Bridging political chasm on the ground in Oregon

About this commentary: Key contributors to the remarks summarized here include Braver Angels Oregon volunteers Steve Radcliffe, Elizabeth Christensen, Virginia Jaschke and Gary Scharff, augmented by other sources. The Oregon website may be found atbraverangels.org/oregon and the Oregon Facebook page at facebook.com/BraverAngelsOregon. 

Several Oregon chapters of Braver Angels, a national citizens’ movement working to unify a divided nation in the face of sharp ideological and affective disagreements, are collaborating on an effort to bridge Oregon’s gaping urban-rural divide.

Led by the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization’s Southern Oregon chapter, the campaign will next feature a moderated debate Wednesday, June 12, on this proposition — Resolved: The Oregon rural/urban divide is insurmountable. Open to anyone interested in registering at bit.ly/3PUoIi4, the Zoom-style video discussion is slated to run 7 to 9 p.m.

Braver Angels is a New-York based 501(3)(c) dedicated to political depolarization. It was founded by David Blankenhorn, Bill Doherty and David Lapp in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and is currently being led by Blankenhorn.

The organization sponsors debates and workshops, produces newsletters and podcasts, hosts a website at www.braverangels.org, and sponsors state and regional offshoots around the country.

The Oregon chapters, led by Red State Coordinator Jeff Spitzer and Blue State Coordinator Elise Keith, are committed to bringing Americans “into a collaborative alliance by building new ways to talk to one another, participate together in public life, and influence the direction of the nation.”

They have pledged:

1) As individuals, to try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree.

2) In our communities, to engage those with whom we disagree, looking for common ground and ways to work together.

3) In politics, to support leaders and policies aiming to bring us together rather than divide us.

Their stated aim is to “allow conservatives and liberals to get past the destructive stereotypes so we can have civil conversations about real issues that lead to productive problem-solving.”

In pursuit of that, they have been hosting red/blue workshops, skills workshops, town halls and other types of participatory public gathers since their inception in 2018. They have also been hosting programs for churches, clubs and other interested organizations.

The Oregon Rural/Urban Project was launched in 2021 by the Braver Angels of Southern Oregon. It is based on the following premise:

“The current divisions between rural and urban Oregonians pose a serious challenge to Oregonians’ sense of participating in a fair and respectful political process. Across the different rural lifestyles and livelihoods, from ranching and farming to forestry and indigenous concerns, rural citizens feel their voices are not heard and respected in Salem.

“Environmental policies are a particular flashpoint. New policies are seemingly enacted in a Legislature dominated by the denser population centers in the cities, without adequate input from rural Oregonians (or) proper consideration of … regulatory impacts.”

The organizers cite the Greater Idaho secession movement among rural Oregon counties as an indicator of the depth of their frustration.

They say, “We want to bring ordinary everyday Oregonians together to talk about the divide and offer constructive suggestions from both the urban and rural perspectives.” The underlying aim, they say, is to “create mutual respect and understanding,” “empower citizens and leader to engage in collaborative problem-solving,” and “improve the policymaking process in Oregon to ensure effective participation by all.”

Braver Angels facilitators are hoping to draw 600 to 800 participants into the June 12 videoconference, and say they’re prepared to handle that many. Afterward, they plan to offer a series of followup workshops, in-person insofar as possible, around the state to delve into key issues identified during the event.

The effort is not intended to change anyone’s mind or move anyone off of long-held beliefs, organizers say. It is simply to help participants “respectfully clarify and exchange views, including their different life stories and values.”

Guiding principles of the civic renewal movement

Listed below are the “First Principles of the Civic Renewal Movement,” adopted by the national Braver Angels organization on July 8, 2023, at a conference in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:

Today, we come together to call for and lead a movement of civic renewal. Our country is being torn apart by civic rancor.

Civic renewal requires that all people be treated with dignity and none be silenced.

Civic renewal leads to healthy conflict, an accurate understanding of differences, and an interest in finding common ground.

Civic renewal builds community and institutional trust, strengthening bonds and inspiring action among Americans.

Civic renewal evokes surprise and joy at our finding each other again.

Our movement was born in response to the crisis of polarization — a growing crisis that destroys trust, degrades public discussion, fosters isolation, and harms personal relationships. Polarization progressively undermines trust in our public institutions, distrust of one another on the basis of politics continues to climb, and troubling trends in race, social, and class relations point to increasing conflict.

From the birth of the movement, we have brought people together to improve our understanding of each other and practice healthy conflict where we disagree. We believe that difference is not polarization. We have stood for the importance of working together despite our differences in order to find common ground and for a love of country that demonstrates itself in the respect and concern we bear for our fellow Americans. This is the patriotic empathy that will break the grip of divisiveness and strengthen our common bonds.

Today we dedicate ourselves to the great task before us: to safeguard the spirit of our republic and to preserve its deepest unity. In our politics, let us work together when we agree and when we do not agree let us oppose one another in good faith. In the work of civic renewal, let us build trust among individuals and build institutions worthy of our trust. Let us labor together to discover and cherish our common heritage and identity as Americans. Let us strive as one toward the “beloved community” of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision and the “more perfect Union” of the Founders’ summoning, believing that America can live up to its best ideals.

Reflecting America

We believe that to change our country, we must reflect its people. Thus, the rule of red/blue balance is foundational for all that we do. We gather as delegates from across the United States — equal numbers of Reds and Blues and many independents, and including a politically balanced network of more than 200 organizations. We come from and reflect the breadth of America.

We affirm as foundational for our emerging movement the principle of political balance, in which Red and Blue leaders of our movement come together equally represented and on equal terms. Beyond reflecting the spectrum of political opinion our movement must also strive to be inclusive in our membership and leadership of all walks and aspects of American life so that our movement reflects the country.

Renewing Our Hearts

The core of civic renewal is changing our hearts. We believe that to successfully depolarize the country each of us must practice depolarizing ourselves. It is this personal transformation that lies at the heart of our movement for civic renewal. It is embracing the “better angels of our nature” that enables us to treat our fellow Americans with the same charity we desire for ourselves. Civic renewal calls us to love our enemies and provides a mirror when we fail. This requires our patience and humility. “We the People” depolarize ourselves, renew our trust in one another, and seek to spark civic renewal. In our country of government by and for the People, only changing ourselves from within can create a lasting cultural change in institutions.

Renewing Our Institutions

Renewing ourselves is fundamental and the first step toward orienting our institutions to civic renewal. Many of us, together, committed to civic renewal, may shift the institutions to which we belong. We commit ourselves to renewing our own institutions: government, education, media, community organizations, philanthropy, art, faith communities, business, and labor. Each of these requires its own approach and attention to measurable outcomes. In the coming period, we commit ourselves to better understanding the measurable indicators of community and institutional change that will inform and guide our progress and success.


We conclude with a conviction: With civic renewal America can be a land of civic virtue and robust citizenship, where freedom rings, where civic friendship is not destroyed by political disagreement, where we are dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. As we gather on the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, we aspire to fulfill President Lincoln’s dream — that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


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