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Better Angels

Better Angels is a citizens' organization uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. We try to understand the other side's point of view, even if we don't agree with it. We engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together. We support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.

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Better Angels Debate: Democratic Reforms

Organizer: Better Angels

The goal of a Better Angels Debate is not to "win" the argument. Rather, it is a highly structured conversation in which a group of people listen carefully and meaningfully engage with each other's ideas on a difficult issue. If successful, everyone walks away a little closer to the truth, more aware of the validity in opposing views, and with a tighter community of friendships from across the political spectrum.

Location: OpenGov Hub, 1110 Vermont Ave NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC

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Photo courtesy James Coan

James Coan has embraced his new calling while continuing his career as a business consultant.

Meet the reformer: James Coan, professional depolarizer

James D. Coan is co-director of the Media Initiative for Better Angels, a national organization dedicated to reducing political polarization by convening liberals and conservatives in a variety of settings and preaching the virtues of civility and cross-party alliances. A D.C.-area native, he started his career at a Rice University think tank before spending seven years as a strategy consultant, mainly for private-sector energy clients. Starting around the 2016 election he has established himself as one of the country's few depolarization strategists. His answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What's the tweet-length description of your organization?

Better Angels is building a house united to save our republic. We will overcome polarization. We help Americans see what we share and what can keep America together, both in small workshops and through mass media.

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The Civic Circle's seven steps are as relevant to adults as to kids, and also to the movement to revive democracy, writes Carney.

What a new civics course for kids can teach adults about bettering democracy

Carney is founder of The Civic Circle, a civics education nonprofit, and writes the Democracy Rules column for The American Prospect.

Civic education is back, and not for the first time. In recent decades, policy makers, educators and democracy advocates have launched one initiative after another with promises to finally make American government relevant and compelling to students.

Mostly, these have failed. We've had commissions, studies, federal funding. We've had debates over whether kids should learn the three branches of government and the Bill of Rights, or learn how to mobilize for equity and social justice. Nothing, it seems, has worked. Adults and kids alike remain appallingly ignorant of the most basic facts about American democracy, from which rights the First Amendment protects to the three branches of government.

Part of the problem is that textbooks and curriculum materials tend to overemphasize things like the granular details of the War of 1812, while ignoring more compelling questions like: What is democracy? How can you make it work for you? Existing civic instruction also tends to focus almost exclusively on middle and upper schoolers. This misses a key window during elementary school, when kids are forming their views of what's fair, where they fit in and what it takes to get along with others.

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Civic Ed
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Race and Ethnicity - Living Room Conversations

Time to boost conversations that create connections

Blades is co-founder of Living Room Conversations, which organizes gatherings designed to increase understanding and reveal common ground.

Thought experiment: What if all the leaders in Washington decided tomorrow that climate change was the No. 1 issue to address? Evidence suggests this would not be as helpful as many people think. Consider health care, a No. 1 issue for decades. How does the U.S. health care system stack up? It is the most expensive in the world per capita and it isn't even in the top 10 in terms of outcomes. The fact is, importance isn't the determining variable for achieving success. We need to be able to work together.

Weaving the fabric of our democracy locally and nationally is a massive challenge. The people behind Living Room Conversations are meeting that challenge by offering an open-source project that can be used by mobile users at the beach as easily as in a living room or library.

Sometimes we worry that our name may confuse people. Living Room Conversations aren't limited by location, geography or time zone. They are happening every day in churches, libraries, schools, book stores, city community centers and virtual conference spaces. These six-person, structured conversations are designed to be self-directed, easily accessible, and welcoming to a broad array of perspectives. The structure includes conversation agreements that support comfort and safety.

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