The Fight to Belong


[Note: The following is a reprint of the weekend edition of the Braver Angels Newsletter, originally published June 6, 2021. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.]

  People come to Braver Angels for many reasons. I suppose all of us are tired of the bickering smallness of our politics. We all see, from one angle or another, the danger posed to our shared future by a discourse that devolves indefinitely into insult, injury and ignorance.

          But here at Braver Angels we are more than just an arbitrary assortment of concerned citizens. We are a community—a community of Americans striving to model how all Americans could engage our culture of democracy.

          For all that can be said about the problem of political polarization in America—its relationship to social media, cynical actors in politics, and the toughness of the issues—so much of what drives our divisions is, ironically, the frustrated need to belong. We find ourselves binding together with fellow partisans in the politics of resentment, too often, because we feel dislodged from communities of real connection.

          The spirit of community is not just something we share with the living. It is kept in the memory of those who have passed on.

          Last Monday was Memorial Day, and today, as it happens, is the anniversary of D-Day, when American troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II. So inevitably, my thoughts have turned to a dear friend who died in a suicide bombing at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan in November 2016: my friend Sgt. John Perry.

          John and I had many things in common. We were the same age (almost exactly—our birthdays were only a week apart) and shared the same first name. We had been married for almost the exact same amount of time and became fathers within a couple months of one another. John served alongside my wife Triawna, stationed at Fort Carson Colorado. Our families adopted each other (John and his wife Julianne asked us to be their children’s godparents, an honor we cherish to this day). But so much of what made our friendship special was that we also shared a community of connection.

          That community was the United States Army. Specifically, it was the group of soldiers he and my wife worked with—and their spouses—who formed the tightly knit group that became my extended family at a time when I found myself living away from my hometown for the first time ever, in a place where everyone might have felt like a stranger.

          I feared that there were limits to that camaraderie. John, my wife, and their colleagues were soldiers. I was one of the spouses, one of few army husbands in the group. I had never seriously considered joining the army. But gathering for one last night barbequing before the soldiers would deploy to what would be John’s first tour in Afghanistan, I would have given anything to have been able to set off on that adventure with them.

          Earlier that day, one of our friends discovered that the results of his most recent psychological evaluation might prevent him from being able to deploy. When he showed up to the barbeque to tell us, the sun dipping beneath the horizon and the stars twinkling to life, his fellow soldiers gathered around him to help problem solve, and I turned to walk away. This is soldiers’ business, I thought. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.

          “Where do you think you’re going?” John asked. “You’re part of this too.” So I turned back and took my place alongside my friends, where I belonged.

          At its best, the United States military really does capture the communal spirit of American life as it ought to be. In my wife’s time in service we found ourselves at home with people from every walk of life. People of all colors, all religions, from every corner of the country, Republicans and Democrats alike who were tied together in friendship and common purpose. No one was out of place because of where they fell on any spectrum. We were bound together by a higher cause.

          It’s like that at Braver Angels. Some of you who are independents or centrists may wonder if an organization dedicated to bringing together red and blue is also a place for you. It is. In terms of race, class, sexual orientation, and ideological diversity we are not yet perfectly representative of all American society. But we aspire to be, and we know we can be, because Braver Angels can and must be a community where anyone who is willing to build across our divides in support of a renewed spirit of American democracy can belong.

  • Meanwhile here’s a fun update: “Walk A Mile In My News,” the Braver Angels alliance program we told you about last week (Do you have what it takes to ‘Walk A Mile In My News’?), picked up so much new interest that its kickoff event Thursday was the best-attended online event the Sacramento alliance has ever had. Now folks everywhere from Tennessee to Oregon want to bring the program to their own alliances, and Wynette is looking for a few more reds to send more red/blue pairs through the experience. Interested? Sign up here!
  • Speaking of which, are you in a local Braver Angels Alliance? Want to know what Braver Angels work on the ground looks like? National co-directors of Braver Angels Alliances Steve Saltwick and Lynn Heady drop by the Braver Angels Podcast to talk with Ciaran O’Connor about the work of Braver Angels Alliances and what it looks like to get involved: Get off Your Butt & Take Action! A Special Podcast on BA Alliances

There is work to be done at Braver Angels, and many opportunities to stand shoulder to shoulder with friends, neighbors and unlikely allies in our quest to build a house united. Let’s take advantage of them. If you believe in this work, then this is the place where you belong. And we are glad to have you.

-John Wood, Jr.

National Ambassador

Braver Angels

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