New Summit County group hopes to bridge partisan divide | ParkRecord.com

New Summit County group hopes to bridge partisan divide

Rev. Charles Robinson introduces panelists at a forum discussion at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in 2016. Robinson is spearheading the creation of a group dedicated to bridging the partisan divide.

For more than a decade, Rev. Charles Robinson, of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, has helped lead community forums to tackle controversial topics facing the nation, such as race, immigration and sexual misconduct.

As an extension of those often-difficult discussions, led by the Park City-issue group the Project for Deeper Understanding, Robinson is hoping to create a new group dedicated to bridging the partisan divide that is often brought on by those issues. He said the group, Depolarize Now!, is intended to bring people of different political ideologies together.

"I think most people would agree it's getting worse and not better," he said. "We are getting to the point where we are building toward some kind of cultural crisis that may end up undermining our own democracy. I'm not sure how our democracy functions when half of the population won't talk to the other half or views the other as stupid."

Depolarize Now! will function differently than the Project for Deeper Understanding, with a unique method and format leading each meeting.

The model will be based on a program instituted by Better Angels, a bipartisan citizen's movement aimed at unifying a divided nation by bringing liberals and conservatives together. It is a collaboration between St. Luke's, the Park City Sunrise Rotary Club, the Project for Deeper Understanding, Better Angels and the Citizens of Utah.

An organizing meeting for Depolarize Now! is scheduled to be held from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, at St. Luke's. Robinson said more than 70 people have shown an interest in participating.

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The meeting will provide an opportunity for people to determine how they want to participate. There are four roles people can hold: moderator, organizer, participant and observer.

Robinson's vision is to create alliances in Summit and Wasatch counties. He described an alliance as a group of about 14 people, half who identify as liberal and the other half as conservative. The group would meet over the weekend for a three- or six-hour workshop led by a moderator who also considers themselves liberal or conservative.

"The moderators will lead several-hour conversations between seven blues (liberals) and seven reds (conservative)," he said. "The idea is that hopefully people will want to continue the conversation from a group to an alliance."

Throughout the workshops, participants will go through several exercises. One of the exercises will look at stereotypes.

"It will look at what are stereotypes that people have about liberals and how can we correct that," Robinson said. "Another part of that will include people sharing their experiences. It will take people through a process where they are exposing their self-understanding to try and empathize with how other people see them."

Robinson said the need to bring people with different viewpoints together to engage in a respectful dialogue is not unique to Summit County. He added, "It's everywhere." He said there are countless communities across that country that could benefit from an opportunity to "solve problems together rather than create problems separately."

"I think if you grasp the vision, you begin to see that the best possible way forward for all of us — Democrat and Republican — is for us to develop the skills to listen to each other and see the other as the same," he said. "We are all human beings with essentially the same needs, wants, aspirations and same dreams for our children. We have a much better chance of getting there if we are working together respectfully rather than being in conflict."