Braver Angels

Our mission

We bring Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic.

The crisis we seek to solve 

We focus on the crisis of affective polarization, understood as the process of society separating into antagonistic groups that do not trust or know each other. This crisis erodes trust in each other and in institutions, produces policy gridlock, coarsens public debate, segregates us, thwarts empathy, harms our personal relationships, weakens our intellects, and lowers the caliber of our citizenship. It means the steady loss of civic capacity. Effective self-government depends on what this form of polarization destroys.

Our vision 

An America of civic virtue and robust citizenship.

Where freedom rings.

Where civic friendship is not destroyed by political disagreement.

Where we are dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. 

An America of multitudes, all yearning to breathe free, bound together by patriotic empathy.

Where civil society flourishes. 

Where we stick together and care for one another. 

Where we can trust each other and our institutions.

An America where we sing our shared story in many ways, drawing meaning from both tragedy and triumph, each song needing the others in order for America to be herself. 

Where we are a City on a Hill and the land of Live Free or Die, E Pluribus Unum, the Iroquois Great Law of Peace, and the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.

Where we are a people of Liberty and Justice for All, In God We Trust, Lift Every Voice, the Beloved Community, and other bright rays of a common American hope, each a needed part of the whole, some from our past and some waiting to be born. 

Where our differences not only divide us, but also strengthen and complete us.

The changes we seek

Rising trust in one another as valued and welcome fellow citizens.

Rising trust in civic, religious, and governmental institutions. 

More participation in voluntary associations.

More involvement in civic and political activities.

More Americans across the political spectrum believing that what unites us is more important than what divides us.

And that our democracy is working well.  

And that Congress is doing a good job. 

And that the media are generally honest and fair-minded. 

And that higher education is working well.

Our first principles

An effective movement to depolarize America depends decisively on equal participation of red, blue, and independent Americans. 

It’s necessary and possible to generate a virtuous cycle in which a critical mass of organized individuals work together to change institutions, and changed institutions in turn encourage more individual change.

This virtuous cycle can be ignited and accelerated by compelling public narratives.

Success requires overlapping networks working together to achieve shared goals.

The Braver Angels Rule

We’re guided by the rule that red and blue leaders are equally represented at every level of organizational guidance. Our members range from working class to affluent and come from many backgrounds. Our constant striving is to be an organization reflective of the country we seek to serve.

The Braver Angels Way

We state our views freely and fully, without fear.

We welcome opportunities to engage 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 that 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 origins

Braver Angels began in December of 2016 in South Lebanon, Ohio, when 11 residents who’d  voted for Clinton and 10 who’d voted for Trump came together for a weekend to try to talk with rather than about each other. The experience was so inspirational that we decided to try to build on it. Several months later, a few of us drove across the country on a bus, sleeping in homes of local volunteers and piloting Braver Angels workshops in 40 communities in 10 states.

What we do

We’re building a social movement to depolarize America with six spheres of activity:

Braver Citizens

In which we organize citizens at the grassroots across all 50 states, via workshop, debates and other community events, membership recruitment, chapter-building, regional leadership development, and convention delegates.

Braver Media

In which we tell the nation what we do and why, via writing, podcasts, videos, story-telling, media outreach, and social media.

Braver Politics

In which we offer our programs to elected officials and their staffs, via common-ground constituent meetings, skills workshops, e-courses, debates, and town halls. 

Braver Campuses

In which we seek to influence higher-education curricula and campus culture, via Braver Angels debates, debates curricula, and chapter-building partnerships with others. 

Braver U

In which we bring scholarship, adult education, and arts and humanities into our movement, via a Braver Angels Scholars Council, public forum discussions, a music initiative, publishing, film and book discussions, and independent program evaluations.

Braver Partners

In which we partner with national organizations supportive of our mission and create Braver Angels programs with hundreds local civic groups and houses of worship. 

Our way of leadership

Braver Angels is a social movement in an organizational container – a hybrid form of civic work requiring distinctive coordinating principles. We call this model citizen leadership and its core ethic is volunteerism. Because we’ve learned that a hierarchical structure centering on professional staff undermines this ethic, we don’t conform to pyramidal organization charts or use managerial practices found in staff-centric organizations.

Instead, Braver Angels consists of a large and constantly expanding number of colleagues – a few are paid, most are not – working together in a flat structure. To do our work, we create (sometimes we mainly watch emerge) decentralized, self-managed teams operating with great autonomy. One consequence of this model is that new things are constantly happening.

Our citizen-leader model also makes fast leaps possible because it allows anyone anywhere who embraces our mission to become what other organizations call staff members. It naturally fosters scaling by eliminating financial barriers to growth. It also permits us, while constantly expanding, to be nimble, fast-moving, and (because so many are doing the thinking) creative.

Our spirit

To sustain and guide ourselves, we drink from the spiritual wells of the human story. Permeating all we do is the principle that love (goodwill, agape) is the activator of that trust by which hearts and minds are opened to transformed ways of being. We don’t act on the basis of optimism, which is the belief that things will turn out well. We act on the basis of hope, which is the belief that we can do our work with joy even when we don’t know how things will turn out. 

Guidelines on Tolerance (2022)

Braver Angels leaders are sometimes asked about our approach to holding events where participants make public assertions that may be unsupported by facts or harmful to others.  Such questions include:

Would Braver Angels debate (something horrible)?  Are some topics off limits? 

Should we tolerate or invite those who make false statements or advance conspiracy theories?    

Should we tolerate or invite those who say things that deeply offend individuals and groups?    

These are important questions. In our workshops, debates, podcasts, forums, meetings, and other activities, we seek to choose topics and tolerate and invite participant viewpoints based on five basic standards. 

1. Does creating space for discussing this issue advance our mission?

We’re trying to heal the country, recognizing its challenging divisions. We choose issues and select approaches that we believe can advance our mission of “bringing Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic.”

2. Does the issue divide the country?

We aren’t interested in sensationalism, marginal influences, or controversy for its own sake. We focus on important issues that fundamentally divide us. 

3. Will we discuss the issue in terms of our values?

Our model isn’t designed to settle disputes over facts. It’s designed to clarify differences and seek common ground on what we value as citizens and on priorities for the future.    

4. Will we present diverse and opposing perspectives on the issue? 

Favoring particular viewpoints over others or excluding arguably harmful viewpoints contradicts our mission. Bringing together on equal terms those who disagree is fundamental to who we are. 

5. Will participants follow our rules of procedure? 

Our events aren’t free-for-alls. Our ground rules require civility toward others and the willingness to listen as well as speak.  Within that framework, participants can speak their minds freely and without fear.

What We Will Do to Hold America Together (October 2020)

At a moment of danger in this era of divisiveness, We the American People come together to speak for the Union. Some of us voted for President Trump and others for Vice President Biden. But in this season of intense and legitimate partisanship, we the undersigned commit ourselves also to a higher partisanship – for the maintenance of our Union; for the importance of our shared civic life; and for those feelings of goodwill that Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.

For ourselves and for all Americans, we appeal for the complete disavowal of election-related violence, calls for violence, or excuse-making for anyone on either side who would commit or tolerate violence.

In a time of growing separation, we pledge ourselves to words and deeds intended to help us find each other as citizens. We start with this commitment: We will not demonize or question the decency of Americans who voted differently from us. When we oppose their political views we will say so with vigor, but we won’t castigate them as persons.

If we face a constitutional crisis in which our institutions cannot produce consensus on who is the legitimately elected president, we resolve to work together across this chasm for solutions grounded in the Constitution and guided by our democratic and non-violent traditions and our sense of shared destiny.

At stake in this contest is democracy’s North Star – peaceful political transition. It’s a time for opponents, but not for enemies. We the undersigned will work separately for what each of us believes is right, but we will also work together to protect the land we all love – to lift up American citizenship and the American promise in a time of peril and to find in ourselves the understanding that our differences don’t simply divide us, but also can strengthen and complete us.

Public letter authored by Braver Angels leaders released in October of 2020. 

An American Declaration (2018)

In convention assembled on the days of June 6-8, 2018, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, we the delegates representing more than 3,100 dues-paying members of Braver Angels make these pledges to one another and this declaration to our fellow citizens.

Our American experiment in ordered liberty requires that “We the People” take responsibility for the direction of our nation. Our nation is in trouble. The crisis we face is polarization. What endangers us is not the rise or decline of either party, but our loss of trust in each other and the take-over of our politics by those in both parties who would have us put faction over country, treat our opponents as enemies, and reject the idea of common ground.

Today we rise as red and blue Americans in equal numbers to say that the era of polarization must come to an end.

It’s been quite a time. For decades, those who practice polarization have led our public discussion and reinforced our worst instincts regarding what to believe and how to behave.

We’ve been told that we are more divided than we actually are.

We’ve been told that civility is a sign of weakness. 

We’ve been told that compromise is a sign of corruption.

We’ve been told that those in the other party are evil, ignorant, or both.

We’ve been told that common ground does not exist.

We’ve been instructed by example that name-calling is preferable to reason-giving.

We’ve been instructed by example that rancor and vitriol are needed for political success.

Notwithstanding our deep differences over public policy and political values, we say with one voice that we are finished with these ways of thinking and acting. They are not consistent with who we aspire to be, and we love our country too much to practice or tolerate them any longer. The era in which they have dominated our public life must end. Today we invite all Americans – including those who, like many of us, have in the past participated in polarization – to join us in creating a new moment in our history. 

For this new moment, we don’t have all the answers, but we have principles to guide us, a program to propose, and a shared faith that this land we love will again be touched by the better angels of our nature. 

To those who may disagree with us, we say to you forthrightly that you are our friends, not our enemies. We invite you to consider our proposition and we welcome the chance to engage you. You are not strangers to us. The habits and assumptions of polarization are a constant reality and temptation for us as surely as for you, and many of us in the past have felt as you do now. So here is our plea: Join us in an effort to lay down the weapons of anger and put aside the poison of bitterness. Strive with us to take up the mantle of civic trust – ultimately, the challenge of love.

To those interested in our cause, but who believe that one party is more responsible than the other for today’s crisis, we admit to you that many of us have felt as you feel now.

Yet we believe that endlessly arguing the question of who is more responsible only helps those who would continue to divide us. For this reason, we urge you to consider putting this controversy aside so that all of us, red and blue, can move forward together with equal sincerity to create a new American era. 

Finally, to the millions of our fellow citizens eager to overthrow rancor and contempt and find one another again as citizens and friends, we say to you: Now is our time. The yearning for change among Americans is strong. The stakes could hardly be higher. Our goal is clear and urgent. “We the People” not only must heal our nation, we can. Please join this cause. Let’s depolarize America. 

Adopted by our Founding Convention in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on June 8, 2018.

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