Better Angels workshop seeks to bridge political divide
The United States has long had an ideological divide between liberal and conservative people, but after the 2016 election many saw the political split become increasingly hostile as Americans further distanced themselves from those who did not share their values.
Woodburn pastor Cynthia O'Brien doesn't believe this has to be the new norm and is seeking to bridge that gap between local Democratic and Republican voters.
The reverend at First Presbyterian Church in Woodburn, O'Brien is moderating a skills workshop at the church on Jan. 26 as part of Better Angels — a bipartisan citizens' movement that launched in 2016 seeking to bring Americans together in the face of vitriolic political polarization.
"The idea is to help conservative and progressive leaning people come to more understanding about the other side," O'Brien said.
Better Angels takes its name from Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address when the nation was on the brink of civil war, where he implored citizens to act from "the better angels of our nature."
The idea behind the movement has no political motivation, other than to remind people through respectful conversation that despite political differences, there is always common ground.
"It's not meant to change anybody's values, convictions or views on policy," O'Brien said. "The point is to listen and understand, then see if there might be any common ground."
O'Brien was the first Oregonian to be trained as a Better Angels moderator, and Woodburn's workshop is one of about a half dozen scheduled to take place within the state this year.
Participants will spend the morning getting to know each other through respectful discourse, sometimes through practicing conversation skills across the political aisle, and other times simply by listening to politically opposed people speak among themselves.
Over the course of her experiences, O'Brien has observed vitriol on both sides of the political spectrum, noting there is no one good side and one bad side.
O'Brien has seen the impact the workshop has had in previous sessions, observing staunch political opponents come together over common ground or simply see each other as nuanced individuals rather than political stereotypes or inaccurate caricatures.
"People at the end have made some friends across the divide," O'Brien said. "We even see people in families that have been torn apart by this most recent era of politics coming back together and seeing each other as human beings again."
"We're looking for people who would like to have this experience," O'Brien said. "We're just really excited about it. We can open our doors to the community and make it a reconciling thing."
"How to Talk Across the Political Divide"
What: A skills workshop focusing on respectful conversation to clarify differences and seek common ground between political rivals
Presenter: Cynthia O'Brien, Better Angels Certified Moderator
When: Saturday, Jan. 26, 9-11:30 a.m. (arrive by 8:45 a.m.)
Where: First Presbyterian Church, 950 N. Boones Ferry Rd., Woodburn
More information: betterangelspdx.org