We, the reasonable people, must rise above the forces that are dividing us. 

Last week’s statements by school board member John Keen that RBHS Tolerance Week was left-wing and Riverside resident Chris Robling that it was a blatantly ideological activity are highly divisive because they allege partisanship without supporting evidence. 

It would be wrong to question their motives – Keen volunteers much of his time as a school board member, and Robling epitomizes the politically active citizen – but it is critical to evaluate their wisdom in the specific context of our times.

A trend that has been years in the making, we find ourselves more divided today than at any time since the Civil War. We are loath to talk to people from the other side and unfriend them on social media. 

We keep retracting deeper and deeper into the silos of our news and information sources, which only confirm the beliefs and values we already hold. Rather than finding common ground in the middle, we are moving further apart.

Can we agree that what makes trying to make progress on the many political issues of our time so difficult is that our communities are succumbing to a debilitating form of societal cancer, namely partisanship?

Partisanship is a cancer, because it is purely destructive. It renders immediate judgment about bad motives, and it effectively shuts down reason and thoughtful engagement by exploiting our biases. It taps into our tribal instincts at the expense of encouraging true political dialogue. 

Unfortunately, we have also allowed the term “political” to become a dirty word, forgetting that the success of our free form of self-governance is dependent on citizens taking their political duties – being well informed, debating, and voting, among many others –  seriously.

Let’s take a look at gender equality, one of the issues RBHS Tolerance Week shed a light on. What messers Keen and Robling liken to “pushing an ideology” is spelled out in the Declaration of Independence – that all men are created equal. 

How could this be a partisan issue? The American experiment is rooted in this aspiration, and since we have not achieved this goal yet, who would question the motives of engaged high school students intent on improving the union? Unwise partisans would.

Environmental awareness was part of Tolerance Week also. Which part of the 97 percent scientific consensus on the very urgent need for action to counteract climate change is partisan? Who would question the motives of students who are raising awareness for a livable planet for all, conservatives and liberals alike? Unwise partisans would.

As reasonable citizens, we must not stand by idly when partisans attempt to divide us. It will serve all members of our community well to pay attention to Mr. Keen’s words and actions in office, and to recall them the next time we go to the polls to hold him to account.

With regard to Mr. Robling, it is up to him to clarify his statement that the Tolerance Week activities “practiced intolerance of any divergent views” since he did not offer any examples in the article. 

In the absence of a thoughtful addition to the needed dialogue he will remain exposed as a mere partisan more interested in division and partisan gain than reasonable common solutions.

As to Tosin Olowu – if you end up reading this — please know how inspiring the actions of you and your friends are to me. You are a true leader, and the reason I am hopeful about the future. I cannot wait to cast my vote for you when you eventually run for office.

Tom Jacobs is a Riverside resident, architect and founder of Architects Advocate, a nonpartisan grassroots effort to work across party lines for solutions to climate change.

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