BELMAR, NJ — Better Angels’ One America bus tour quietly rolled into Belmar on July 11 , but organizers hope that its grass-roots effort to heal the political divide in this country will generate a growing chorus of support.
Belmar was the sixth stop on the nationwide bus tour, which is expected to visit 15 towns and cities during July with one major mission: to help reunite the country by gaining a better understanding of “the other side,” regardless of political party or persuasion.
But rather than calling in the political experts, pundits or politicians themselves, this bipartisan movement is going directly to the people, holding workshops to gauge opinions from the heart of America.
Belmar was chosen to be one of those workshop sites, due to the efforts of Merry Brennan, a former Belmar council president who has professional expertise in conflict resolution and tolerance.
“I heard about the One America tour on National Public Radio and reached out to them,” she said. “All you have to do is turn on the television to be aware of how divided we are as a country and I thought that if we can work through our disagreements with civility and respect; perhaps we can find common ground and even solutions.”
When Brennan received the news that Belmar would be a workshop site, she said that surprisingly, “I didn’t have to spread the net far” to find participants. When the 16-member group assembled at the Belmar Public Library on the evening of July 11, it included not only borough residents but individuals from throughout Monmouth County and beyond.
Bringing together eight “reds” and eight “blues” to discuss their political views in an honest and respectful environment, the closed gathering was described as “lively,” according to the blog, “Bridging the Divide in Belmar: Takeaways from the Shore,” which provided a synopsis of opinions expressed during the forum.
Its overall finding: “The two sides agreed most that it was crucial to our democracy that we disagree with respect and civility, and that we take the time to actually understand opposing positions before dismissing them out of hand.”
Brennan credited workshop moderator David Blankenhorn, founder of Better Angels, for keeping the session free of debate and finding out why “reds” support President Donald Trump and why the “blues” do not, and then identify common ground.
“This is an important launching pad to start the conversation on how to speak to others who don’t agree with us. It’s not about changing opinions but being able to get along,” said Brennan, who has been asked to be involved in training seminars for the One America movement. “We all love America and we all want the best for it. We just disagree on what that is and how to go about getting there.”
Meanwhile, the Better Angels’ America One continues its cross-country trek, which began on July 4 in Wayneville, Ohio, and made several stops in the Midwest before heading east. After Belmar, it stopped in Summit, N.J., last week, and now continues along the East Coast, ending in Philadelphia on July 24.
After the bus tour, the organization’s next step is to start grow the movement, said Ciaran O’Connor, director of public engagement. “We will be developing training materials and putting them on line so people can get them at home,” he said. “We will also be engaging the media and working with local organizers to empower them to help lead the effort.”
As for what keeps them rolling: Better Angels has received funding for its One America Tour from both conservative and progressive sources, O’Connor said. “We have support from a mix of people on both sides and that’s what makes us unique.”
To learn more about Better Angels and its One America tour, visit https://better-angels.org/.
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