If someone asks Rita Chisum’s husband what she’s doing tonight or why she’s not around, he has a ready answer: “Braver Angels.”
Rita (Red) joined the organization two months into the new year but has thrown herself heart and soul into its mission and methods. “On February 12, 2021, I read all about it for hours, and I joined that very day,” she says. “I bought it hook, line, and sinker.”
She was ready to be reeled in. It was not just that she was starting to feel judged by some people for how she had voted in the 2016 Presidential election; it was that she was experiencing the sudden erosion of a friendship with a woman she’d known since sixth grade. “We had built what I considered to be years of meaningful friendship, sharing many of life’s most important moments. She even introduced me to my husband,” recalls Rita.
But her friend’s disdain for Trump throughout his Administration escalated and as November 2020’s election neared, she began to distance herself from Rita with little explanation. Rita pursued communication and conversation, but at one point, during one of their last phone calls, her friend told her, “I just don’t think that you and I have the same core values.” Confused and hurt, Rita turned to prayer – and found an unexpected answer: “Release your friend from any obligation to the friendship and do it with love.” As hard as it was, Rita did just that.
Rita shared her heartache with others close to her. A dedicated Catholic Christian, she was participating in the rosary on behalf of a dear friend recovering from a life-threatening event when one of the friends, also participating, recommended that Rita look into Braver Angels. Not long after, another friend (Blue) made the same recommendation, quite independently.
What she found on Braver Angels’ site resonated right away. “I’m a believer; I look at things through a Judeo-Christian lens,” she says. “I also believe that God has given each of us free will; we’re not puppets on a string. We are all imbued with the spark of our Creator, even if it seems so buried in some people that we really have to look a little harder to find it.”
Rita soon realized that the unkindness and ugliness she was seeing on the TV screen was a growing nationwide malignancy. That realization shocked her – and made her want to commit to help to heal it. Her first Braver Angels activity came less than a week after joining when she attended the America’s Public Forum event themed “Can curiosity heal our divides?” Excited by the quality and range of the dialog, she knew she’d found the right place. “I always think there’s a big silver lining to every cloud – that’s God working,” she says of her early BA experiences.
The next month, she launched a Facebook fundraiser on her birthday to raise money for Braver Angels. Netting a little more than $300, she contacted the organization to ask how she could confirm that the funds were received. That outreach connected her to BA National leader Donna Murphy, with whom she began discussing a new idea. “I love newsletters that help to keep the membership informed,” she says. “I especially love them if they’ve got human interest stories entwined.”
Her idea: to showcase members alongside the Holding America Together signs sold by Braver Angels. Donna gave Rita the go-ahead to try it out, and Rita was soon busy gathering photos submitted from around the country. Packaged as a closing section of the newsletter, the photos help underscore the breadth and commitment of the BA community. Her photo contribution continues.
Rita has gotten involved in a host of other BA initiatives. Co-founder David Lapp invited her to join the ‘We the People’s Forum’ team, where her role, alongside David, is to welcome those attending, encourage them to share their political leaning, and say where they’re calling from. She and the rest of the team are excited about their plan to offer Town Halls hosted by The Working People’s Project, where everyday citizens can discuss key issues with political officials in non-partisan settings.
She’s also a member of the organization’s Red Caucus and has strong views on the reticence of many Reds to get involved. “If Reds aren’t willing to participate by joining the Braver Angels process, larger numbers of Blues won’t get the opportunity to be curious, ask questions, and learn more about the Red perspective,” she contends.
She joined BA’s pilot program for ‘Walk a Mile In My News,’ has attended multiple workshops, and been part of several 1:1 conversations. She has begun attending committee meetings of the Braver Angels of Central Arkansas Alliance in preparation for full involvement in her home state once her return there is complete. (She and her husband are wrapping up professional commitments in Louisiana.) She’s also gearing up to be an Ambassador and has already used what she’s learned through BA’s ambassador training programs to recruit another Red: her own brother, Mitch Cockrell, in Tulsa, OK.
But Rita acknowledges that her plate is overflowing. She looks forward to focusing where her ideas and energies can have the most impact. Next Spring, when her move back to Arkansas is complete, she’ll continue with her current commitments but also intends to introduce the Russellville, AR, community to Braver Angels and to try to start a local alliance in the city. For now, her “Hold America Together” yard signs there speak to her dedication – a dedication enabled, she points out, by the steady support of her husband of 41 years, Mike Chisum. Suffice it to say that Rita Chisum has found many new friends with whom she has real kinship and shared purpose. “This organization has given me a deep sense of peace and confidence,” she says. “I think I could die today and feel that my grandkids are going to be OK because things are in good hands with Braver Angels.”