Three community organizations in Palo Alto have come together to create a series of events that aim to promote healthy, responsible and inclusive political dialogue.
University AME Zion Church, the city's Human Relations Commission and the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto are set to host "Bridging the Divide: How to Have Better Political Conversations" this Wednesday, where guest speaker Dr. Robb Willer, director of the Polarization and Social Change Lab at Stanford University, will lead a discussion about polarity and how to help people with opposing political views communicate more effectively. Willer is also a professor of sociology, psychology and organizational behavior at Stanford and co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.
"Our goal is to create a space for people to have a voice, and to have it in a healthy, responsible way in the community where no one gets drowned out or disregarded," said the Rev. Kaloma Smith of University AME Zion Church.
He added that a number of community members who fall more toward the conservative side of the political spectrum feel "ostracized and marginalized" because they are a minority in their views. As such, the organizing community groups set out to create an opportunity for all views to be welcomed and heard.
For this series, organizers wanted to bring in experts on specific subject matter that have clear, scientific and practical ways of dealing with some of the complex issues they will be discussing, according to Smith. "What we're looking for here is not people that have a feel-good story, but people that have some real research and some real investment in the idea of what it means to be a healthy community and dialogue," he said, noting that Willer's expertise makes him a fit to kick off the series.
The organizers plan to gauge the community's needs during the first event and use the feedback they receive to guide the direction of the next two, according to Smith. "I think it's irresponsible to have a community discussion without community input," he said, noting that the topics of future events have not yet been decided and could range from politics to ethnicity, race or bias, but all of them will follow the theme around the concept of having dialogue in a healthy way.
"My hope is that this becomes something of a growing place for our community, to develop deeper ties and deeper understandings for community in the long term," Smith said.
The free event is set for Wednesday, Sept. 18, 7:30-9 p.m. at University AME Zion Church located at 3549 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. More information is available at eventbrite.com.