Local Braver Angels take on the red blue divide

By Laura Hagar Rush, Townsy Media, May 14, 2021

Brad Brink (left) and Mary Munat are the co-chairs of the local chapter of Braver Angels, a national organization that seeks to bridge American's partisan divide.

Do the opinions and beliefs of those on the other side of the political divide leave you scratching your head and wondering how any sane person could believe such a thing? It’s a sentiment common to people on both sides of the political divide, and that kernel of curiosity—the wondering—is key to the work of Braver Angels, a national organization working to heal the divide between red and blue America by getting people with different political beliefs to actually talk to one another.

Braver Angels now has a local Sonoma County chapter, organized by Sebastopol’s Mary Munat and Santa Rosa’s Brad Brink. Each local chapter (which Braver Angels calls “local alliances”) has two chapter heads — one conservative, one liberal. Munat, who is better known for her environmental work as Green Mary, is the progressive side of the team, while Brink is the conservative.

Braver Angels was founded by David Blankenhorn and others in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election because the founders felt the rising political polarization in the country was both a threat to democracy and an existential threat to the country itself.

The organization’s original name, “Better Angels,” was inspired by Lincoln’s plea for national unity at the close of his first inaugural address: “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

The founders decided to change the name to Braver Angels to emphasize the courage it takes to reach across the aisle.

Yearning for a world beyond red and blue

Munat first heard about Braver Angels this winter, when she was attending a talk about white supremacy at the Center for Spiritual Living.

“The participants were encouraged explore the assumptions that we make and how we pigeonhole ourselves and other people, whether it’s race or politics,” she said.

Someone in the workshop mentioned the work of Braver Angels.

“So I quickly went and researched it and found out that they’ve been doing workshops on Zoom all over the country,” she said.

Munat describes herself as someone “who regularly dives in and looks for opportunities to learn, explore and contribute” and that’s just what she did with Braver Angels.

She signed up for one of their Red-Blue Workshops.

“It was eight reds and eight blues (i.e., eight conservatives and eight liberals) from all over the country in two 3-hour workshops, two Saturdays in a row,” she said. “That workshop was so moving, intellectually and emotionally, and it seemed like it had great capacity to change our individual thinking.”

Munat found that the meeting challenged her own thinking.

“I do think that I can and need to change other people,” she said, “and I need to change that attitude, recognizing that the most that I can do is change myself and increase my own skills in engaging other people whether it’s people on, quote, my side, unquote, or the other side of the aisle.”

Rather than thinking in terms of red and blue, Munat said she’d rather see people “moving toward that goal of marooning—a color than includes all of us — versus leaving us alone in the red and blue desert.”

When Munat decided she wanted to create a local chapter of Braver Angels, she needed a conservative co-founder and so reached out to Brink, a former boyfriend—and one of the few conservatives she knows.

A search for political and personal healing

Brink, a civil engineer, grew up in a conservative family in the Midwest and despite his move to a very liberal corner of California, the values he was raised with still resonate with him.

Brink hadn’t heard of Braver Angels when Munat called and suggested that they start a chapter, but despite their political differences, he was willing to give it a try.

“I trust Mary. I’ve known her a long time, and I immediately accepted, he said.

Like Munat, he signed up for a Red-Blue workshop.

“After the first session, I knew that this was something that we needed to bring into Sonoma County,” he said.

It’s hard being a conservative in a blatantly blue place like Sonoma County, or as Brink puts it, “It’s hard to be heard.”

“It shifted my thinking,” he said of the workshop. “That was post-election. I was hurting, and I needed some help. And it was helpful because I developed a better understanding of the other side.”
He also appreciated the opportunity to have honest dialogue on political differences.

“I really never had a chance to have a structured and safe conversation ever” on hot-button political topics.

The workshop didn’t change his political beliefs, and blue-leaning folks in his workshop didn’t change theirs, but he thinks both came away with a better understanding of the other side.

In other words, they became less polarized. That’s the goal of Braver Angels.

“No matter which side you’re on, being less polarized, I just think it’s healthier for the whole community,” he said.

Brink also said that Braver Angels’ Families and Politics workshop helped him understand and communicate better with his grown daughter, who is considerably more liberal than he is.

A broad choice of events

Braver Angels sponsors several kinds of events, from workshops and skills trainings to debates and more, which are described in detail on their national website, https://braverangels.org/.   

“With a quick click, you can see all the workshops that are happening every day around the country, whether it be a movie viewing and discussion or depolarizing within our family and friends group—learning how to talk to people within our own networks,” Munat said.

On June 5, Munat and Brink will be offering an in-person training at the Sebastopol Grange called “Depolarizing Within,” which according to the website, invites “participants to look within and develop strategies for engaging in politics without demonizing and how to constructively intervene in social conversations with like-minded peers.”

Relearning how talk to people we disagree with politically is essential, Munat says—and that starts with examining your own preconceptions.

 “How else are we ever going to bridge this gap, if all we’re doing is throwing dynamite into the chasm,” she said.

Find out more about the June 5  “Depolarizing Within” workshop and how to register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/depolarizing-within-workshop-registration-153871280141

To find out more about Braver Angels, go to https://braverangels.org/