Imagine the feeling. You join a fast-growing organization, and in no time flat, you’ve made tangible contributions – and been recognized for it. That was Jeff Spitzer’s experience in the summer of 2020 soon after he’d become a Braver Angel in Oregon. It was an auspicious start.
Jeff, who leans Red and considers himself mostly Purple, is one of the seemingly rare members who wasn’t invited to join by a friend and who didn’t get the idea by reading the 2018 New York Times column by David Brooks.
His way in was to search actively for organizations that focus on dialog. “It really was driven by the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing,” he explains. “I couldn’t stay on the sidelines any longer. For years I’ve been frustrated by the increasing polarization – by people who just want to point the finger as if they’re all so perfect and everybody else is so flawed. In that summer of unrest, I wanted to find a way to help effect change.”
He came in with exactly the right attitude, asking “How can I help?” and “What can I do?” And he came in at the right time, when the Braver Angels Oregon Alliance was piloting an online town-hall event whose organizers were struggling with some of the tech required to make the event go. Although Jeff was not a techie by vocation, he knew enough to help solve some of the existing challenges. So he rolled up sleeves and…sorted the issues. “It was nice to have an immediate impact,” he smiles.
Having demonstrated that he knew his bits from his bytes, Jeff soon found himself applying those skills to other town halls, helping streamline registrations, setting up e-mail marketing outreach and managing mailing lists on Mailchimp, and more.
Just a few months later – in October 2020 – he was tapped by Laura O’Connor, then the state’s Blue co-coordinator, to become the Red state coordinator for Oregon. That role gave him access to the Action Network software platform used widely by Braver Angels, and soon he had linked Mailchimp to Action Network to further streamline the organization’s tech capabilities.
Jeff is one of those individuals who seems to have energy to spare. His day job sees him handling clients for his company’s market research offerings, but his real calling – predating his commitment to Braver Angels – is as a health coach for individuals, trained in both nutrition and life coaching. Jeff spends many evenings and weekends helping his coaching clients identify and overcome challenges that have hampered their previous efforts with their health goals – primarily weight loss.
And still he found time to help his Oregon colleagues produce and deliver more than 20 workshops last year. However, that level of activity put big demands on the time of the two dozen or so volunteers in Oregon; further, the pandemic has sucked most of the air out of the metaphorical Portland room. But necessity is the mother is invention, and Jeff and his fellow Braver Angels have done something that could become a model for other groups that are struggling for want of energy: they have repackaged a metro-specific alliance as a statewide virtual alliance. “We’ve got volunteers all over the state,” he says.
The same “blurred lines” approach works on another level. Asked about the current lack of a Blue state co-coordinator, Jeff acknowledges that Oregon could certainly use other bright minds and strong hands, but what they’re labeled matters little to him; far more important that they just…contribute. There are ample support structures in place in the organization to provide guidance for new volunteers.
That said, finding a Blue co-coordinator is on his list of to-dos for the next year. That, and “doing more of what we’ve been doing in terms of events,” as he puts it – meaning at least two workshops a month.
He’s keen to layer in some of Braver Angels’ less structured activities too – film club, book club, and one-to-one discussions, for instance. One of his volunteer colleagues is already working to get an Ambassador program up and running in Oregon. “I think there’s a huge opportunity for us to make a difference with that initiative,” he says. He’s also very interested in replicating what the Central Texas Alliance is doing with its Media Action Group, and in importing the Walk a Mile in My News initiative from California.
Jeff’s other push: trying to get at least one local geographic alliance up and running in the next year, leveraging, perhaps, the nexus of enthusiastic volunteers in Grants Pass, in the south of the State.
So watch that Pacific Northwest space. If Jeff’s momentum and mindset are any gauge, we can expect Oregon to become a veritable hotspot for Braver Angels activity very soon.