Activists call for civic engagement, end to partisan politics at Constitution rally

By Ryan Morgan May 13, 2017, 5:45pm MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Political independents and self-described moderates rallied in celebration of the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitutional Convention and called for more political unity through civic engagement.

Thirteen American flags waved in the wind as a crowd of about 50 people gathered below the steps of the state Capitol. Utah for the New Conservative Movement, a grass-roots group consisting largely of supporters of Evan McMullin’s independent 2016 presidential bid, organized the event as a call for greater civic engagement and cooperation between people of different political backgrounds.

“Recently I have been seeing that liberty is being threatened both by outside forces and by poor leadership and by infighting among citizens,” Calene Van Noy, the rally organizer, said.

Van Noy said the purpose of the rally was twofold: to remind government officials that they are bound by the Constitution, and to encourage citizens to understand and defend the Constitution.

“Our current system is in trouble today,” said Richard Davis, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. “If we do not respect one another and find common ground with one another, we are going to be tempted not only to oppose one another but to deny rights to people we oppose.”

Davis said he has worries about President Donald Trump and believes Trump does not appreciate civil liberties.

“I want to find common ground with people who are not too extreme … but that who are really sort of in the middle and don’t like the extremism of the two parties,” Davis said.

Davis said that the way to find common ground is for the average citizen to see themselves as a part of the government and not someone separate from it.

“People who want to be engaged in their community often become sort of cynical about the ability to affect government,” he said.

Davis said the appeal of Trump was that he was able to tap into people’s anxieties about not being able to change government and harnessed that anxiety regardless of whether he would achieve those desired changes.

Holly Richardson, a former Republican member of the Utah House representing Pleasant Grove, also took the opportunity to share her experiences as a mother-turned-politician.

Richardson described her efforts in politics with the anecdote of an old man throwing starfish back into the sea after a storm washed them ashore. Richardson said the old man knew he could not save all of the starfish but recognized that he could make a big difference in the lives of each one he did save.

“When I got into politics there was one little issue that was important to me,” she said. “I want midwives to be legal in the state of Utah.”

Richardson said that while not all people will be elected to a political office, everyone can make a difference.

Richardson, who recently returned from effort to aid refugee in Greece, said that a key lesson she learned during her activism was that people rely on hope and the need for a greater purpose.

“The legislative session in Utah is not the time to create a relationship with your legislator, it is now, it is during the interim time,” she said.

Richardson encouraged voters to actively participate in efforts to hold their representatives accountable.

I have friends of all different parties, and family, too, and I hate seeing them not be able to come together,” said Ciara Neill, a participant at the rally.

Neill said that political discourse among the average citizen tends to mimic the way politicians interact with each other, often mimicking the partisan divide.

“We are copying the acts of our leaders instead of being civil ourselves and sending a message,” Neill said.

She said that the way to heal partisan divides is to show politicians that the average citizen sees more common ground and less partisanship with other citizens of different political beliefs.