Barbara Farmer wants it known that volunteer roles at Braver Angels aren’t as demanding or emotionally taxing as some members might imagine. In her case, it’s quite the opposite.
“For me, Braver Angels doesn’t take an emotional toll,” she says. Actually, I find participation invigorating. I think it’s because engagement with people of very different perspectives is what challenges me to clarify my own thinking about issues and even to clarify my values. Braver Angels forces me to dig a bit deeper into my own belief system and think more critically about why I believe as I do. This is totally energizing for me.”
So energizing, in fact, that when interviewed for this profile, Barbara, who leans Red, had just wrapped up the last of four Braver Angels activities for the day and was about to leave for two client appointments as part of her day job as a care management specialist. “I drink a lot of coffee!” she jokes. And she always fits in an hour or so of exercise.
Barbara is not the first volunteer to highlight the personal plus-points of rolling up sleeves and doing something for the organization, and she won’t be the last.
Today, she juggles more than two Braver Angels roles: first, as Co-Chair of the Orange County/South Bay Alliance, which is part of the super-alliance covering Southern California, and lately as Red Deputy State Coordinator and soon to become Co-State Coordinator. She’s also a member of the Red Caucus and of the organization’s working group on social media, helping ensure a balance of Reds and Blues for those events.
She first came across Braver Angels in April 2019 when she attended a Red/Blue workshop. Impressed by what she experienced, she knew she wanted to be more than a member; she was eager to pitch in when the time was right. By December 2019, she had collaborated with four or five others to form the kernel of the Orange County/South Bay alliance. The new group hosted three events in January and February 2020 – two in-person before Covid shut things down – and has settled out as a cohort of 20 or 25 active members. As with every Braver Angels alliance, the geographic boundaries have blurred as online events have brought attendees from beyond California.
Barbara is keen to get back to in-person events, although that is not entirely in her control, of course. (Member of her alliance and the adjacent Los Angeles and San Diego alliances met recently for a picnic in a park, helping reinforce bonds first formed online for many.)
In fact, she wants to crank up the pace of events overall. “We should be able to hold events monthly,” she says. It helps that her alliance Co-Chair, Mary Thomas-Vallens, is a trained moderator. Barbara would like the Orange County Alliance to try out Braver Angels’ proven Walk a Mile in My News technique, in which a Red and Blue immerse themselves in each other’s news sources for two weeks and then reflect together on what each has learned about the other’s viewpoints.
She’s also interested in more events with a local focus; the chronic issue of homelessness in California is a potential topic. She also sees room for California alliances to team up on statewide events. And in collaboration with Michael Siegel, her Co-State Coordinator, she has begun working with Braver Angels’ climate-change champion Beth Malow on an event co-sponsored by the Climate Change Lobby (CCL).
On the state level, Barbara, along with Michael, is about to take over from Randy Lioz who has recently become Braver Angels’ full-time Director of Events. As an incoming State Coordinator, she wants to help germinate new alliances; there’s interest among BA members in the region’s so-called Inland Empire, for instance. “I’d also like to see more affiliations with like-minded groups,” she says. Above all, Barbara hopes to see Braver Angels’ total tally increase rapidly. She expects to see member numbers rising as the 2022 mid-term elections get closer.
There’s a lot of Braver Angels work ahead for Barbara Farmer, but she welcomes it. Even though she works full time – with a background as a psychologist, she helps families find appropriate care for elderly parents and mentally ill relatives – she’ll manage her hours effectively, handing off some of the organizing work in her Orange County/South Bay Alliance so she can lean into state-level initiatives. Besides, the fraught emotional issues she deals with every day at work make even the most intense back-and-forth at Braver Angels seem like the gentlest of conversations.
Barbara expands on her point about what’s involved with volunteering for Braver Angels. She contends that working as an organizer is not so demanding largely because the organization has so many proven processes, increasingly robust databases, and no shortage of Braver Angels willing and able to help. “It’s all doable – all one step at a time,” she says. Even with the issue of getting people to come to a newly developing alliance, she says it’s OK to start informally with just a handful of attendees. “That’s great because then everyone gets a chance to talk,” she points out. And that, of course, is a central tenet of the Braver Angels approach.
And she reiterates the personal benefits of being able to talk openly in a safe space about charged topics. She speaks for many at Braver Angels when she says: “There’s something very cathartic about sharing my opinions.”