Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Message of Hope from Santa Rosa Together

A Message of Hope from Santa Rosa Together

Our election and the transition to a new Presidency have revealed deep fractures in the fabric of our national community and politics. No matter how we voted, if we hope to restore the ability to work together to meet our challenges, we all need to find ways to overcome the deep divisions that separate us. In Santa Rosa, we have made some progress in this work. For the past five years, a diverse group of volunteer community leaders have been working to get more people engaged and improve and the way we work together. We’ve created a volunteer, non-partisan organization, Santa Rosa Together, to build interpersonal connections and focus on strengthening our community. We started with the belief that we cannot rebuild trust and overcome alienation unless we all have a meaningful voice and role in the city and we cannot learn from each other and find common ground without renewed faith in democracy.

 Our democracy was designed to enable a way of life that respects each person’s unique contribution and engages the talents of all of our citizens.  This vision is our democratic heritage, the gift given to us by generations of sacrifice and struggle. We believe that the best path to community healing is to reaffirm our commitment to democracy and rebuild a politics based on our shared democratic values. 

Some see our current state as bleak, but in Santa Rosa Together we do not see it that way. Despite the election, we believe our community is now more united and inclusive than ever. Our towns are teeming with diversity and in their daily lives our citizens are building bridges as never before. If we recognize our potential and rebuild our local politics to give everyone a role and voice, we will create a democracy that will flourish beyond our own wildest dreams. Jefferson was right, democracy does needs to be renewed periodically to make it relevant in a changing world. That is our task today.

We can start by finding ways to restore power and function to our local organizations and neighborhood level communities. These can be our democracy schools where more of us can get engaged, get to know each other, and develop the skills that we need to find common ground and work together. Neighbors who understand how to do this will be prepared to reject the divisive tactics of our current politics.

We also need creative new ways to bring our diverse communities and citizens together to share ideas and learn from each other. We are already learning how to bring information and resources to our neighborhoods and how to organize cross-community meetings to share ideas and find common ground. In Santa Rosa, we have organized “Homeless Talk”, a coalition taking the conversation on homelessness out to neighborhoods and working to develop the kind of processes we need to find common ground.

And we need transformed governments that understand that in a democracy they have a primary responsibility to help citizens organize so that they have a voice and role in the work of the city.  Administrators and staff should bring their expertise to us and partner with us to address our city’s concerns, not just make decisions for us.  In Santa Rosa, with the leadership of our City Council and a new Director of Community Engagement, we are poised to begin this transformation.

It is regrettable that we have had to experience the deepened divisions and diminishment of democratic values that recent politics have helped to create. But if this experience motivates us to work together to rebuild our democratic community and create a democratic politics that helps to bring us together, it will be worth it. Santa Rosa Together encourages all local citizens to join us in these endeavors.  

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