My first diary on my activism, 12/13/2022, Empathy, Politics, and Activism #1 was inspired by a meeting with Edwin Rutsch, founding director of the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy. The meeting was in person and Edwin and spoke to me about the empathy and his some of his plans. The meeting with Edwin Rutsch had an influence on me because I walked away resolved to conduct my club meetings in the round. This was in stark contrast to the usual speaker and audience arrangement.
The meetings opened with me as facilitator going around the circle asking each member to share their concerns about the community. Or, introduce themself if they were new. This was done before we formally convened the meetings. Often we use up the time the circle and the official business of the club only lasted for a few minutes.
During this session, where I was able, I would see if I could address the members concerns with some kind of formal or structural action to be presented as an agenda item. Often the group would have informal suggestions to help a member. Or if the concern was political a good conversation might arise. My job as club chairman was to give everyone an opportunity to speak each meeting.
Alas, the overwhelming responsibility of the chairman job quickly became over whelming. I never got back to visit Edwin Rutsch. Perhaps it was destiny that arranged that brief encounter before both of us went our separate ways. Perhaps it was a random comment by another visitor that was present about intellectual materials, and just what I was going to do with bringing empathy into politics that caused me not to re-engage.
It was the redistricting of U.S. Congressman John Garamendi’s district that brought Edwin back on my radar. Before the redistricting the district was mostly all north of the bay area. From Vallejo, California stretching far past Sacramento, California. The redistricting significantly changed his district.
The district now encompasses most of Solano County and the northern, waterfront portions of Contra Costa County including Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo, El Sobrante, Pinole, Hercules, Rodeo, Crockett, Bay Point, Pittsburg and portions of Martinez and Antioch.
From the Contra Costa Herald: Congressman Garamendi announces re-election in California’s newly redrawn 8th District which includes northern Contra Costa
Much to my surprise last election I discovered Edwin Rutsch running against John Garamendi. After doing some research I determined that Edwin Rutsch had addressed those early concerns by designating much of the training materials for his empathy circles as open source. And further Edwin Rutsch is activity trying to bring Empathy to the political process. He as taken his empathy tent to a number of political protests and conducted structured reflective dialogs, the heart of the empathy circle process, between Republicans and Democrats.
Edwin Rutsch (Democratic Party) ran for election to the U.S. House to represent California's 8th Congressional District. He lost in the primary on June 7, 2022.
Rutsch completed Ballotpedia's Candidate Connection survey in 2022. Click here to read the survey answers.
Ballotpedia: Edwin Rutsch
So, a few months ago I decided to visit an Empathy Circle Cafe and do a series of Monday Street Prophets diaries on the process. What started out as just fact finding has now changed as I’m having a new bit of optimism and idealistic enthusiasm that I once had when I was just starting out on my political adventure and wrote that optimistic blog post about Empathy, Politics, and Activism #1 a long time ago.
I started out this diary by promising the good, the bad, and the ugly. And I will deliver on that promise, but it is complex and I will save it for next week and the following weeks. Before closing let me mention two good things that came out of my experience.
First, I met Jeni Frenn and she became my friend. Through the club meetings and all the club activities she was kind, generous, and supportive to all the club members and to me. She passed away and at her memorial I was able to speak about her hard work in getting President Obama elected and what a comfort she was to me during my political struggle.
Secondly, In the last month I have had a vision of building on Edwin Rutsch’s Empathy Circles to teach Democracy. On this I will be publishing separate diaries under a different banner than Street Prophets.
Jonathan Gordon (linkage)