With the United States seemingly more polarized now than ever before in recent history, a national, bi-partisan grassroots group is trying to bridge the divide through conversation.
David Blankenhorn co-founded the nonprofit Braver Angels after the 2016 presidential election. He says what seemed like unprecedented political divisions then is now even worse.
“We are worse off than we were four years ago by almost any measurement on the issue of rancor in our public life,” said Blakenhorn. “There is a widespread heartsickness in the country over this. So many millions of Americans do not like this.”
The group saw a surge in interest in January after another divisive election and the attack on the U.S. Capitol. One week after the January 6th riot, some 4,500 Braver Angels gathered virtually to try and heal.
Braver Angels pairs up Republicans and Democrats for one-on-one conversations about each other’s political views and experiences, the goal is to encourage understanding through talking and listening.
“Part of the problem I think we have is that we don’t live around and we don’t associate or talk to people who have a different world view than we do. We’re all in silos,” said Reverend Franklin Ruff of Stilwell, Kansas. “I think that we are comfortable when we’re around people who see the world the same way that we do.”
In fact, a recent CBS News poll found a majority of voters in each party have unfavorable views of those on the other side.
Ruff says he'll admit the work of depolarization is difficult. He describes himself as a right-leaning moderate and says his outreach occurs even at home. Ruff says he and his wife have only voted for the same presidential candidate twice in 24 years.
“We agree about more than we disagree about,” said Ruff.
It’s a discovery shared by fellow Braver Angel volunteer, Democrat Thomas Reeves of Annapolis, Maryland.
"Quite often I've found that we're trying to get to the same place, we just come at it from different perspectives,” said Reeves.
Both Reeves and Ruff say truly listening and trying to understand each other’s experiences remain key to finding common ground.
“We have to see people as human beings, and we have to be humble enough to realize that even in our world view, we’re wrong about some things,” said Ruff.
Braver Angels says it’s grown to around 15,000 members nationwide, with representation in every state.