Better Angels

Edie Norton and Miriam Cisternas discuss plans for upcoming Better Angels workshops. (Laura Place/Lynden Tribune)

Better Angels, born of Lincoln quote, seeks more local ‘red’ members 

WHATCOM ­— Over the past three years, residents of Whatcom County have attempted to bring citizens of differing political opinions together to find common ground. They are working through a national organization called Better Angels, a name based on Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural speech in which he called on Americans to embrace the “better angels” of their nature in coming together. But the Civil War was about to happen.

Better Angels seeks to find common ground in the midst of a politically polarized society today. The organization formed after the 2016 elections, Whatcom County group founder Edie Norton of Bellingham said.

“This national program began in the East and Midwest right after the 2016 elections, when it became apparent how polarized things were,” Norton said.

The small Whatcom County Better Angels group formed in 2017, with the help of Norton and one other organizer, who has since moved to Seattle. One main focus of the group is gathering both “red” (conservative) and “blue” (liberal) members in order to not have one dominant set of voices in the room. 

Currently, about 25 people in Whatcom are involved in Better Angels, Norton said. Members said that due to Bellingham’s largely liberal leaning, finding an equal number of “red” members to participate has been difficult. Molly Smith of Lynden joined earlier in the year, becoming their first “red” member.

“I was welcomed with open arms,” she said with a smile.

The Whatcom County Better Angels group plans two main types of meetings for the community: red/blue workshops and skills workshops. 

Skills workshops focus on listening and speaking skills, while red/blue workshops involve talking about stereotypes of polarized political identities when it comes to hot-button issues. Group members said deconstructing these stereotypes helps people to realize that they aren’t always so different in their beliefs. 

“We discover some common values underneath,” Smith said. “We’re trying to understand and rehumanize each other.”

At their monthly meeting on Thursday, Aug. 8, five Whatcom County members sat at member Miriam Cisternas’ house in Bellingham to talk about their upcoming events.

The group will host a red/blue workshop on Oct. 27 and hopes to gather more right-leaning members in the county to join in the workshop as well as the group. Another goal is to find regular meeting rooms in the county in which to host workshops.

To show an interest in participating in Better Angels, email betterangelswhatcom@gmail.com or access the national organization’s videos and articles online at https://www.better-angels.org.