If only it was possible to clone Braden Chapman, America would soon be safe from polarization. But even with just one of him around, it already promises to become a nation less divided.
Braden, who leans conservative, is a rising junior at Indiana University (IU). He’s double-majoring in History and in Law and Public Policy, with a minor in French. He will soon take on the presidency of IU’s chapter of BridgeUSA, a partner organization to Braver Angels. He’s an active churchgoer, and an advocate of getting community institutions involved in Braver Angels’ depolarization efforts.
And in recent months, Braden blazed a meteoric trail as a Braver Angels intern. Hired by communications leader Moni Guzman, he made a real impression from the get-go. “He set up measurable goals for social media impact overall for the Media team. He actively contributed to our “10X” project, identifying key attributes of impactful social media posts,” says Braver Angels leader Steve Saltwick. “And he contributed to the Central Texas Alliance’s media outreach project.”
Braden has been fascinated by politics from an early age – an interest that became a passion in 2016. His own particular depolarization journey became very real a couple of years ago when he left the cornfields of southwest Indiana (his description) to become an IU student. “[The city of] Bloomington was going to be a lot more liberal than where I came from,” he says. “63% of the people in my county voted for Donald Trump in the fall of 2020, but the same percentage of Bloomington residents voted for Joe Biden.”
His entire freshman year at university was conducted virtually as Covid took its toll on America. Aside from his considerable load of coursework, Braden committed to volunteering as soon as he could. In practice, that was right before the start of his freshman year when he heard about BridgeUSA. “They’ve done really well with younger people,” he says.
Even though his early days with the movement were virtual, he was able to fully immerse himself in the organization, as he puts it. He’d also become aware of Braver Angels but hadn’t gotten involved until he heard about intern opportunities at the BridgeUSA National Summit in April of this year.
Although his internship ended last month, Braden is full-on with depolarization activities. He has just returned from Israel where he and others met people from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide; the trip, organized by IU’s Hillel group, invited 20 non-Jewish student leaders along.
At the same time, he wants to persuade leaders in his own house of worship – Sherwood Oaks Christian Church – to partner with other community institutions to host a Braver Angels debate. He’s in talks with local Braver Angels leaders about gathering volunteers for a Habitat for Humanity build in Bloomington, bridging generational and political divides. And he’s trying to tap his conservative home community to attract more Reds to Braver Angels. All while juggling five and six classes a semester.
So how does Braden fit everything in? Aren’t college students supposed to be playing Frisbee golf, making TikTok videos, and sleeping late?
“I kinda have to prioritize. I swear by Google calendar!” he says. Tight scheduling has been essential: in the first six weeks of this summer, he has had classes that are credit requirements. He is part of his school’s Hutton Honors College and the O’Neill Honors program, meaning additional study. Sundays he’s at church, and Monday morning he was completing the media metrics report for Braver Angels and participating in the media team “Summer of How” editorial meetings.
Watch this space, Braver Angels members. We haven’t seen the last of Braden Chapman. And that is a very good thing for America.