Flickr photo by Mike Tigas

Inclusivity is the foundation of a strong community

Guest column by Kate Burke

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson


Over the course of this election cycle I noticed a disturbing trend, a chasm deepening across the nation and in our city. This wasn’t the usual red/ blue or right/left bickering we often see between parties. As a community we were spending more time arguing over our political differences and less time developing sound policy-based solutions. Communication is a key component in cultivating strong relationships and effective policy. Problems are best resolved by building bridges, not walls. Failing to look past initial differences reduces our ability to resolve shared concerns, weakens communication skills, and breeds animosity between community members.


Fortunately, I had friends across the political spectrum who shared these concerns. They were also becoming distressed by the nationwide inability to engage in civil discourse that plagued our community. Together, we discussed ways we could develop and promote a culture of respect and constructive dialogue. We were committed to fostering an environment where disagreement was not feared, but appreciated and welcomed — because it was clear that we all have Spokane’s best interest in mind. Simply having a different vision shouldn’t disqualify you from the conversation.  As a group, we wanted to build a culture of inclusivity.


After some discussion we all came into agreement that the best way to accomplish this goal was by simply bringing people together. We held our first event in early Fall for those interested in politics on any level. Folks with a wide range of ideas stopped by.  Berniecrats laughed with Reagan Republicans. A couple of candidates came and expressed  their appreciation for what we were doing. We ate, drank, and conversed on a wide range of issues in Spokane that needed to be addressed. But most importantly, we celebrated. We celebrated discussion. We celebrated debate. We celebrated the fact that we live in an open society that encourages the free exchange of ideas. And we celebrated our joint commitment to providing a platform for such exchanges.


I’m proud of the work conducted by my group of friends (we call ourselves “The Party”). Similar to the Spokane Interfaith Council, we were looking to bridge the divide. Inclusivity is the foundation of a strong community. And I’m certain that as long as we have folks in our community who are committed to being bridge builders, Spokane will thrive.


Join SpokaneFāVS for a Coffee Talk discussion “Bridging the Divide” Saturday at 10 a.m. at Unity South, 2900 S. Bernard. Burke is a guest panelist.

About Kate Burke

Kate Burke is a Spokane native, born and raised in this fantastic city. She prides herself in her ability to take on challenges by identifying the core issues and finding practical solutions. One of her first ventures into community problem-solving started with her time as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, where she worked to bring fresh produce into local food banks. During that time she further realized the benefits of a healthy and nutritional diet. She believes all people deserve access to fresh resources, yet the majority of food banks almost exclusively provide canned and processed goods. Upon further research, she soon found that the problem wasn’t a lack of healthy food in Spokane, but poor utilization of the resources already in place. So she started the Spokane Edible Tree Project, a non-profit that finds fruit and nut trees in Spokane County that have not been fully harvested. They then pick the leftover fruit and donate it to local food banks. The Spokane Edible Tree Project has donated over 200,000 pounds of produce since we started in October 2013.

Since then, she's had the opportunity to volunteer with different causes, and of course, solve a few more problems. Her dedication to the community eventually led to an opportunity as the Legislative Assistant for State Senator Andy Billig. Serving Spokane alongside Senator Billig has taught her that Spokane has so much to offer. But too many people don’t know what’s going on. City agencies and non-profit organizations work in silos – unaware of what’s happening in the next office over. Members of our community, those who could most benefit from the services these groups provide, don’t know where to go for the support they need, she said. This need inspired her to run for City Council. Because, she said, we can make such a strong impact by simply finding the gaps in our system, connecting people with resources, and making Spokane more effective for its citizens.

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