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The Day After: Bridging The Partisan Divide with Mark Gerzon

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Conflict Resolution Institute

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Mark Gerzon Speaking about his book

The 2016 U.S. election season has been marked by political hyperpolarization. Americans from both sides of the aisle agree that it has worsened party-divisiveness over economic policy, social policy, foreign policy, race, privacy, national security among other things. Many citizens are angry and disenchanted with the election process and system, and have been driven farther to the edges of the political spectrum. This contentious political climate led many to wonder: what would our country look like on the day after the election, when the campaigning stopped and ordinary citizens had to find a way to coexist?

Mark Gerzon has been on the frontier of cross-party conversations, spending the last two decades working within the ideological border between Left and Right. During the 1990's, he led a project called the Common Enterprise, which was intended to bring neighbors together from across the political spectrum to decide together what their communities needed. In 1996, he co-designed and facilitated the first two US House of Representatives Bipartisan Congressional retreats, which sought alternatives to the House's chronic incivility. From 2000 to 2005, he co-facilitated dialogue retreats for Chiefs of Staff from the House and Senate and continues to build bridges across political divides. His book, Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, grew out of these experiences, and offers tools for leaders to transform intractable differences into progress at the organizational, community, and national levels. Recently, his primary focus has been on ensuring civil discourse pre-and post-election.

On November 1st, the week before election day, the Conflict Resolution Institute and the University of Denver's Chaplain's Office co-hosed a talk by Gerzon, who recently authored a book titled: The Reunited States of America: How We can Bridge the Partisan Divide? This book, which has been reviewed as a "manifesto for a movement to reunite America," highlights more than 40 individuals and organizations who are crossing the political divide in communities across America. The book was written as an antidote to "poisonous partisanship" and seeks to reintegrate America's motto—E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one)—into the practices and processes of citizenship.

During his talk, Gerzon spoke to many of the themes in his book, concentrating on how we can begin to build structures of civil discourse and "transpartisan" dialogue. He began with the fundamental question: "Do you love your country?" (A show of hands demonstrated that the majority of the people in the room did.) "If so, what does that mean? And how do you love something that is divided, and at war with itself?" To address this question, Gerzon offered a paradigm of citizenship that considered multiple worldviews: 1.) Worldview based on one's self (egocentric); 2.) Worldview based on one's group (ideocentric); 3.) Worldview based on one's nation (sociocentric); 4.) Worldview based on multiple cultures; and 5.) Worldview based on the whole earth, including the natural environment (geocentric.) These different forms of citizenship interact and overlap. Ultimately, although the 2016 Presidential election has pushed the boundaries of negative party polarization, it has also provided us with the opportunity to reinvent citizenship by challenging our own assumptions and expanding our perspectives. Mark Gerzon's talk offered a glimmer of hope for meaningful dialogue from the day after the election as we enter a new political season. 

~Samantha Haas '16