[h/t Iowa City Press-Citizen]
On Tuesday, U.S. House Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. During a week when the partisan divide was exposed as a gaping chasm, it seems hard to imagine it being bridged. However, one group is trying to do just that and has enlisted the help of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
On Friday, Reynolds will sign a proclamation declaring Saturday, December 14, Braver Angels Day in the state of Iowa. Better Angles, a national nonprofit with an Iowa chapter, has been trying to get a foothold in Iowa in an effort to make conversations around politics in its 99 counties a little more civil.
Christian Sarabia, state supervisor for Braver Angel’s Iowa Outreach Project, said when he started with the group, he was chairman of the Graceland University Republicans and his roommate was the chair of the College Democrats. It was 2016 and things were tense, he recalls.
“Look, we love our politics here,” Sarabia said. “But we also like being Iowa nice. We hold that near to us. We can love our politics here and still have a civil conversation about it.”
Republican Chris Peters is the state coordinator for Braver Angels. He got involved after his own bids for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District seat. He argues that carrying “animosity” against people just doesn’t work in Iowa.
“We face some real problems, but if we can’t even talk to each other past the politics, we can’t solve those problems,” Peters said. “Whether it is healthcare or gun violence or climate change, we can’t solve those problems without real discussions.”
Braver Angels hosts small workshops that bring around 12 people with opposing views together to hash out ideas. The workshop uses the terms “Reds” for conservative —leaning people and “Blues” for liberal-leaning people. The color-coded groups are put together in “affinity circles” — groups made up of all Reds or all Blues — and discuss what they think the other side thinks of them.
“If I’m a Red, I think the stereotype the Blues have of me is that I’m an uneducated redneck that drives pickup trucks,” Sarabia said. “We then bring them back in a room and discuss those stereotypes asking ‘Is this how you view me?'”
Rather than reacting to what one imagines the others believe, Reds and Blues are able to start from themselves and work out from there.
“We have this idea about what is a Republican or what is a Democrat, but when we go and participate in these workshops, I bring a different level of viewpoints as a Red. For example, some Reds are completely against abortion, but there are some that are more pro-choice. You begin seeing the divides within political parties,” Sarabia said.
Since joining the group 10 months ago, Peters said he’s already found some points of cross-political agreement. Gerrymandering and the influence of lobbyists are reviled by members of both parties.
“We all value our families, our communities. We want to be safe and prosperous,” Peters said. “We all recognize these shared values.”
At the young age of 23, Sarabia said he doesn’t know of any formula for having better discussions around politics, but there are some things he recommends:
“I” statements – An implicit goal is getting participants to identify with particular beliefs and not the party itself. In keeping with that goal, they push participants to use “I” statements. Rather than “We, Republicans, believe X,” Sarabia said, people should frame thoughts as “I believe X.”
Ask questions – If someone is telling you about their beliefs, rather than asserting your own, ask questions about what they are saying and why they believe what they believe. Try to rephrase what they are saying asking “Do I understand that right?”
Understanding not convincing – A hard part of these discussions, he said, is remembering we are often explaining and informing, but we aren’t necessarily there to convince people. The point is to come away not having “won” the interaction, but having learned something about someone in your community.
“It can be difficult, but more times than not, I find people agree with each other,” Sarabia said. “There are a couple who don’t have an interest in what we are doing here, but I think people are tired of disagreeing and having conflict all the time.”
On Friday, December 13, Governor Kim Reynolds will sign a proclamation stating that December 14th will be Braver Angels Day in Iowa.
Zachary Oren Smith writes about local politics for the Press-Citizen. Reach him at email@example.com or 319 -339-7354, and follow him on Twitter via @zacharyos.
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