BRIDGING DIVIDES: 10 Insights from the 2024 Braver Angels Convention

July 2024

"Oh, thank goodness. It's ‘CREATE HOPE,’ not ‘BRING HOPE,’” I sighed with relief as the shuttle pulled into Carthage College last Thursday. I’d brought clothes to layer in case the breeze off Lake Michigan turned chilly, a poster for the exhibit hall to share the mission of Stories Change Power, and a notebook to fill with ideas, but seemed to have packed skepticism instead of hope when it came to my mindset.

Despite the fact Braver Angels’ very mission is to depolarize America, I felt apprehensive knowing I’d watch the presidential debate that night alongside “reds” and “blues.” You read that correctly:

I watched the Biden-Trump debate last week with hundreds of people across the political spectrum in the same room.

Not only did I live to tell about it, I lived to draw – and create – hope from nearly three days among people who share a desire to create a better alternative to what’s happening in politics today, even as we do not share the same political views. The tagline for the Convention was "Come to Kenosha. Create Hope." Rather than go on for another three days about all the good things that happened there, I’ve limited myself to ten to share with you:

10. HEROES. I met two of my heroes: Francis Collins and Wilk Wilkenson. To understand why I think so highly of them, read this article from Deseret News, watch this short video on YouTube, and/or listen to this episode of “A Braver Way.”  

9. STEM v. STEAM. You may be familiar with “STEM education,” but do you know the importance of “STEAM?” I’m embarrassed to admit there was a time when I thought art was a “nice-to-have.” Braver Angels knows better. From a photo collection called “Braver Lens” and documentary films among the breakout sessions to featuring music from the Sons of Serendip (a classical crossover ensemble with Kendall Ramseur, Cordaro Rodriguez, Mason Morton, and Micah Christian) and Ganstagrass (a group that "blends everything from bluegrass to hip hop and beyond), as well as Mind The Gap, a performance put together in a matter of days (!) by the New York Theatre Workshop, the convention valued all the ways art evokes emotion, provokes thought, and captures the human experience.

8. “RAGE FARMING.” Have you heard the terms “conflict entrepreneurs” and “rage farming?” In 2024, there are people drawing a profit from making you angry. The more siloed we are, the more susceptible we are to these tactics. The next time something makes you mad, remember this fact, then find your skepticism and curiosity.

7. “THE MEDIA.” While conflict entrepreneurs are thriving, many legitimate news organizations face unprecedented challenges. Joy Mayer of Trusting News, Sara Jane Weaver of Deseret News, Sue Lani Madsen, and John Diedrich of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shared powerful insights into the challenges facing journalism, both as a product and a service. Cutbacks and mergers have cost us 1/3 of the number of journalists we had in 2008. With 22% of journalists living in NY, DC, and LA and too many local newsrooms closing, journalism does have blind spots. Add to this the fact that extreme views get more clicks and airtime and you start to appreciate how complicated journalism can be for folks seeking to inform in a ways that is “free of shame and accusation.” Thankfully, groups like the Solutions Journalism Network are supporting more coverage of not just problems, but the people working to solve them.

6. YOUR MEDIA. Knowing the challenges facing journalists and media outlets is one thing. Seeing the bigger picture beyond your usual sources is another. We were delighted to share a table in the exhibit hall with Ground News, a fellow member of the Braver Network. Like our friends at AllSides and Tangle, Ground News helps you see every side of news stories and compare media sources (more than 50,000 of them). To “check your news blind spot,” visit the Ground News website

5. CIVIC RENEWAL. In a panel with Danny Morales, Duncan Autrey, Jennifer Hall-Witt, and Laura Rigell, we learned how SHIFT brought together people from across the bridge-building, organizing, and governance spaces to break down siloes. Together, they recognized the special space in the Venn diagram we occupy as civic renewal. (See the picture above.) As if that weren’t cool enough, I got to experience Dynamic Facilitation in action that evening when Laura brought a group together to explore views on an idea that didn’t make it into the election integrity report. (See #3 below.)

4. WORDS MATTER. Numerous conversations confirmed for me the importance of being “politically bilingual.” As PACE’s recent work has shown, people across the country hear the same words differently. Even when the words are English, it can be as if we’re speaking a different language. (I’m sorting through dozens of examples for a future blog post so stay tuned.)

3. ELECTION INTEGRITY. We can all agree that the 2020 election prompted questions about trusting our election process, even if we don’t agree on whether those questions are valid. Braver Angels took on the issue of election integrity and, in February of this year, issued a report with 727 points of agreement. (That’s not a typo: 727) I encourage you to read all 31 pages to believe it

(You didn’t think I’d condone issuing a report without ensuring it reaches the people with power to enact the recommendations, did you? Braver Angels is connecting the report with secretaries of state and other elections officials across the country. You can help by sharing with people involved with elections in your precinct, district, county, and state, as well as the federal level. To find who that is, visit the Can I Vote site hosted by the National Association of Secretaries of State.) 

2. TAKING ON IMMIGRATION. At the convention, we voted on what issue to take on next. Having narrowed down to four issues in advance, we decided between abortion, economic equality/opportunity, hate speech/free speech, and immigration. After a democratic (read: feisty at times but fair) debate, we voted: IMMIGRATION. In the years ahead, Braver Angels will bring the common ground model to communities across the country to use collaborative consensus to generate actionable recommendations on this vital issue.

1. YOU CAN BE PART OF THIS! If you’ve read this far, you clearly care – and the movement needs you. You can scan the QR code in the photos above or click here to join for free, then find (or start!) an alliance, club, or caucus near you. You can also join me in volunteering at the polls this November to stand alongside someone from “the other party” to remind people that even if we don’t vote the same, we do share the same future.

As David Blakenhorn, Braver Angels’ president, shared in the opening plenary, there are meaningful differences between people across the United States, yet everyone at the convention chose to come. 

Our goal is not to think the same. It is to have a place where we can speak up, be heard, and be understood – and to GET STUFF DONE.

Perhaps the best summary of the three days is a quote Matt Hausman shared from Season 5 Episode 8 of Cobra Kai: 

“We represent two opposing philosophies coming together and finding common ground when none seemed possible.”

Lucky for me, we didn’t need to “bring hope.” Fortunately for all of us, we DID create it.

- Piper Hendricks, Founder & CEO

I welcome your thoughts and questions, including about how our work at Stories Change Power helps bridge divides. Use the connect form below and we'll be in touch soon.

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