Michigan is a battleground state, in every sense of the word. Here, purple doesn’t mean moderate; it means the 50-50, Red/Blue split is a chasm.
On a recent Saturday in Traverse City, Mich., people gathered – half of them Red, the other half Blue – brought together by Braver Angels, a not-for-profit attempting to narrow the divide.
“I’m here out of concern for our country, and our democracy,” said one attendee, Jane.
Sheri said, “I’m here just to help people understand the point of view of those in the Red column.”
Jim said, “I’m concerned that the polarization has become paralysis.”
Started in 2016, Braver Angels now holds sessions nationwide. It was shaped by Bill Doherty, who teaches relationships at the University of Minnesota. He’s also a marriage counselor.
Correspondent Martha Teichner asked Doherty, “Is it a proper analogy: Reds and Blues in America, and couples on the brink of divorce?”
“There is an analogy to couples on the brink,” Doherty replied. “A big difference is that divorce is not possible in America.”
In Traverse City, participants arrived uneasy at first, defensive. “It was difficult to get in the car and drive there, but I knew I had to do it,” said Keli MacIntosh.
Difficult to get over her fear of the other side, after what happened in January 2021, when MacIntosh addressed a virtual County Commission meeting asking commissioners to denounce the Proud Boys after the violence of January 6. The response: One of the Traverse County commissioners brandished a rifle. Then came the threatening phone calls…
Task #1 at a Red/Blue workshop: stereotypes. Reds and Blues, seated in separate rooms, are asked to list what “they” call “you.”
On the Blues list: Marxist/Communist, anti-2nd amendment, coastal elites, baby killers, intellectual snobs, tree huggers.
On the Reds List: Deplorables, racial bigots, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, for the rich.
Facilitators then ask each side if there’s is a kernel of truth in those stereotypes.
Tim said, “The passion for the pro-life cause sometimes seems not to hear women.”
And so it goes, for three hours, peeling back the onion of opinion, looking for common ground.
No trying to change anybody’s mind.
Brent Swenson said, “Part of it was kind of gut-wrenching, to sit in those stereotypes and then to hear what the other side, how they felt, like we saw them.”
Divided they were, but they showed up, because they wanted to know each other not by label, but by name.
Swenson had this to say about Keli MacIntosh: “She’s a neat lady. I like her.”
Teichner asked, “Did you think you’d click with someone of the Blue persuasion so readily?”
“I would say that I went into it hopeful with that, but didn’t expect to find a friend.”
MacIntosh said, “I was shocked at the comfort, the camaraderie, because some of the things that we talked about were not real comfortable political things to talk about.”
Here’s the “but”: While Braver Angels has held more than 2,000 workshops and is growing, so is the divide.
As for closing it, the brave proposition here is that at least trying is something.
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Story produced by Mark Hudspeth. Editor: Mike Levine.