform. A native Minnesotan, she and her husband have five children and two grandchildren.
MODERATOR FORUM COORDINATOR
Mary Thomas-Vallens, a lifelong educator, has extensive experience in curriculum and staff development. Currently, she is a student teacher supervisor for Concordia University, Irvine. As a Braver Angel, she is now on the Moderator Training Team. She plans and co-facilitates the Monthly Moderator Forums. She’s leading the BA School Board-Education Network, and she’s co-chair of the Orange County-South Bay, CA Alliance. She loves engaging others in workshops and encouraging high-schoolers to be “Braver Teens.”
director of FOUNDATION RELATIONS
Rachel Verdejo joined Braver Angels in February 2022 as the Director of Foundation Relations. Rachel is an expert in private foundation fundraising and specializes in grant proposal writing and progress report development. She has raised over $40 million in support for nonprofit organizations since 2008. Rachel graduated from Grove City College in Pennsylvania with a B.A. in English and Communication Studies, and after spending 10 years in Washington, D.C., she now lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband and spoiled dog.
director of strategic projects, office 0f field operations
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.
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, an opinion columnist for USA Today and a noted writer and speaker on issues of political and racial reconciliation.
Board of Directors
Author of “The End of Secularism” and “The System Has a Soul”
Author of “In search of Braver Angels”
Editor of “Three Views of Oman: Society and Religion, 1945-2006”
Former Senior Executive, T. Rowe Price Group
Author of “The Origins of Political Order”, “Political Order and Political Decay”, and “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment”
Stern School of Business, New York University
Co-Director, Morris-Singer Foundation
Focus on the Family
Author of “The Myth of the Dying Church”