Better Angels encourages unity, civility over divisive polarization
ROCKFORD — Imagine a political environment that promotes civility over rancor. Visualize a political discussion that emphasizes unity rather than division.
The Rockford Public Library and the not-for-profit organization Better Angels are holding a public meeting Jan. 11 at the Nordlof Center, 118 N. Main St., that will explore methods of softening the polarized political landscape as the nation heads into a presidential election year.
The library, as part of its 815 Choose Civility work, will host a Better Angels documentary film screening and demonstration workshop that focuses on how principles of family therapy promote unity despite strong political disagreement.
“What I’m trying to do with this event is basically pique the public’s interest in the fact that there is another way to handle the political conversation,” Rockford Public Library Assistant Director Emily Klonicki said. “There are ways to bring the polarized sides back together to be able to respect each other and to be able to have productive conversations around important issues.”
Better Angels statewide coordinator Chuck Stone will lead an analysis of the documentary and will moderate a panel discussion featuring panelists from both sides of the political aisle. State Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, and former Winnebago County Board member John Guevara, R-Rockford, will participate in the discussion.
“What Better Angels is really about is creating a vehicle that allows everyone to get engaged in choosing to not indulge in political hatred and to get to know people on the other side,” Stone said.
Launched in 2016, Better Angels is a bipartisan citizen’s movement designed to unify the nation by bringing Americans of all political stripes together into a working alliance.
Abraham Lincoln used the term “better angels” during his first inaugural address while attempting to unite a nation on the verge of civil war.
“He was attempting to get the southern states to not secede from the union and to keep the border states in place,” Stone said. “He said ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will yet swell to the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’”
The film screening and discussion will introduce a series of Better Angels skills workshops and 815 Choose Civility community conversations being offered by the Library in 2020.
“People are so stressed out. Everybody is kind of bracing for this next year,” Klonicki said. “I would like to see us take that negative energy and turn it on its head and lead the way as a community in looking at politics differently and responding to the negativity with a different approach.”
Toning down the vitriol during an election year, especially in the age of social media, will be a tall order, Stone said.
“My own goal is that more and more people take responsibility for solving the problem,” he said. “Instead of looking at it as it’s a problem with the other side, I’m really hoping that this film and our efforts are leading more people in Illinois and across the country into seeing it as ‘It’s my problem and I have to fix it.’”
Ken DeCoster: 815-987-1391; [email protected]; @DeCosterKen