Close to Home: Getting past partisanship to find solutions

By Lawrence Lehr and Hank Topper for Santa Rosa Together

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After our recent election we find ourselves as divided as ever. In the face of so many challenges, can partisan efforts solve our problems? Doesn’t our experience indicate that we need an alternative to the rancor in our national political life?

Santa Rosa Together, a nonpartisan volunteer group, has been looking at local alternatives. We understand that we can only move forward by working together. If we want to overcome our divisions and unite our city, we will need to create a better politics.

Our experience is that despite our differences, we have more in common than not.

We are volunteers from all political persuasions and have been working together for eight years to improve our city. Whether right or left, we have gotten to know and respect each other, and we have learned how to work together.

Hank Topper
Hank Topper
Lawrence Lehr
Lawrence Lehr

Democratic citizens aren’t born, they’re developed through practicing democracy. Our politics should give us that practice by making participation accessible to everyone, including meeting with neighbors so we can get to know each other and take responsibility for our neighborhoods.

Let’s create strong neighborhood organizations in every part of our city, partnerships where we move beyond partisan allegiances, meet face to face and find common ground. Then, when our city needs to address a challenge, like creating the affordable housing we desperately need, let’s start the planning process in our neighborhoods.

Let’s give neighborhoods, the information and expertise to discuss issues and make informed decisions. Then let’s create the opportunity for neighborhoods to come together in citywide meetings to create the plan we need to address the challenge and take this plan to the City Council for approval and implementation.

Let’s make sure that every neighborhood has a role in implementation so that we can all contribute to the work. Neither government nor nongovernmental organizations can solve our problems by themselves. Our local governments would function much more effectively if they organized neighborhoods to guide and assist them.

Let’s transform city government from a cadre of experts doing things for us into an organization helping us get organized, and partnering with us to do the work of the city.

This isn’t rocket science, but it won’t be easy. Yet it could contribute greatly to overcoming our divisions.

We must get more engaged with each other and develop confidence in our ideas and ourselves. Wouldn’t this defuse the power of partisanship and help us find common values that would allow us to build a great city? Neighbors formulating common goals while learning from others is the way to build trust and accomplish great things.

Santa Rosa Together is working on opportunities to rebuild our politics.

The pending general plan update can begin the process of bringing residents together and strengthening our neighborhoods. We will start a citywide conversation to develop city charter amendments to define a new partnership between neighborhoods and government. And we will start a neighborhood building and youth engagement program to give residents opportunities to learn from each other and strengthen neighborhood organizations and civic institutions.

We believe that this is some of the most important work any of us can do right now. Let’s create a new model that revitalizes democracy for ourselves and our children and create a city that better reflects our deepest values. Contact us at and learn how you can help.

Hank Topper and Lawrence Lehr are members of Santa Rosa Together.

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