My Turn: Help to depolarize America

  • Courtesy photo/Wikimedia Commons

Published: 9/24/2021 8:28:21 AM

We are seeking eight area conservative-leaning (Red) and eight liberal-leaning (Blue) area residents committed to de-polarizing today’s political process to participate in two half-day Red/Blue dialogue workshops on Saturday, Oct. 23 and 30. The Zoom workshops will be conducted by the Greenfield and Pioneer Valley Braver Angels Alliances.

We are Bill Richardson, the Red co-chair of Greenfield Braver Angels Alliance and John Bos, a Blue founder of the Greenfield group. We want to describe why we are working with Braver Angels in an effort to reach other across today’s political divide.

Bill Richardson

In March 2019 I read an op-ed in the Recorder about an upcoming Better Angels workshop. It stated that more than 10,000 votes were cast in Franklin County for President Trump in 2016. However, Reds were less willing to discuss the issues feeling not welcome in the majority Blue state we live in. I fully supported the Better Angels goals of depolarization and discussing the issues with others with opposing views. I participated in the 2019 workshop and have become deeply involved in the now Braver Angels (BA) Greenfield Alliance. We have discussed immigration, state voting laws, Afghanistan, abortion, gun control, Critical Race Theory and the Infrastructure. In addition to our local Braver Angels Alliance discussions, I participate in the National Braver Angels Zoom debates on the same issues with hundreds of other participants.

Since it was founded in 2016, Braver Angels has grown to have Alliances in every state and now has over 22,000 members. A Braver Angels representative recently spoke to a Congressional Subcommittee about how our political parties can learn to work together.

We’re all in this together. I very much want other Reds to sign up for the Oct. 23 and 30 workshop that can lead us all to find common ground.

John Bos

I discovered Better Angels in 2017. A group of liberal Leverett residents hosted a group of conservative residents from Letcher County, Kentucky for a weekend of structured dialogue in the jam-packed Leverett Elementary School auditorium. Stunned by the results of the 2016 election, a group of Leverett residents wanted to understand why Letcher County residents voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump.

Facilitated by Paula Green, I witnessed how the beliefs on both “sides” were expressed honestly and deeply, creating trust and care for each other. The Hands Across the Hills dialogue process melted away stereotypes so that Leverett and Letcher County residents could see the “other” as human beings. The bonds between the two groups have become stronger than their political differences even though those differences remain. Imagine that! In this time of extreme political polarization.

A number of us from Greenfield wanted to bring this coming together process to our own community but did not feel fully capable of replicating Green’s dialogue process. We instead chose to align ourselves with Better Angels, the national organization formed in 2016 following America’s most divisive election in our history.

More important than the name change to Braver Angels (a copyright issue), BA has developed a highly successful dialogue process and has trained highly skilled facilitators to work with local BA groups. In Greenfield we have had two day-long Red/Blue workshops before the pandemic stopped our in-person workshops. The process works!

Workshop details

Here’s how the Oct. 23 and 30 half-day Zoom workshops will work. Attendees of Red/Blue workshops participate in four exercises:

STEREOTYPES EXERCISE: Separate Red and Blue groups generate, discuss, and report back on the most common false stereotypes or misconceptions of their side, why these stereotypes are wrong and what may be true.

FISHBOWL EXERCISE: One of the groups discusses what is good about their side’s polices and what their concerns may be about those policies. The other side listens and learns. Then the two groups switch positions. There is no interaction between the groups during the fishbowl exercise. Afterwards, people are invited to share what they learned about how the other side sees themselves and if they have anything in common.

QUESTIONS EXERCISE: Participants ask questions of those who think differently than they do and ask questions about what they don’t understand. They then merge into mixed groups of Reds and Blues to ask questions that may gain a genuine understanding of the other side’s views and experiences.

HOW CAN WE CONTRIBUTE EXERCISE: After the first three exercises, participants are eager to take some kind of action. They then collaborate with someone of the other color to share one action step.

If you have questions or would like to register for the workshops, please email bill.richardson2323@gmail.com or john01370@gmail.com.

Bill Richardson is a resident of Northfield. John Bos is a resident of Greenfield.




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