No doubt you’ve been in the same situation: you’re next to a loud and lively group whose uninhibited opinions are flowing as freely as their drinks – and you hate what you’re hearing.
That’s what Robin Rowe and her husband experienced last summer, not long after retiring. Robin – now the Blue state coordinator for Nevada – recalls it this way: “We were on our way to Big Bend National Park in Texas, and we’d stop at these RV parks. It was interesting; people would be trying to figure out where you stood politically. We were relaxing poolside, but a couple on the other side got louder and louder. They were very radical in their thinking. I thought to myself: how could I ever talk to these people?”
She didn’t. But she resolved to find a way to talk with people just like them – people whose views she didn’t share. Robin had already heard about Braver Angels from a friend she walked with; the friend testified to how helpful the organization’s methods had been in easing political tensions with her daughter.
Robin could empathize; she’d had similarly agonizing upsets within her own family. So she did a little research on Braver Angels, loved what she learned, and joined soon after. “The organization really provided opportunities to learn skills to deal with such challenges,’ she says.
At that time, Robin and her husband were retiring to northern Nevada, leaving behind their career lives in southern California. She knew the Silver State wasn’t exactly teeming with Braver Angels members; unsurprisingly, there was no alliance. “At first, I thought I would just read articles and participate that way,” says Robin.
But things were about to move faster. Last July, she got a call from Rob Hansen, the Mountain States regional coordinator, who described what was needed to plant Braver Angels firmly in Nevada. Robin volunteered to become Blue state coordinator. “It’s kind of daunting when you accept that kind of role, for a whole state,” she laughs. “I didn’t know anyone in the state.”
Braver Angels to the rescue. The wealth of information available for new volunteers surrounded her like a warm blanket – as did key field leaders including Steve Saltwick and Barbara Thomas and regional lead Rob. “You can talk to anyone in Braver Angels; it’s like an open book,” says Robin. “There’s tons of information and many ways to reach out.”
Accessing the organizations’ database, she wasted no time in contacting the handful of members across Nevada, and then got busy setting up Zoom calls with most of them. The state’s sheer size – almost 500 miles north to south and more than 300 miles east-west – was the other reason (yes, Covid) why Zoom was the only practical way to convene people. After about four such virtual meetings, it was clear that there was interest in solidifying a Braver Angels presence in the state. By March of this year, the Nevada Statewide Alliance was official, with Robin as Blue co-chair in addition to her state coordinator role.
She’s no longer alone in her Braver Angels endeavors, of course – and she has, at warp speed, gotten to know Nevadans up and down the state. Ted Getschman is her Red alliance counterpart, and Michael Mauser (Other) is the third alliance leader. There is also Marshall Mason, the Red to her Blue for the statewide coordination job.
The new Nevada leaders are as “Zoomed out” as everyone else in the country, so there’s a definite appetite for meeting in person. They’re doing what’s practical, given the state’s vastness. She and Marshall have had lunch and coffee together a couple of times; he lives in Reno and Robin is in Carson City, the state capital, about 30 miles south. “Marshall and I recently went scouting for coffee shops where Braver Angels could meet,” she says. She counts about 40 people in their metro area who could be contacted about getting together in-person for coffee.
Meeting face-to-face with co-leader Michael is more of a stretch; he’s nearly 300 miles east-north-east, in Elko. And then there are the 40 or so members scattered around the ever-growing metropolis of Las Vegas, plus a few dozen others across the state.
Right now, the Nevadans are a pretty self-contained crew. “We’re training ourselves in becoming organizers, moderators, Zoom event people. A lot of us are going through the organizer onboarding right now,” says Robin. What she and her colleagues want to do ASAP is pull in many more members. Their plans call for small-group conversations on the familiar flashpoint issues discussed across Braver Angels – an appropriate tactic for a group that’s just starting out.
Robin recently e-mailed all those on Braver Angels’ list of members across Nevada, introducing herself and her leadership colleagues and inviting people to meet them in person or on Zoom for one-on-one chats about Braver Angels. The message also urged recipients to continue or start their depolarization journeys by taking a Braver Angels workshop or skills training. The note asked for direct input as follows: “Tell us what you’d like YOUR Statewide Alliance experience to be by taking this very brief survey. We will award a $10 Starbucks card to a randomly selected survey response on April 14.”
The team’s hope is that they can build up statewide membership some more, get some momentum in the statewide alliance, and perhaps start a regional alliance in the Reno-Carson City area, at which point they can start running Red/Blue and other types of Braver Angels workshops themselves.
Meanwhile, Robin and her co-leaders will run with opportunities as they present themselves. One example: Michael belongs to Toastmasters – an organization with which Braver Angels has a particular affinity, especially because quite a few Braver Angels are also members of that group. Robin will soon be moderating one of Michael’s Toastmaster discussion groups, wearing her Braver Angels hat.
Robin’s Braver Angels’ trajectory has been fast and forward-looking – and fun. Perhaps now, if she comes across boisterous groups airing their political opinions to everyone in earshot, she’ll walk right up and invite them to talk — Braver Angels style.