Janet Kennedy was active in politics, so she was well aware of the great divide between Democrats and Republicans, not only locally, but throughout this country, and was concerned about how quickly that chasm was growing.
But, it wasn’t until the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that Kennedy, a Grand Hampton resident and chair of field organizing for the Hillsborough Democratic Party, felt the full force of how dire the situation had become.
“It was really after Jan. 6,” Kennedy says. “I was glued to the television set that day, as many people were. I guess I was fundamentally shaken that the political discourse in this country had devolved into an attack on the Capitol.”
First, Kennedy assessed her role, as someone who had been heavily involved in partisan politics. It made her feel a little bit guilty about contributing to the divide.
So, she looked for ways to work towards healing that division and founded a local chapter of Braver Angels, a national group that was created in December 2016.
How Braver Angels Got Started
At that time, with passions still high following Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton — and likely in the wake of contentious Thanksgiving dinners between families across the U.S. — the now-national group assembled 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters in South Lebanon, Ohio, with one goal: “To see if Americans could still disagree respectfully — and just maybe, find common ground.”
The group’s conclusion was yes, and the Braver Angels organization has continued to grow ever since, with Alliances (or chapters) in 48 states numbering more than 50,000 members.
Kennedy’s goal is to start a Tampa Bay Alliance. She has started that long process with a few Zoom meetings, and says she has about 45 people — most of them from New Tampa — interested.
Unfortunately, only a few are Republicans, likely not enough if any headway is going to be made at bridging any divides.
“It’s going to be a slow build,” Kennedy admits. “I think people are worn out and exhausted and fearful that, if I go to a meeting like this, someone will try to change my mind or talk me out of my opinion or I’ll be made to feel stupid. But, that’s not what we’re about. We’re here to listen.”
Kennedy has organized workshops and a debate so far in three meetings, with much of the conversations focused on not letting politics come between family members.
She says she took some of the lessons from those meetings and used them to have a discussion with her cousin, who is on the opposite side of the abortion debate.
It went surprisingly well, she says.
“We were able to reach an agreement on some points,” Kennedy says, “and I understand better where she is coming from and she understands a bit better where I’m coming from.”
Kennedy would like it to work like that on other issues that divide the two ends of the political spectrum. She is looking for volunteers to help her get the local Alliance of Braver Angels moving forward.
Although the political landscape, and the chance of both sides working together, seems fairly bleak right now, Kennedy says she would like to think she can make a difference.
“I just know I need to try,” she says.
For more information, visit BraverAngels.org, or to help with the local Alliance, email Janet Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.