“Time, unfortunately, is not on our side,” says Kouhyar Mostashfi. “This problem of polarization is getting worse and worse. I wish we could go at a faster pace.”
Mostashfi (Blue) has the long view that entitles him to his palpable frustration. He is on Braver Angels’ board of directors and is one of the earliest members – signing up in early 2017, joining the famous bus tour and helping make it the great success it was. “Covid really put a big damper on our events,” he notes. “For the first six months, everybody went into hibernation. They had other concerns.”
Even when Braver Angels responded in summer 2020 by launching a procession of lively, well-run Zoom meetings that crossed regional boundaries, it wasn’t quite the same. “You lose a lot of local connection when you’re not physically in the same room,” he says.
That’s not to say that Mostashfi is a technology Luddite; the man is a senior software engineer. His point is that there is no substitute for in-person events for forging deep, lasting bonds – particularly with those on the opposite side of the political fence.
He points to his own years-long friendship with Greg Smith, the ardent conservative whom he met early on through Braver Angels. Back then – in the early months of 2017 – Mostashfi admits he was ready to cut out of his life anyone who hadn’t voted as he had. Hearing about an upcoming event pairing seven or eight Clinton supporters with the same number of Trump supporters, he signed up, his curiosity outweighing his anger over the election outcome.
That event – Braver Angels’ second-ever Red/Blue workshop – was transformational. “Right after the workshop, there was a sense of friendship between the Reds and the Blues,” he recalls. “I realized those people are our fellow countrymen; I should not doubt their sincerity and their patriotism.”
Becoming a Braver Angel the next day, he and others of both political stripes started communicating by text – and before long, Greg Smith became not just a BA colleague but a close friend with whom Mostashfi has much in common. It wasn’t long before he and Smith started doing local talks together, to churches and community groups. They were members of BA’s first ever local alliance – the Southwest Ohio Alliance. Soon, Mostashfi was the alliance’s Blue co-chair.
Mostashfi also paired up with David Lapp, a conservative and one of BA’s co-founders. The pairing itself carried its own message. Mostashfi explains: “When the audiences see a staunch conservative and a staunch liberal presenting on the same theme together, the message is a lot more powerful that way.”
Considering that he is that staunch liberal, it might seem counterintuitive that Mostashfi is so eager to recruit more Reds. But he’s a true Braver Angel. “For Reds, the climate is still very toxic,” he says. “The whole [Big Lie thing] keeps the resentment active. Losing an election demoralizes people.” That’s a key reason why he really wants to help engineer a return to live, in-person Red/Blue workshops – events he says are highly effective at winning over Reds.
Now, with his new regional responsibilities spanning Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, he identifies four priorities: ensuring Red and Blue coordinators for each state, working together shoulder to shoulder; having a statewide alliance (or “super alliance” spanning more than one metro area) structured so it can operate effectively over the whole state; having at least one representative alliance in each state; and building membership back up to pre-Covid levels.
That last priority may call for concerted outreach to members who have joined electronically but not yet stepped into active roles. It may mean sending out more newsletters, painstakingly identifying and inviting more of that silent majority of members to meetings, asking them to form local alliances, and more. It’s a lot to ask of volunteers who are already running flat-out, and Mostashfi knows it. Which helps explain why he, also managing his full-time career job, intends to find a Blue co-chair to replace him in the Southwest Ohio Alliance – a best practice he urges on every Braver Angels leader, regardless of role or political leaning.
And one more thing: getting universities involved with depolarization initiatives nationwide. “Students are the new blood,” he says. “In my Braver Angels utopia, there’d be a chapter of our organization at every university and a Braver Angels component in every class introducing political studies.”
Keep that utopian image alive, Kouhyar.