By Peter Svarzbein
My parents Leonardo and Sylvia were immigrants to the United States. When it came time to raise a family and establish roots they settled in El Paso. My parents were welcomed into our binational community. They grew a family, worked hard, served the community and, by all accounts, achieved the American dream.
For my parents, El Paso was the best of both worlds. All kinds of languages were spoken and people were treated with dignity and respect, no matter where they came from.
A year ago, on Aug. 3, our community stood shoulder-to-shoulder and chose love over hate. In the face of a terrible hate crime, we came together with unity, resilience, and strength. The nation watched, grieving with us, too. Fighting intolerance, hate, and hypocrisy takes good people showing up, speaking out, and standing together.
We are living through challenging and polarized times. When a nation loses sight of its moral compass, terrible things happen. This is not an abstract concept for my family. My grandmother Cecilia lost eight of her siblings during the Holocaust; she and her sister were the only survivors.
Our nation is at an inflection point. One thing I hope we can all agree is that more compassion in the world is a positive thing.
Earlier this year, Austin attorney, Karen Gross — an El Paso expat and Franklin High alum — reached out to me about a campaign for compassion. Noting how intensely charged our political discourse is today, her offer of a campaign designed to fuel empathy, seemed well-timed. El Paso, with our record of compassion, felt like a well-aligned partner.
Compassion 2020 offers a vision for a just, compassionate, and anti-racist society. A cornerstone of the campaign is the idea of a social contract.
“Having conversations with people we disagree with is hard. Having conversations with people we love is also really hard,” Gross says. “Listening to understand, disagreeing without being disagreeable, inviting wonder as opposed to getting defensive — all tenets of the Compassion Contract — offer a guidepost. We can do hard things, it just takes practice.”
This Tuesday, city Reps. Sam Morgan, Cassandra Hernandez and I will sponsor a resolution endorsing Compassion 2020 and the Compassion Contract. If my colleagues vote to approve this resolution, this will make El Paso the first city in the country to do so. We are leading the way.
How we treat our neighbors and most vulnerable during hard times is a reflection of a community’s values. I invite you to join me and my colleagues in endorsing Compassion 2020.
Here’s what you can do now:
Step 1: Visit compassion2020.com and sign your Compassion Contract.
Step 2: Explore ways to volunteer through the United Way.
Step 3: Follow the campaign on social media and tag #compassion2020. Instagram @compassion_2020 / Twitter @compassion2020.
Step 4: Try. Show compassion in your day-to-day interactions.
Your voice is your vote. To make sure you’re registered in El Paso County, check here.
Peter Svarzbein represents District 1 on El Paso City Council and serves as mayor pro tempore.