You may know that in January of 2019, I joined Better Angels … now known as Braver Angels (BA) … formed after the 2016 election with a mission to unify a divided nation. Their workshops use some of the skills I used as a relationship therapist to bring citizens of all political stripes together into working alliances, building new ways to talk to one another, participate in public life, and influence the direction of our nation.
Because of COVID 19, BA has moved to an online format. I attended my first online BA debate on April 2 and posted about my experience on Facebook. Several people expressed interest and one person suggested I write about it in my blog. I’m finally getting around to doing that.
A Collaborative Search for the Truth
BA debates are different than typical competitive debates where the purpose is to vanquish foes.
An idea is presented for discussion within a highly structured conversational format designed to dampen the potential for individual reactivity. Passionate expression of ideas along with energetic challenges and supports are encouraged. When well done, people think together, listen carefully, and allow themselves to be touched and perhaps changed … arriving closer to the truth and more aware of the validity in opposing views.
I can’t remember exactly how the resolution for the online debate I attended was worded, but it was designed to be controversial. It was something along the lines of “Is the cure worse than the disease?”
Anyone is free to attend these debates. Another debate on the topic of climate change is scheduled for April 30. More information can be found on BA’s Facebook page.
I found the online debate much more satisfying than the in-person debates attended in the past. For one, people from coast-to-coast engaged. In my small group of about twenty, people from Virginia to Seattle participated. Two people in favor of the resolution and two opposed agreed in advance to be the first speakers.
A woman concerned about her brother who had invested millions to begin a business and was in jeopardy of losing it spoke first. This is a question that has weighed heavily on her mind.
A man spoke passionately about the need to “love our neighbor as ourselves” and how the political system could be structured to make that a priority. A man supporting the federalist structure in the USA spoke followed by a woman concerned about the way the COVID 19 crisis is being mismanaged.
After their speeches, observers asked questions for clarification. One delightful young couple from Seattle asked probing and thoughtful questions.
Then others had an opportunity to speak pro or con. By the end of the two-hour Zoom session, participants were hopeful something positive is emerging from this crisis. Some, especially that young couple from Seattle, shared with excitement the possibility of a whole new, more equitable economic system.
Despite the call continuing for an hour after my usual bedtime, I found it energizing and inspiring!
No Labels: A New Politics of Problem Solving
On April 14, I attended the first of its kind No Labels Congress Comes to You Zoom call. I learned about No Labels through BA. They have similar missions approached in different ways.
No Labels, formed in 2010 amid our serious economic downturn, focuses on bringing political leaders together to solve our country’s toughest problems, thus making our government work for us.
A major success is inspiring the creation of a Problem Solving Caucus in the House of Representatives … the first-ever bloc of congressional Republicans and Democrats committed to working together to solve challenges. Currently there are 50 members evenly divided between the parties. They collaborate to get to “yes” on key issues.
The April 14 call featured 10 of the 50 members. Each of them took turns telling us what legislation they are currently working on. We were able to ask questions through the chat feature.
What was palpable from the beginning of the call is their camaraderie. They joked together like old friends, sang each other’s praises, and doted on one female member’s little boy who was sitting on her lap at the beginning of the call.
Many of them expressed that the highlight of their week is meeting with this caucus. One man, a member of the House since the Reagan era, almost didn’t run for another term … until he found the Problem Solving Caucus. “This is why I came to Washington in the first place. This is how it is supposed to work” were sentiments he expressed. They inspired him to run again.
They were particularly proud that three Republican Problem Solvers helped change the rules in the House in January of 2019. The Break the Gridlock proposal included several reforms and created a new opening for bipartisan legislation to be debated and voted upon on the House floor. They are working to turn this “19th Century institution which is woefully unprepared into a 21st Century flexible, nimble, and thoughtful institution.” A worthy goal to be sure.
On the first Wednesday morning of the month, No Labels sponsors regular meetings between members of both parties and from both the House and Senate … moments where our democracy is actually working. They make it easy to contact our Senators and Representatives to encourage them to “get in the room.” I did that, too.
On April 29 at 7 pm EDT, they are sponsoring another Congress Comes to You Zoom call. This time the member from the House will be joined by Senate allies for a conversation about how to stop the virus, save lives, and get Americans back to work. If you are interested, you can sign up on their website. I plan to attend.
Braver Angels and No Labels give me hope. And during this frightening time of even more upheaval, I need signs of hope. I hear Dr. Acton, Ohio’s Public Health Director, say that staying at home is doing something important to help save lives … and I am self-isolating … and somehow it doesn’t feel like enough. There is so much suffering in our world.
Participating and supporting these organizations and their work of teaching us how to disagree respectfully … how to solve problems and get things done in Congress … is something I feel good about.