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Senior friends hit the road to find common political ground in eastern WA

Roz Luther (left) and Shirley Grossman, sporting the big purple hats they plan to wear during stops on the "Granny Caravan" this summer.
Rural Americans United
Roz Luther (left) and Shirley Grossman, sporting the big purple hats they plan to wear during stops on the "Granny Caravan" this summer.

Two octogenarians from Spokane set out Thursday on a summer road trip to explore political divides in eastern Washington, with the goal of bringing people together.

Eighty-one-year-old Shirley Grossman and 85-year-old Roz Luther plan to visit sixteen eastern Washington towns this summer on what they call the “Granny Caravan.”

In conversation with Spokane Public Radio’s Brandon Hollingsworth, Grossman said she and Luther were inspired by a simple idea: civil conversation in a highly fractured era.

“We come from a feeling of, let’s get to know each other. Let’s get to talk about things. Let’s listen to each other,” she said.

At each stop, Grossman and Luther will set up a table, usually in a park, and invite residents to stop by and share their views and concerns. They plan to share what they learn with candidates running for eastern Washington political seats this year.

“There’s an opportunity for them to express what’s going on in their heads and their lives,” Grossman said. “And that is our goal.”

Grossman and Luther also plan to help people register to vote.

The road trip is under the umbrella of a political action committee called Rural Americans United, based in central Washington. The PAC supports politically progressive messaging in rural areas, according to its website. While the PAC’s goals are partisan, Grossman said the Granny Caravan is intended to be anything but.

“We’re trying to bridge that gap,” she said. “Hopefully, we can be a medium for receiving information and maybe transmitting a little information, and spreading some goodwill and kindness between different factions in our society.”

Grossman said she and Luther may be able to pierce political armors by offering a friendly, non-judgmental ear. Active listening is gratifying, she said, and peeling back partisan layers can reveal common hopes and desires among people who hail from different sections of the political spectrum. Embracing those commonalities, she said, could help reduce the intensity of public debate.

“We want to see things be more peaceful, and not to have violence, but [to] have a feeling that if somebody disagrees with you, it’s okay,” Grossman said. “We can accept that. And compromise is a beautiful word.”

The Granny Caravan began Thursday in Newport and Deer Park. Luther and Grossman plan to visit Stevens County this month, Davenport, Ritzville, Othello, Fairfield and Rosalia in July, and Palouse communities in August. The caravan’s final planned stop is set for August 29 in Walla Walla.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.