By Mel Harkrader Pine
Yes, that’s Peter Yarrow, now 80 years old, making rabbit ears over my head in the photo with this post. We were fellow delegates at the June 6-8 Founding Convention of Better Angels, a citizen’s movement devoted to bridging the bitter red-blue divide that’s threatening our nation. (And before you ask, there were in fact younger delegates among us.)
I’m sure I’ll have more to say here about Better Angels, but a special note in Truly Open Minds and Hearts is the spiritual nature of our political (and religious) divisions. I was struck at the convention by how many men and women of faith I met who had suffered ostracism because their views were too liberal or too conservative for the religion that they had devoted decades to serving.
For now, I’m honored to present An American Declaration, which we delegates approved and which serves as a sort of founding document, although Better Angels has been alive and growing since the 2016 presidential elections:
In convention assembled on the days of June 6-8, 2018, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, we the delegates representing more than 3,100 dues-paying members of Better Angels make these pledges to one another and this declaration to our fellow citizens.
Our American experiment in ordered liberty requires that “We the People” take responsibility for the direction of our nation. Our nation is in trouble. The crisis we face is polarization. What endangers us is not the rise or decline of either party, but our loss of trust in each other and the take-over of our politics by those in both parties who would have us put faction over country, treat our opponents as enemies, and reject the idea of common ground.
Today we rise as red and blue Americans in equal numbers to say that the era of polarization must come to an end.
It’s been quite a time. For decades, those who practice polarization have led our public discussion and reinforced our worst instincts regarding what to believe and how to behave.
We’ve been told that we are more divided than we actually are.
We’ve been told that civility is a sign of weakness.
We’ve been told that compromise is a sign of corruption.
We’ve been told that those in the other party are evil, ignorant, or both.
We’ve been told that common ground does not exist.
We’ve been instructed by example that name-calling is preferable to reason-giving.
We’ve been instructed by example that rancor and vitriol are needed for political success.
Notwithstanding our deep differences over public policy and political values, we say with one voice that we are finished with these ways of thinking and acting. They are not consistent with who we aspire to be, and we love our country too much to practice or tolerate them any longer. The era in which they have dominated our public life must end. Today we invite all Americans – including those who, like many of us, have in the past participated in polarization – to join us in creating a new moment in our history.
For this new moment, we don’t have all the answers, but we have principles to guide us, a program to propose, and a shared faith that this land we love will again be touched by the better angels of our nature.
To those who may disagree with us, we say to you forthrightly that you are our friends, not our enemies. We invite you to consider our proposition and we welcome the chance to engage you. You are not strangers to us. The habits and assumptions of polarization are a constant reality and temptation for us as surely as for you, and many of us in the past have felt as you do now. So here is our plea: Join us in an effort to lay down the weapons of anger and put aside the poison of bitterness. Strive with us to take up the mantle of civic trust – ultimately, the challenge of love.
To those interested in our cause, but who believe that one party is more responsible than the other for today’s crisis, we admit to you that many of us have felt as you feel now.
Yet we believe that endlessly arguing the question of who is more responsible only helps those who would continue to divide us. For this reason, we urge you to consider putting this controversy aside so that all of us, red and blue, can move forward together with equal sincerity to create a new American era.
Finally, to the millions of our fellow citizens eager to overthrow rancor and contempt and find one another again as citizens and friends, we say to you: Now is our time. The yearning for change among Americans is strong. The stakes could hardly be higher. Our goal is clear and urgent. “We the People” not only must heal our nation, we can. Please join this cause. Let’s depolarize America.
And in case you’re wondering about Puff…