OWATONNA — Shortly after the 2016 Presidential election, a new organization formed after two unlikely friends had a meeting of the minds.
It was just a couple days after the election was over when David Blankenhorn in New York called David Lapp in Ohio to ask if he could bring a handful of Trump supporters and Clinton supporters together for a weekend. Bill Doherty, a noted family therapist and community organizer in Minnesota, developed a structure and program for that weekend.
That gathering of 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters gathered in South Lebanon, Ohio, in what became the first Better Angels Red/Blue Workshop. Their goal was to see if the group could respectfully disagree and find any common ground.
“The polarization we have today has so much to do with the inability or unwillingness to listen to the other side,” said Kim Martinson, a moderator with the Better Angels Eagan Alliance, as she addressed a group of 35 women at the Owatonna Business Women meeting on Tuesday. “We have to go into things saying ‘I need to know more.’ There is power in being curious.”
Since 2016, Better Angels has been operating around the country as a citizens movement to reduce political polarization in the nation by bringing conservatives and liberals together to understand each other beyond stereotypes, forming red/blue community alliances, teaching practical skills for communicating across political differences, and making a strong public argument for depolarization.
“We have a lot of anxiety that is associated with the polarization,” Martinson said. “We are all bound up in politics and I bet a lot of us wished it would just calm down, so Better Angels focuses on what polarization is and how we can reduce it.”
Martinson discussed with the OBW group how social media, the Internet, cable television, and the way people react to all the aforementioned things are the primary causes to today’s polarization in the nation.
“This is not healthy,” she explained. “Our democracy is fraying because of it. People are losing friends and families, couples are in therapy because they are at war with each other over one being red and one being blue.”
Better Angels primarily works across the nations through workshops that help people learn how to talk across the political divide and assist them in developing the skills necessary for having difficult personal conversations. Martinson said that the most important part about these workshops is that they set the tone for people wanting to learn more about opinions different from their own.
“We lead the conversation with curiosity, not judgment,” she added. “We are just listening to understand.”
Earlier this year, a Better Angels workshop sponsored by the Owatonna Noon Rotary Club was hosted at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Owatonna with the goal to help teach skills for being critical without demonizing, dismissing, or stereotyping those who think differently. The workshop had about 30 people in attendance. According to Beth Glithvedt, who helped organize the Owatonna workshop, at least one additional workshop in Owatonna is in the process of being set up before the 2020 Presidential Election.
For more information on Better Angels, visit their website at better-angels.org/Minnesota.