We’re seeking support and ideas for a 2017 bus tour called “One America.” Why? Because the huge and growing divide between the Trump Administration’s supporters and critics only makes clear what many have feared — that we’re becoming two Americas, each hostile to the other, neither trusting the other as rational, and each viewing the other as a threat to the nation. This splitting apart threatens the survival of our democracy.
Better Angels is a bipartisan network of leaders and organizations whose vision is “One America.” We cannot, and do not wish to, put an end to the strong disagreements that are inevitable in free societies. But we believe deeply that it’s both necessary and possible to become one country again, working together for what our Constitution calls “a more perfect Union.”
The One America Tour
Beginning on July 4th in Cincinnati, Ohio, and ending on September 21st in Austin, Texas, our One America bus will visit approximately 30 U.S. towns and cities with a program, a message, and a call to action.
- The program: A carefully planned and tested community workshop in which about 10 Trump Administration supporters and about 10 critics meet to clarify disagreements, reduce rancor and stereotyped thinking, and search for common ground.
- The message: We have strong disagreements, but we are citizens of one America. We are not enemies, but friends. When we talk with one another, we see that we aren’t as far apart as we’d feared, and that what unites us is stronger than what divides us.
- The call to action: To help reunite the country, we don’t have to call in experts or wait for politicians to do something. We can all do this work, starting here, right now. What’s needed is thousands and ultimately millions of committed citizen-leaders. Will you become one of them today?
The main activities during these weeks will be the approximately 30 community workshops; learning about the communities we visit; engaging local media and community leaders at each stop; seeking out, identifying, and recruiting prospective new leaders; providing training resources and follow-up networking opportunities to these emerging leaders; engaging with selected leaders, celebrities, and everyday citizens who decide to “get on the bus” with us for an hour or a day or two; and producing a series of podcasts and videos documenting and advancing the goals of the tour.
As currently scheduled, tour stops include:
- Cincinnati, OH
- Columbus, OH
- Cleveland, OH
- Steubenville, OH
- Youngstown, OH
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Lancaster, PA
- Montclair, NJ
- New York City
- Westchester, NY
- Ridgefield, CT
- Lake George, NY
- St. Albans, VT
- Walton, NY
- Syracuse, NY
- Seneca Falls, NY
- Philadelphia, PA
- Providence, RI
- Durham, NC
- Winston-Salem, NC
- Nashville, TN
- Danville, KY
- Urbana-Champaign, IL
- Chicago, IL
- Dallas, TX
- Austin, TX
Will the basic program work? We’ve seen it work! This past December in a Rust Belt community in southern Ohio, we convened Trump and Clinton supporters for a weekend of intensive, structured engagement. What emerged was both passionate disagreement and, by the end, an emerging sense of “we” and of a shared vision for going forward together as one nation. The main take-away was: “We need to talk with, not simply at, each other, and if we do, something good will happen for us and the country.” (See our report, Who We Are: A Message from Trump and Clinton Supporters from Southwest Ohio.”
Will new leaders emerge? They’re already emerging! When producers at NPR heard about our Ohio gathering and wanted to do a story about it, the two spokespersons from the group who appeared on the program — one pro-Trump, one pro-Clinton — were “ordinary” citizens from southwest Ohio, neither of whom had previously appeared on a national news program. New leaders. They did a terrific job.
More broadly, we’re already hearing from everyday citizens from around the country who want to assist, and be a part of, this bus tour. Just in the time since we released our report about the Ohio gathering in mid-February, we have heard from dozens of citizens across the country — from St. Albans, Vermont to Sacramento, California — asking if we could help them to replicate the Ohio gathering in their own communities.
Outputs and Outcomes
The project’s main outputs will be:
- 30 community workshops involving about 500 people.
- A podcast and video series documenting the tour.
- About 30-50 engagements with local and national media.
- About 30 meetings with community leaders / local citizens.
- Doing It: Operating Instructions for Better Angels—a practical, how-to booklet for current and emerging civic leaders who want to work in their communities and networks for depolarization. Included in this booklet will be workshop agendas and facilitation guides for both long-form (13 hours over a weekend) and short-form (150-minute) workshops as well as a how-to guide for talking one-on-one across deep differences. To be distributed at each stop; also available online.
- Conflict.20: What You Need to Know About Handling Conflict, Persuading Opponents, and Reconnecting America — in 20 Bits of Wisdom — an adult-education curriculum for depolarization. Booklets to be distributed at each stop; also available online.
- “Shining and Stinking”: Readings for Better Angels — a booklet of background readings on the meaning, dimensions, and history of polarization in America. To be distributed at each stop to interested persons; also available online.
- One America — a short vision / mission statement that we’ll invite everyone, everywhere, to go online to sign. We hope that thousands will sign during the course of the tour.
- Get on the Bus — a report to the nation on our 2017 One America tour.
The project’s main intended outcomes will be:
- Changing 500 Americans — a small but significant number of citizens with a measured greater capacity for empathy and understanding as a result of participating in relationship-building across the divide.
- Demonstrating a model — refining and implementing in diverse communities an evidence-based, low-cost, easily replicable program for achieving accurate (as opposed to phony) disagreement, reducing the influence of false stereotypes, and identifying shared values and common ground.
- Changing 30 towns and cities — creating positive stories and personal examples of change (“Did you hear what happened?”) and thereby possibly increasing social trust and capital in these localities.
- Identifying and equipping hundreds and possibly thousands of new leaders — people who participate in or hear about the tour and, as a result, “sign up” by, for example, signing the One America Declaration, joining the Better Angels network, making use of the training material we’ll provide to become more effective leaders, or working post-tour with leaders such as our partner organization Village Square to build new, ongoing community organizations working for depolarization.
- Issuing a call to action to millions of Americans — through print and broadcast media coverage, social media, podcasts, videos, articles, booklets and reports, and in other ways, seeking to communicate to the nation as a whole about the great task before us and what we all can do.
Project partners include:
- William Doherty — of the University of Minnesota and Citizen Therapists for Democracy — our leader in workshop design and facilitation.
- Melissa Regan — the Sundance award-winning filmmaker who’ll join us on the bus to create a documentary of the tour focusing on leadership development and training.
- Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary) — Peter is an important advocate for this initiative and will join us for selected days on the bus and sing at several of our gatherings.
- Ravi Iyer of Civil Politics — our leader in the evaluation of Better Angels programs.
- Nicky Case — a game designer and cartoonist volunteering for Better Angels.
- Village Square — our partner in post-tour leadership development and new community organizing.
- The American Interest — publishes David Blankenhorn’s Better Angels articles and podcasts.
- POLIS at Duke University’s Sanford School — our partner in curriculum development.
- Local volunteers — citizens around the country (now about 50) volunteering to help with the tour.
David Blankenhorn, the founder of Better Angels, is the project director. David Lapp, the Better Angels lead organizer, is the tour manager. Professor William Doherty of the University of Minnesota is the designer and co-facilitator (with Blankenhorn) of the community workshops and also a leader of the tour more generally. We’ll soon bring on a volunteer and / or a part-time staff person to be our “Get on the bus” coordinator — i.e., reach out to and organize key people to join us on the bus for a part of the tour.
We believe that in the long history of our country, this is the thing to do now. We embrace this challenge with all we have. We ask for your help. We invite you to join us. Please contact us!