ST. ALBANS, Vt. (WCAX) – Politics — it’s one of the few things divisive enough to strain relationships, or polarize a whole country.
But one organization says, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Elissa Borden checked in with Braver Angels of Franklin County to hear more about their mission to “disagree, without being disagreeable.”
“If we’re busy demonizing each other and somehow treating each other as not quite human because we disagree, that’s all energy that we can’t put into solving problems,” says Shanna Ratner, moderator and co-chair of Braver Angels of Franklin County.
Braver Angels is a volunteer group working to promote safe and civil conversations between folks with opposing politics.
“Learning how to manage that disturbance, learning what to do with it, learning how to listen, as Dan says, listen carefully, be able to ask questions that are helpful questions that actually draw people out and allow them a safe space to respond,” explains Ratner.
She got the ball rolling in starting the group during 2016 when she noticed tolerance for other political views was alarmingly low.
Braver Angels of Franklin County is unique in that it’s member base is split between conservatives, and liberals or progressives.
“We simplify it, we don’t identify as political parties, but we refer to ourselves as red or blue. Red being conservative, blue being liberal or progressive,” explains other co-chair Dan Pipes. “We would like to get people out of their social media bubble and out of their echo chambers and to really engage with other people in the community.”
They do it with quarterly trainings in a non-pandemic year, usually held at Saint Albans City Hall. But this year, they’re moving them online. The first one is March 4, but it’s completely booked as people come ready to learn.
“What we do find is that once everyone has had their say and what they need to say regarding whatever the topic is that we’re talking about, we often discover that there’s common ground that we wouldn’t necessarily have assumed there,” says Ratner.
The success of Braver Angels doesn’t stop at learning, but continues to doing. Ratner says most recently, the group developed bi-partisan legislation on a topic all members are concerned with — privacy rights.
“We brought together Franklin County legislators from all sides of the aisle, to listen to us, to help us frame something that could be taken up successfully in Montpelier. When it was just about ready to be introduced is when the pandemic hit and I believe it will come up again either sometime this session or next session,” she says.
They’re finding common ground is something most Vermonters can appreciate, as folks all over the state are now working to begin charters in places other than Franklin County.
“To begin discussing and working on the skillsets that are necessary to be able to do this civilly and respectfully. We’d love to see a group in Rutland, a group in Brattleboro, a group in the Kingdom. There’s almost no downside to it,” says Pipes.
“This is about building relationships in place, in the place where you are, in the place where you live. And that’s why we would be thrilled to see so many more groups started in Vermont. Because the more groups that start locally, the more powerful this will be,” says Ratner.
Though the March 4 training is now full, they’ve scheduled a March 24 training via Zoom for anyone interested.
To enroll, email Braver Angels at [email protected].
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