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United They Stand: A Vermont Group Tries to Bridge the Political Divide

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A 2017 Braver Angels event - COURTESY OF CIARAN O'CONNOR
  • Courtesy Of Ciaran O'connor
  • A 2017 Braver Angels event

It's been quite a week. America elected a new president, but the current one is lobbing baseless accusations of fraud in the voting process.

Can't we all just get along?

That's the goal of Braver Angels, a national group with a Franklin County chapter that's committed to bridging the divide between red and blue, conservative and liberal. First created shortly after President Donald Trump won election in 2016, the organization creates "a space where people with different political views can come together safely enough to be able to express themselves and listen to each other ­— and actually learn who each other are as people," said Shanna Ratner, who helped found the Franklin County chapter.

Ratner, who said she leans toward the liberal end of the spectrum, got involved after seeing the "amazing amount of rancor in the country and the demonization that was going on on both sides of the aisle." She contacted the national group's founder, David Blankenhorn, who told her about an upcoming One America bus tour and offered to add a stop in St. Albans. 

The July 2017 pit stop featured a skills workshop and what's known as a Red/Blue Workshop, in which each side listens to the other and asks questions that aren't intended to produce "gotcha" moments or make someone look dumb, Ratner said.

"A lot of the work is helping people understand what a real question is," Ratner said, "and then listening hard to what they get for answers."

After that first event, Ratner said, the group decided to keep meeting. They've discussed some difficult subjects, from gun ownership and public safety to the opioid crisis. But, Ratner said, people eventually "began to forget who was red and who was blue because we learned to actually converse."

Such an outlook is even more important now, Ratner said, given the charged atmosphere after the election.

"If everybody's afraid of everybody, and all we can do is demonize each other, we can't solve any problems," Ratner said. "It's just not going to happen."

For more information, email braverangelsfc@gmail.com.