SENSEMAKING WITH HORIZONS: The Alabama Brawl, August 2023

Jarvis Williams, the Director of Applied Research and Julia Roig, the Chief Network Weaver at Horizons come together in this short video interview to reflect on the “Alabama Brawl” that occurred in August of 2023 and its implications for how we incorporate a racial justice lens into our pro-democracy organizing.

We look forward to sharing more of our sensemaking practices in this format. Let us know what you think!

What do we mean by “sensemaking”?

The following is taken from a previous Horizons’ blog that you can read here.

One of the three lines of work of The Horizons Project is “sensemaking.” As organizers who believe in the power of emergent strategy, the practice of sensemaking is something that we are continually reflecting upon: What is sensemaking? What is its purpose? How do we do it better? How can it drive our adaptation? How can we share what we’re learning and doing with diverse communities?

So, what exactly is “sensemaking” and why is it important to organizers? First and foremost, we acknowledge that we are operating in a world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). Even if we weren’t such a small team, we could never hope to fully wrap our minds (and arms) around this VUCA world. If our goal at The Horizons Project is to provide value and help connect actors within the social change ecosystem, we must find ways to constantly scan and interpret what’s going on within the system to then strategize, act and adjust as needed. Sensemaking is one of those practices. While there are many methodologies and definitions of sensemaking, we are drawn to the approach of Brenda Dervin that is based on asking good questions to fill in gaps in understanding, to connect with others to jointly reflect on our context and then take action.

For additional resources on sensemaking practices, check out:

Horizons Presents (Our podcast, Season One focuses on sensemaking)

Sensemaking in the New Normal

Facilitating Sensemaking in Uncertain Times

There is no Elephant

Thirteen Dilemmas and Paradoxes in Complexity

Energy System Science for Network Weavers

THE VISTA: July 2023

The summer lull is in full swing in the US as July comes to a close, while we grapple with rising temperatures and guard our energies for the 2024 electoral cycle. We’re all going to need that energy, as we are faced with polls that describe the rising acceptance of political violence, and that “gut-level hatred” is consuming our political lives. Horizons is committed to continuing to work with those who are actively trying to prevent violence and acts of hate being fueled by a clear political agenda. And we find inspiration and hope from the myriad organizing efforts throughout the country.  

The global nature of the authoritarian threat continues to animate our work. Check out, Chief Organizer Maria Stephan’s article in Ha’aretz about pro-democracy protests in Israel and the relationship between Israeli democracy and Palestinian self-determination. Also, registration is now open for the next Othering & Belonging Conference, taking place in Berlin in October. Please join Horizons and others as we reflect on global strategies for countering the far-right and bolstering democracy. 

As you go into August, we hope you find a space for deep rest, and reflect on the role that conflict transformation and listening skills play in all our relational organizing. There are several resources to help, such as this summer survival kit of conflict hacks from Amanda Ripley; and, this summer reading list and overview of the listening arts. If you haven’t checked out our friend Brett Davidson’s writings on how deep narrative work also requires deep listening, don’t miss his recent missive on the meanings of listening.  

It’s an exciting month for Horizons as we welcome a new member of the team, Jarvis Williams who just joined us as Director for Applied Research. Read more about Jarvis and hear directly from him why he agrees with the power of listening for transforming relations and building deep partnerships. Welcome Jarvis!  We also have openings for Research Assistants to work with Jarvis and the team, as we partner with the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University on research related to the pillars of support for authoritarianism and democracy. Please help us forward the announcement to any students you know who may be interested.  

We hope you enjoy the additional resources we’ve been reading, watching and listening to this month: 

READING 

Doing the Work While Doing The Work 

by Samhita Mukhopadhyay, The Nation 

“How can social justice organizations prioritize mental health issues while finding ways for their staff and members to stay in solidarity with each other? As we work to undo the legacies of racism and oppression, we are often facing a history of unresolved trauma—our own, and the histories of those we work with… Incorporating trauma-informed perspectives and general mental health awareness has sprouted up in many different places in an effort to counter narratives that we should ignore or override these feelings… But connecting the dots between social justice work and trauma history doesn’t automatically confer the necessary tools to deal with it.” This article is full of wisdom and resources from many leaders showing that prioritizing mental health while also finding ways to remain in solidarity with each other are not necessarily in opposition. 

Is Tennessee a Democracy? 

by Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic 

Anne Applebaum explores the current context in Tennessee from her perspective of reporting on the decade-long democratic decline and rise of one-party rule in Poland and Hungary. “…the cascade of tiny legal and procedural changes designed to create an unlevel playing field, the ruling party’s inexplicable sense of grievance, the displaced moderates with nowhere to go—this [does] seem familiar from other places. So [is] the sense that institutional politics has become performative, somehow separated from real life…Today, Tennessee is a model of one-party rule… Nor will the situation be easy to change, because gerrymandering is something of a blood sport in the state… [And] Getting people to vote is not so easy, either, because Tennessee has some of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws.”  

Why We Shouldn’t Give Up on Organized Religion 

by Tish Harrison Warren, New York Times Opinion 

Check out this interview with Eboo Patel, an American Muslim and founder and president of Interfaith America, a nonprofit that aims to promote cooperation across religious differences. Patel discusses his latest book, “We Need to Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracyand speaks about religious identity, diversity and institutions in America.  

More than Red and Blue: Political Parties and American Democracy 

The American Political Science Association (APSA) & Protect Democracy 

APSA and Protect Democracy partnered to support the APSA Presidential Task Force on Political Parties to synthesize decades of research on political parties and what they do in democracies. Key insights include: (1) the current campaign environment, from campaign finance regulations to changes in media, have made it harder for political parties to fulfill their roles; (2) American political parties are easy to join, opening them to new voices and interests but also leaving them vulnerable to capture by those with authoritarian objectives; (3) Racial realignment between the major parties has been growing for decades, changing the way the parties see the political landscape and their incentives for action; and (4) political parties are vital to modern democracy and reform efforts should take their essential roles seriously. 

WATCHING: 

Can We Transform Our Politics? 

Utah Governor Spencer Cox, Braver Angels Convention 

Governor Cox is well known for the public service announcement with his rival candidate, Democratic candidate Chris Peterson during the 2020 race for governor. Research has shown that watching the “One Nation” ad reduced viewers support for undemocratic practices, such as forgoing democratic principles for partisan gain or using violence against members of another party. Check out Governor Cox’s keynote address at the recent Braver Angels Convention in Gettysburg.  

Why Did “Woke” Go from Black to Bad? 

The Legal Defense Fund 

To some, the word “woke” is now a derisive stand-in for diversity, inclusion, empathy and Blackness. When legislators pass a law to “stop woke” in light of the word’s true history as well as its commonly understood meaning, what are they really saying? Check out this recent article by Keecee DeVenny on American Redefined, How Language is Weaponized. “Make no mistake, the linking of discussions of systemic oppression, race, gender expression, and sexual orientation with “anti-American” sentiments is intentional. It’s an attempt to redefine and reclassify who gets to call themselves American, regardless of their relationship to the country.” 

The Resurgence of the ‘Oldest Hatred’: The Effort to Combat Antisemitism 

Aspen Ideas Festival 

“Antisemitic incidents are on the rise in the United States, leaving Jewish communities feeling vulnerable — a sentiment both new and sadly familiar. Among the responses is the first ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, released by the White House, advocating a whole-of-society approach because all of us are affected by hate and it takes all of us to fight it.” Moderated by Katie Couric, this Aspen Ideas Festival panel features Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Eric Ward from Race Forward and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall from Harvard’s Belfer Center. 

LISTENING TO:  

Advancing Just, Multiracial Democracy with john a. powell 

Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast 

“On this episode, Julie Nelson, Senior Vice President of Programs at Race Forward and john a. powell, Director, Othering and Belonging Institute, come together in a conversation inspired by the recent essay they co-authored, “Advancing Just, Multiracial Democracy.”  They explore the role local municipalities can play in not only defending against “democratic backsliding,” but also in expanding the very nature of democracy, which is critical with the global rise of authoritarianism and nationalism. Julie and john’s work rests on the idea that local governments are uniquely situated to turn grim situations built on “othering” into a global movement grounded in racial justice and belonging.”  

Are ESG Investors Actually Helping the Environment? 

Freakonomics Podcast 

Economist Kelly Shue argues that ESG investing gives more money to firms that are already green while depriving polluting firms of financing that they need to get greener. But she offers a solution, which is to take an engagement strategy with corporations and build power from the inside for change. As the debate about ESG continues to rage, we found this a nuanced conversation in line with our approach to the business pillar within a pro-democracy movement that requires both strategic engagement and pressure tactics. 

Making Reparations a Reality: Blazing a Trail to Racial Repair with Trevor Smith 

Let’s Hear It Podcast! 

Check out this thought-provoking episode with Trevor Smith, the Director of Narrative Change at Liberation Ventures. Trevor is a writer, researcher, and editor of the newsletter – Reparations Daily (ish). During the interview Trevor discusses the growing movement calling for reparations as a catalyst for true racial repair. He invites reflection on how we can all work toward a new narrative of reparations, and how we can create a democracy that is inclusive, empathetic, and centered on principles of justice. 

FOR FUN 

This is Real! Premiere Performance at the 22CI Conference: Forging a People Powered Democracy 

The 22CI conference came to a close earlier this month with a joyful performance of a brand new song crafted during one of the sessions, “Developing a Collective Poetic Voice to Address Authoritarianism Thru Songwriting,” under the direction of Jane Sapp, a musician and cultural worker at Let’s Make a Better World and Cindy Cohen, Emerita of Brandeis University and former Director of the Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts. Special thanks to the members of the “This is Real Ensemble” – Destiny Williams, Jeralyn Cave, Penny Rosenwasser, and Molly O’Connor. You guys rocked it.  

Welcome to Jarvis Williams, New Director of Applied Research at The Horizons Project!

Enjoy this short interview between our Chief Network Weaver Julia Roig and our new Director of Applied Research Jarvis Williams as he describes his excitement and motivation about joining the Horizons’ team.

Julia: Hi everyone, Julia Roig, the Chief Network Weaver at the Horizons Project, celebrating on this hot summer day, that we have a new team member who has joined us at Horizons, Jarvis Williams.

We just wanted to have a chance for you to be able to say hi to everybody because of course, since we’re so into working within a broad ecosystem of a lot of different partners, we wanted to give you a chance to tell us something about yourself.

Jarvis: Well, first of all, thank you. It’s so exciting to be with the team. I enjoyed the interview process, I think I told a friend of mine I held you captive for several hours when we were supposed to be talking for a short amount of time, but it’s just great conversations.

But I think that probably explains part of who I am. I really enjoy trying to be in community with people.

I think three things that would probably define who I am now is that I’m highly sensitive to the power of relationships to change people’s lives and that’s important to me.

It started growing up in a small community in Mississippi and watching my father be in relationship with patients, watching people in the church be in relationship. So I care about that and my work culture matters to the extent that I’m in relationship with great people.

I guess the other two things that really matter to me that I guess define who I am is that I have attempted to try to be attendant to what people believe.

Why their beliefs matter to them, not simply just to change their beliefs, but to appreciate how they have come to see the world the way they do.

And then I’ve really committed myself to trying to be a part of helping us to get better information about what we believe so we can actually act better. And that’s where scholarship and academia comes into play, trying to learn about the world we live in, in a reliable way.

Julia: Yeah, that’s great. And, you know, I failed to even describe the fact that you’re taking on the role of the Director of Applied Research.

So I’m really glad that you mentioned the power of, academic rigor and your experience with research. And so I’m really curious for you to share what you’re the most excited about with regards to this job, and the Horizons mission and what you’re going to be doing in this role?

Jarvis: Oh, absolutely. I think for me, the wording that really just fascinated me was this idea of connective tissue. What do we need to know to help us connect better? Or what beliefs do we have that may be prohibiting us from connecting? And so I know that to confront the moment I think we find ourselves in with all kinds of threats, we don’t have to just connect, but we have to have a certain depth to those connections. And in order to explain some of that, it requires… interrogation to those deep beliefs that complicate how we act. And so in Horizons Project, religion, the role of Christianity in democracy, I think it’s a deep conversation that we need to think about.

The challenge of race, I think those are deep conversations. There are moments where you have to try to have a polite conversation to move on, but to build great relationships, there needs to be great understanding. And sometimes it takes a kind of depth of understanding to get there.

And then this mystery we call democracy. What beliefs are essential to be able to hold on to what we have and what beliefs have complicated it? So Horizons gives me an opportunity to, think about not just, what we know about those beliefs, but how people are actually living out those beliefs currently, and to be in relationship with them and to push and to probe and to learn and I think I’m excited about being in a space where we’re not trying to pretend we don’t disagree, but we are curious how we can believe better about each other.

Julia: Yeah, that’s beautifully put, and folks are going to very quickly realize, why you were the right choice to join our team and all this “connective tissue-ing” that we’re trying to do.

So Jarvis, just to end, you are going to interact with a lot of different folks, it’s the joy of this work of being ecosystem organizers.

So for those partners or those collaborators who are going to have the opportunity to work with you, what would be something that you’d want them to know about you as you’re getting started?

Jarvis: Yeah, I think two things for me. One, I will absolutely listen to them. I will care to hear and to see the world through their eyes. And I think that is connected to the other thing, that they will absolutely be respected. And for me, if you know that you will be heard and that you will be treated with respect, I think that’s what I would want to offer.

And in the words of John Lewis, whatever good trouble we get into, we’ll be fine. As long as we respect each other and listen.

Julia: Well, wise words to end on. And you know, Jarvis, we really are just thrilled on behalf of Maria and Tabitha and Nilanka and the whole team, just we want to give you a big warm welcome .

We’ll look forward to a lot of good trouble coming next.

Well, I so appreciate it. And I’m so happy to be a part of this team.

Julia: Thanks Jarvis.

THE VISTA: June 2023

The month of June is a busy one with the celebration of Juneteenth (check out this great reading list.) Also, the kick off of Civic Season – with hundreds of activities between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July – that is a new tradition started by Made by Us, together with museums, historic sites, libraries and archives around the country to help transform the way history is learned and “to remind us of the struggles and hard-won victories in our ongoing journey to form a ‘more perfect union.’” Our friends at Veterans for Political Innovation are also using the Fourth of July as an opportunity to recruit more veterans into their movement. We agree that veterans have an important role to play in upholding our democracy.

And of course, June is Pride month, with beautiful celebrations and visibility for the LGBTQI+ community. This year, Pride has also served as a poignant call for increased solidarity with a community that is increasingly under attack, intimately tied to the attacks on democracy playing out at the state level. You can find out more in this recent TikTok video by the Human Rights Campaign who have declared a state of emergency for the LGBTQI+ community in the United States.

Unfortunately, these trends of increasingly extreme anti-LGBTQI+ laws are global, so our solidarity must also extend across borders. This month, Uganda passed one of the most extreme laws in the world that drastically restricts the rights of LGBTQI+ Ugandans to engage in public life or advocacy. As we know, autocrats around the world are learning from each other, and therefore the pro-democracy response must also be actively sharing and learning across borders.

Hot off the press, Horizons’ Chief Organizer Maria J. Stephan published this article with Just Security focused on the specific ways that far-right authoritarian leaders in the US and globally are sharing lessons and collaborating – and how pro-democracy movement(s) can strategically out-maneuver them. She flags the 22nd Century Initiative’s conference, Forging a People-Powered Democracy where we hope to see many of you from July 6th to the 9th in Minneapolis, MN. Registration is open until the 5th!

At Horizons, we are committed to sharing experiences and lessons from other countries with our US colleagues, helping to connect the dots amongst shared threats and to find inspiration in how we are rising to the shared challenges we face. There are several important innovations captured by the Journal of Democracy from the recent opposition efforts to unseat Erdoğan in Turkey that we highly recommend, even though the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful. And, as Horizons focuses on a pillars approach to combatting authoritarianism, we also want to highlight the role that different sectors have to play in pro-democracy movements. For example, there are some lessons for the private sector in how Israeli businesses joined in the recent fight for an independent judiciary is Israel. And to help make this case, Rachel Kleinfeld recently released a helpful report on the negative impact of populism on the business sector around the world.

At this time of rest and reflection during our summer vacation mode in the United States, we hope you enjoy some of the additional resources we are reading, watching, and listening to:

READING

Mapping An Emerging Ecosystem

by Life Itself

At Horizons we spend a lot of time reflecting on ecosystem-level organizing for social change. If you’re into systems thinking and systems change, you will appreciate this super project overview by Life Itself. “We sense that a new ecosystem, or ecosystem of ecosystems, is emerging. A growing number of people, organizations, and initiatives are taking alternative approaches to social change, which diverge from and go beyond the more established spaces in civil society and the social economy.” They explain the process used for identifying and visualizing the various approaches different organizations and networks are taking to affect large systems-level shifts. They also relate this work to other established and emerging movements.

We Need to Talk about Well-being: Why the Study of Well-being is Crucial for Race Relations and Advancing Prosperity

by Andre M. Perry and Jonathan Rothwell, Brookings

A new study was released by Brookings that analyzes data from Gallup to show that measures of well-being offer a valuable way to chart collective progress towards a diverse thriving society, arguing it’s a more holistic indicator than the traditional measures of education and income attainment. Acknowledging that “the road to a more perfect union is paved in race relations,” the report highlights the country still has a long way to go and points out that high well-being scores correlate with greater individual and community stability, high racial and ethnic diversity, and lower rates of so-called “deaths of despair.”

How to Build Movements with Cyclical Patterns in Mind

by Dave Algoso, Florencia Guerzovich, and Soledad Gattoni, Nonprofit Quarterly

“The world changes too much for anyone who is invested in social change work to imagine that this work is linear and predictable. Opportunities come and go, whether caused by a pandemic or political shifts. This much most social movement leaders and activists intuitively understand. But what can be done with this realization? How might movement groups better prepare for moments of opportunity?” In this super article, the authors reflect on how we can create the changes we want to see by responding to the changes that are outside our control.

WATCHING

Building Collective Leadership at Grassroots and Globally Can Fuel Positive Change

hosted by the Social Change Initiative

“Collective leadership, strategic thinking, and self-care are key tactics to leading change in difficult circumstances and divided societies.” Don’t miss the recording of this inspiring online discussion hosted by the Social Change Initiative featuring Ambika Satkunanathan a human rights lawyer from Sri Lanka; Eric Ward, Executive Vice President with Race Forward in the US; Bernadette McAliskey, a human rights and social justice campaigner from Ireland; and Phumeza Mlungwana, an activist from South Africa. Addressing the big challenges facing those who seek to lead change, Bernadette gave some sage advice: “All I can say is, does the road wind uphill all the way? Yes. Will you meet the best human beings in the world on your way? Yes, you will. And if we stand together for the values of human dignity and equality, if we stand for the principles of democracy and equality, will we get there? Yes, we will.”

Talking about Science in an Age of Misinformation

by Nat Kendall-Taylor, Nobel Prize Summit

At the recent 2023 Nobel Prize Summit, FrameWorks Institute CEO Nat Kendall-Taylor gave a short talk on two cultural mindsets that undermine trust in science and two that can be activated to build trust in science. The public’s trust in science has been on the decline, and Nat explains that to understand this lack of trust and what we can do about it, we need to look not only at what people think, but how people think about science. Also, in case you missed it FrameWorks’ recently released an updated report on their findings on Culture Change in the US incorporating shifts from the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the contentious 2020 midterm elections on Americans’ perspective on the world.

The Hopeful Majority

with Manu Meel and Jeremi Suri

Manu Meel, CEO of BridgeUSA has started a new video podcast, The Hopeful Majority, and in this third episode to celebrate Juneteenth, Manu interviewed distinguished historian Jeremi Suri to reflect on the complexity of American history while seeking to advance a new narrative of patriotism. Manu says, “to me, loving America means admiring and critiquing- both are necessary for America to be the greatest democracy possible.”

LISTENING TO

Patriotism: Pride, Race and Reckoning

Let’s Find Common Ground podcast

In this Memorial Day episode, retired US naval officer and Washington Post columnist Theodore Johnson explores the paradox of patriotism and ponders, “how can we take pride in a nation with a history of injustice and inequality?” He shares a powerful personal story of standing at attention in the stands while his son took a knee during the national anthem at his high school football game. And, he shares his thoughts on how he believes America can have more productive discussions about race.

A Billion Dollar Problem

Justice Ain’t Cheap: A Queer Philanthropy podcast

In this premier episode of the new Justice Ain’t Cheap podcast, host Saida Agostini-Bostic talks with Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ board members Ana Conner (Third Wave Fund) and Paulina Helm-Hernández (Foundation for a Just Society) about the heightened attacks on transgender and gender nonconforming communities and the role philanthropy plays in resourcing social justice movement. Paulina says, “I feel like there’s a conversation that has been created by philanthropy in relationship to movements that’s like, ‘Is this a $50,000 problem? Is this a $100,000 problem?’ And I’m like, ‘This is a billion-dollar problem. This is a huge problem.’”

The Edges in the Middle III: Báyò Akómoláfé and Indy Johar

For The Wild podcast

This is a thought-provoking conversation on A New Theory of Self that delves into how lifeforms are entangled together on the earth, exploring the modern crisis of a singular self that creates space for violence and waste. Báyò is the inaugural Global Senior Fellow at the Othering & Belonging Institute and Indy is the Founding Director of Dark Matter Labs, and their conversation is both inspiring and challenging as they call attention to the aliveness of the world and how we may collectively “move beyond constraining ideas of order, power and control to be able to recognize and take part in relational ecological emergence.”

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

The American Music Landmarks Project (AMLP) connects music fans, music landmark operators and other advocates through unique opportunities to discover, experience and support the places that shaped US popular music history. During this year’s Civic Season, they are focusing on supporting Gen Z to add their voices as present and future stewards of our music history’s architectural legacy through connecting them with virtual and on-site tours, special events and volunteer experiences to meaningfully participate in the ongoing preservation, maintenance and interpretation of music landmarks. “AMLP understands that the presence of youth in transforming our music landmarks from built history to built heritage is essential to further democratizing and diversifying public awareness, appreciation and support for the places that shaped our collective musical past.”

The Global Far-Right Authoritarian Alliance Threatening US Democracy – And How to Weaken It

This article was written by Chief Organizer Maria Stephan and was first published on Just Security.

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban sparked widespread outrage a year ago with a speech to members of the Hungarian minority in Romania in which he said Europeans should “not want to become peoples of mixed-race.” Days later, he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas. The defiant leader denounced gay marriage and immigration, receiving raucous standing ovations from the room of U.S. Republicans.

The CPAC gathering illustrates a troubling global trend. Namely, authoritarian leaders around the world are cooperating and learning from one another, with the apparent aim of consolidating their grip on power and enriching themselves and their allies. Working through networks of security actors, propagandists, and kleptocratic financiers, autocratic leaders are bolstering one another while subverting democratic norms and institutions at home and abroad. It’s a transnational network that award-winning journalist and historian Anne Applebaum, a traditional conservative who has become highly critical of the GOP’s far-right tilt, calls Autocracy, Inc.

While this global autocratic alliance includes members from across the political and ideological spectrum, such as China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, it’s the far-right ties that are having the most corrosive effects on U.S. democracy. The alliance among far-right autocratic leaders, including influential members of the GOP, has emerged as a significant threat to U.S. democracy, one that has only expanded since Donald Trump’s presidency. These leaders’ actions often reflect what’s frequently referred to as the authoritarian playbook: politicizing independent institutions, spreading disinformation, aggrandizing executive power when it is in their interest, quashing dissent, marginalizing vulnerable communities, corrupting elections, and stoking violence. The effect is to undermine democratic institutions such that meaningful political opposition becomes more and more difficult, and to use state power to exert control over historically excluded groups.

This far-right autocratic network is extensive, but it is by no means invincible. Past struggles against authoritarianism show that even the autocrats who seem most powerful are vulnerable to strategic, organized nonviolent action against them. Thus, the strongest way to weaken Autocracy, Inc. is by expanding learning and collaboration among pro-democracy organizations and individuals inside the United States and in other countries.

History of Far-Right Collaboration

Close cooperation between far-right leaders is not new. Perhaps the most infamous example involves the collaboration between the antisemitic America First Committee, which included 20 members of Congress, and Nazi party officials in Germany during the 1930s and early ‘40s. Working alongside the America First Committee, the far-right movement in the United States at that time included radio propagandists, prominent religious leaders, and even Hollywood studios. German Nazi officials, for their part, took inspiration from the U.S. system of Jim Crow racial apartheid.

During the Cold War, the United States famously backed right-wing dictators like Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines with military and intelligence support, until both leaders were removed from power following mass popular uprisings. Of course, this was happening in a Cold War context where communist dictatorships, like the Soviet Union, were similarly conspiring across borders to suppress fundamental rights and freedoms. Since the end of the Cold War, however, right-wing autocratic alliances have taken more subtle forms. Their actions now rely less on military coups and tanks in the streets – though there are still too many of those, too — and more on the gradual evisceration of democratic norms and institutions by democratically elected leaders skilled in the art of divide-and-rule.

The alliance of far-right “elected autocrats” is the most prevalent and problematic today. The GOP and its MAGA faction have become particularly close with Orban, Hungary’s elected leader who originally came to power through democratic means, but has subtly eroded institutional checks on his power, such as the courts, electoral bodies, and the free press, while scapegoating and stripping rights away from historically excluded groups including the Roma, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. Many of Orban’s anti-democratic moves have technically been legal since he has simply changed laws and the Constitution to weaken the opposition and tighten his grip on power. The European Union, meanwhile, has struggled to come up with ways to counter the anti-democratic slide in Hungary and neighboring Poland, making it easier for both countries to push the envelope of what’s tolerated without facing meaningful consequences.

Across the Atlantic, former Fox News host and far-right propagandist Tucker Carlson has lionized Orban, praising his brand of culture war conservatism. Carlson hosted his show in Budapest, Hungary, two years ago while producing a documentary about Orban entitled “Hungary vs. Soros: Fight for Civilization.” Attacks on George Soros, a wealthy philanthropist who supports human rights defenders around the world, have become an established part of the far-right authoritarian playbook with antisemitic overtones.  Addressing the CPAC conference in Dallas last year, Orban referred to a “clash of civilizations” between liberals and conservatives and called for greater conservative coordination across the Atlantic to “take power back.” The day before the CPAC conference, Orban met with Trump and expressed his hope that Trump would be president again.

Far-right leaders commonly appeal to traditional “family values” to mobilize fear and resentment toward those who they consider to be outside their own traditional conservative norms. The LGBTQ community is often in their crosshairs. Orban’s anti-LGBTQ legislation inspired Florida Governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and there are ties between the DeSantis and Orban administrations. The president of Hungary, Katalin Novak, a close ally of Orban, has met with DeSantis and a Hungarian-born top donor. Leading conservative thinkers like Rod Dreher are based in Hungary and have actively connected Hungarian leaders to U.S. leaders.

The normalization of political violence, and the lies and hate-filled rhetoric that fuel it, is a particularly worrisome element of the far-right autocratic alliance. The relationship between the U.S. far-right and Brazil’s far-right former president, Jair Bolsonaro, has included efforts to violently overturn free and fair elections. On Jan. 8, 2023, in a scene eerily like the January 6th, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, Bolsonaro supporters violently attacked government buildings and police, and called on the military to launch a coup. Rioters claimed that opposition leader Lula da Silva had stolen the presidential election. Bolsonaro, like Trump, had spent months predicting mass fraud and then refused to concede defeat after losing.

The spinning of shared narratives across borders has strengthened far-right authoritarians’ grip on power while fueling a global ecosystem of disinformation. Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, whose right-wing “War Room” podcast drives much of MAGA messaging, declared that the Brazilian election “was stolen” and later referred to the rioters as “Brazilian freedom fighters.” Carlson similarly supported Bolsonaro’s claims of voter fraud on his Fox News show. In the lead-up to the election, Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, met with MAGA leaders, including Bannon and corporate backer Mike Lindell (the “My Pillow” guy), to discuss the possibility of mass fraud in the Brazilian elections. Researchers at the University of South Florida found that the most extensive social media amplification of the Jan. 8 Brazilian insurrection and attempted coup occurred in the United States, Russia, and Brazil, with the top account listed in Orlando, Florida.

Misogyny and the weaponization of male grievance, which often includes support for policies and practices that seek to expand state control over women’s bodies, is another key element of the far-right transnational alliance. These are core elements of “The Movement,” a loose grouping of nationalist and populist forces in Europe, Asia, and Latin America founded in 2017 by Belgian right-wing politician Mischael Modrikmen that includes Steve Bannon. The real extent of Bannon’s influence in Europe is questionable, and his efforts to mobilize conservative Catholics and build an “academy for the Judeo-Christian West” in Rome have faltered. However, Bannon’s efforts to recruit “incels” (an abbreviation of “involuntarily celibate” describing men frustrated by a lack of sexual experience who blame – and lash out at — women for their situation) and his and the MAGA faction’s close association with white supremacist groups, continues to pose a significant threat to U.S. democracy.

Countering the Right-Wing Autocratic Alliance

Given the far-right’s common strategies and collusion, democracy advocates must step up their own transnational learning and solidarity. Investing in peer learning and training that draws on experiences in other countries has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to support pro-democracy movements. Learning about strategies and tactics for countering far-right disinformation and propaganda, while building movements that draw on diverse social foundations, would help democrats across borders develop their own playbook. That means joining forces (non-violently) to understand what is working where and supporting each other’s narrative, organizational, and tactical infrastructure in the same way that authoritarians do.

Efforts to operationalize democratic solidarity should include U.S. and international activists and organizers, along with faith leaders, captains of business, union leaders, veterans’ groups, journalists, and entertainers. Their skills and capabilities are necessary to counter the most dangerous aspects of a global authoritarian alliance while building inclusive democratic futures. These key pillars provide the social, political, economic, financial, and moral support that authoritarian leaders need to consolidate and expand their power. In the United States, although companies like Disney and Bud Lite have recently faced far-right blowback for the positions they have taken, like opposing anti-LGBTQ legislation, the business community played a key role in ensuring a democratic transition after the 2020 election. Organizations like Check My Ads, which targets digital advertising companies that are promoting hate speech and disinformation, use lessons from successful campaigns such as “Sleeping Giants,” to cut off a key source of authoritarian power.

Organizations like the Horizons Project, where I work, as well as the pro-democracy group Keseb, the Social & Economic Justice Leaders Project, and United Vision for Idaho are creating opportunities and initiatives for democracy advocates in the United States and from other countries experiencing democratic backsliding to learn from each other about effective narratives, strategies, and tactics. That includes Keseb’s Democracy Fellowship, UVI’s national training hub, and Horizons’ efforts to support a multi-disciplinary cohort of trainers and facilitators from across the United States and globally who are sharing skills, tools, and approaches for countering authoritarianism and strengthening democracy.

Next month, another civic group, the 22nd Century Initiative, is hosting a major public conference in Minneapolis focused on countering authoritarianism and strengthening democracy, which will bring together hundreds of organizers, bridgebuilders, and democracy advocates to meet, build relationships, and organize. Networks of creatives and social change leaders, such as the Impact Guild and Color of Change, and faith-based groups like SojournersFaith in ActionFaith for Black Lives, the Kairos Center, and NETWORK are similarly drawing on international insights and networks to inform their work to counter racism and strengthen democracy.

At a time when global authoritarianism and a well-resourced “Autocracy Inc.” is expanding its reach, and in a context where U.S. states have become laboratories of democratic backsliding, it is imperative to double down on efforts to strengthen democratic solidarity within the United States and across international borders. That means sharing analyses and resources, and investing in mentoring relationships between pro-democracy trainers and facilitators in the United States and those in other countries. And it means creating opportunities for organizers and bridgebuilders to learn from each other about effective strategies and tactics to resist autocracy while building inclusive democracies.

THE VISTA: May 2023

During the month of May, many important resources have been released on both the rise of authoritarianism and on global polarization. Horizons appreciates the opportunity to learn from across regional contexts and supports deep understanding of how the authoritarian playbook is used to fuel divisions and toxic othering. In “America Needs a Cross-National Approach to Counter Authoritarianism” Yordanos Eyoel provides an overview of the newly released report, “Defending and Strengthening Diverse Democracies” that offers lessons from Brazil, India, South Africa, and the United States. The Institute For Integrated Transitions also published as a part of their global polarization program: First Principles: The Need for Greater Consensus on the Fundamentals of Polarisation. Aditi Juneja makes The Case for Expanding the Landscape of Democracy Work; and People’s Action Institute highlights the need for an organizing revival, in their recent report: The Antidote to Authoritarianism.

Horizons Chief Organizer, Maria Stephan, published a comprehensive piece this month on how the global authoritarian playbook is being executed in Florida and lessons for the pro-democracy movement. A special thanks to all the front-line movement leaders in Florida who contributed to this analysis and who continue such important organizing work under such difficult circumstances.

As we kick off the summer in the US with LGBTQI+ Pride month in June, we recommend the new resources provided by Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy & Protections on Protecting Pride Events from Armed Extremist Activity. Our hope is that we continue to care for each other and find new ways of being and doing across our many difference.

Enjoy some of the other resources that the Horizons’ team has been reading, watching and listening to:

READING

Why Voters Who Value Democracy Participate in Democratic Backsliding

by Alia Braley and Gabriel Lenz, Nature Human Behavior

“Around the world, citizens are voting away the democracies they claim to cherish.” This article summarizes research that shows this behaviour is driven in part by the belief that our opponents will undermine democracy first. The study finds that US partisans are willing to subvert democratic norms to the extent that they believe opposing partisans are willing to do the same. When partisans were exposed to the fact that their opponents are more committed to democratic norms than they thought – they became more committed to upholding democratic norms themselves and less willing to vote for candidates who break these norms. “These findings suggest that aspiring autocrats may instigate democratic backsliding by accusing their opponents of subverting democracy and that we can foster democratic stability by informing partisans about the other side’s commitment to democracy.”

How King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ parallels the Tennessee Three

by Kristen Thomason, Baptist News Global

One of the Tennessee Three, Rep. Justin Jones tweeted: “There comes a time when you have to do something out of the ordinary. We occupied the House floor today after repeatedly being silenced from talking about the crisis of mass shootings. We could not go about business as usual as thousands were protesting outside demanding action.” This article connects this action to the reasoning of Martin Luther King Jr. 60 years ago as explained in his famous letter from a Birmingham Jail that sometimes actions out of the ordinary are necessary. “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Being Human > Being Right

by Thomas Coombes

“Does your approach to social justice depend on showing people that they are wrong (and, therefore, that you are right)?” Our friend The Hope Guy has written a wonderful summary of the insights from four recent books to challenge this all-too-common approach to “being right” and lays out three helpful steps: (1) Recognize when our certainty makes us bad communicators; (2) To change minds, listen; and (3) Make the conversation (not its subject) the story.

WATCHING

The Growing Threat of Christian Nationalism

“What is Christian nationalism and how does it threaten our democracy? Investigative reporter Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, Eric K. Ward, executive vice president at Race Forward, and Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons,communications director at  Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) and a member of BJC’s Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign discuss the rise of Christian nationalism, its intersection with antisemitism, racism, and extremism, and why we should be paying attention.” (This is the second program in a four-part series on Exploring Hate.)

A Brief but Spectacular Take on Finding Hope in a Difficult World

PBS Newshour

Simran Jeet Singh is executive director for the Aspen Institute’s Religion and Society Program and author of “The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life.” Singh shares his Brief But Spectacular take on how by focusing on the positive aspects of our multi-religious, racial and ethnic world, society can disrupt bias and build empathy.

The Abortion Talks

This documentary film by Josh Sabey and Sarah Perkins follows the crimes and trial of John Salvi—and the story of six women, all of them leaders in the pro-life and pro-choice movements, who sought to ensure that it would never happen again. To coincide with the film’s impact campaign, Picture Motion has launched a Screening Tour, providing access to the film and an accompanying Discussion & Action Guide at a sliding fee scale. If you are interested in hosting a film screening, you can contact Picture Motion here.

Imagination Infrastructure

ICYMI, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently released all the video recordings from their convening “A Time Between Worlds” where a series of inspiring speakers from around the world discussed aspects of imagination infrastructure. Olivia Oldham summarizes various concepts of imagination as a way “of seeing, sensing, thinking, dreaming” that creates the conditions for material interventions in, and political sensibilities of the worldImagination is thus a transformative practice, which has the capacity to cultivate and foster alternatives to social, political, cultural and economic conditions; it is a prerequisite for changing the world for the better.”

LISTENING TO

“Polarization” Is Not the Problem. It Obscures the Problem – with Shannon McGregor

Is this Democracy Podcast

In this interview McGregor discusses her recent article, A Review and Provocation: On Polarization and Platforms and reflects on: “Why do scholars, politicians, journalists, and pundits cling to the idea of “polarization”? [Her] answer lies in the fact that the empirical, normative, and historical inadequacy is not a bug, but a feature of the polarization narrative – it is precisely the fact that is obscures rather than illuminates the actual problem that makes it attractive. The “polarization” concept is useful if you want to lament major problems in American politics, but either don’t see or simply can’t bring yourself to address the fact that the major threat to American democracy is a radicalizing Right, is the threat of rightwing authoritarian minority rule. In this way the concept even provides a rhetoric of rapprochement since it does not require agreement as to what is actually ailing America, only that “polarization” is to the detriment of all.”

A Slow Civil War? Jeff Sharlet

Future Hindsight Podcast

Jeff Sharlet discusses his latest book, The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, reflecting on the democratic decline in the US, and the role of myths and martyrdom within fascist narratives. “On the Far Right, everything is heightened―love into adulation, fear into vengeance, anger into white-hot rage. Here, in the undertow, our forty-fifth president, a vessel of conspiratorial fears and fantasies, continues to rise to sainthood, and the insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, killed on January 6 at the Capitol, is beatified as a martyr of white womanhood. Framing this dangerous vision, Sharlet remembers and celebrates the courage of those who sing a different song of community, and of an America long dreamt of and yet to be fully born, dedicated to justice and freedom for all.”

Hungary: Learning useful lessons from your enemies

Strength & Solidarity Podcast

“The election in 2010, of Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban and his Fidesz party triggered a lurch to the right and authoritarian rule. It brought legal restriction, bureaucratic harassment and public vilification to the country’s civil society and human rights community. Official hostility made it difficult for [non-profits] to survive and made individual rights workers’ lives hell. It would not have been surprising if the net outcome of such targeting were a weakened human rights movement and a profound loss of confidence. And yet, says Stefánia Kapronczay, co-director of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, that is not what has happened. Instead, finding themselves blocked from their former work of advocacy and litigation, human rights workers pivoted to a model of grass roots activism that puts citizens’ needs and their values about rights and justice at the heart of movement-building. It is work they had not been doing enough of, she argues, and it is making the constituency for human rights stronger.”

How the News Media Shortchanges Nonviolent Resistance

War Stories Peace Stories Podcast

“The right to peaceful protest is considered fundamental in democracies around the world.  Nonviolent protest movements, like the Gandhian movement for independence in India or The Civil Rights Movement in the United States, are celebrated in history books. Yet if you go looking for coverage of nonviolent protest in the news media, most of the time you’ll come up short. In this interview, Horizons’ Chief Organizer, Maria J. Stephan widens the lens on nonviolent resistance and offers tips for how journalists could apply that lens to tell more complete and captivating stories.

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

Astronaut shares the profound ‘big lie’ he realized after seeing the Earth from space

by Tod Perry Upworthy

“Sixty-one years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to make it into space and probably the first to experience what scientists now call the “overview effect.” This change occurs when people see the world from far above and notice that it’s a place where borders are invisible, where racial, religious and economic strife are nowhere to be seen.…In a compelling interview with Big Think, astronaut, author and humanitarian Ron Garan explains how if more of us developed this planetary perspective we could fix much of what ails humanity and the planet.”

THE VISTA: April 2023

During the month of April, we are reminded of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who said, “they can cut all the flowers, but they can’t stop the spring…” Horizons continues to be inspired by the persistence of so many pro-democracy organizers and the breadth of resources to draw upon. You won’t want to miss the recent Atlantic Council report on Fostering a Fourth Democratic Wave: A Playbook for Countering the Authoritarian Threat.

Diversity of perspectives and approaches is our strength in building pluralistic movement(s) for democracy. Check out the many organizations that participated in this year’s National Week of Conversation in the US. We would especially recommend the conversations that delved into the tensions between dialogic and social justice-oriented approaches. For example, you can re-watch this great webinar that highlighted important research findings from the report: “Building Bridges in the Context of Inequality.” Horizons also co-hosted an event that week with the renowned director of the Othering & Belonging Institute, john a. powell, where we grappled with the challenges of Bridging Towards a Just, Inclusive, Pluralistic Democracy that you can rewatch here.

Philanthropy has an important role to play in supporting healthy pluralism in our democracy movement(s) and this rich article details some frameworks for systems change coalitions that create “paths for everyone” to participate. However, there are pitfalls when calls for pluralism appear devoid of needed power analyses, as expressed in this recent critique by Vu Le at NonProfitAF: Philanthropy’s Equivalent of “All Lives Matter.”

Collaborating across difference isn’t easy. We have to be able to have hard conversations that may cause discomfort. (ICYMI, you can re-watch Horizons’ recent public event with researchers and activists exploring narrative practices that support collaboration across difference.) Horizons appreciates so much the many insights and hard truths shared by our partners and many others.

Here’s some of what we’ve been reading, watching, and listening to:

READING

How NOT to Dismantle White Supremacy

Sendolo DiaminahScot NakagawaSean Thomas-BreitfeldRinku Senand Lori Villarosa, The Forge

This is an important reflection on the concept of “white supremacy” as applied to organizational practices like using metrics, setting deadlines, or employing the written word.

The Forge brought together five longtime racial justice leaders to discuss why Tema Okun’s article on “White Supremacy Culture” still resonates, the problems with relying on it to criticize organizational practices, and the path forward for racial justice work.

Civil Unraveling in the Deep South

by Baratunde Thurston, Puck

This is a richly nuanced read that weaves in historic memory with the present political dynamics taking place in the Tennessee legislature; building on neuroscience and best practices of bridging across difference. “My hope is that we can find and celebrate other ways of being together. That we know what an insurrection is and isn’t. That we are brave enough to be clear about our failings and our history. And that we can create momentum around a new story of what living together, with all our differences, can look and feel like. Elected officials shouldn’t have to hold protests inside a legislative body for the will of the people to be heard, and elected officials shouldn’t believe that disparaging someone for doing so will earn them anything beyond scorn. But for that to be true, we have to keep trying to create spaces to hear each other and be heard.”

Christian Nationalists Have Provoked a Pluralistic Resistance

by Ruth Braunstein, Religious News Services

This article describes the many organizations and networks working to resist the rise in Christian nationalism, (i.e., “the idea that being Christian is core to the American identity”) that is so intricately tied to white supremacy and authoritarianism in the US. For example, the Poor People’s Campaign challenges a Christian nationalist idea of “scarcity set against a mythologized past of plenty, but only for those who “belong.” Activists… draw up a narrative in which patriotic citizens work together toward a more perfect, inclusive and abundant future that lives up to the country’s founding ideals.”

WATCHING

Bridging Divides: The Principles of Political Identity

Lauren W. Reliford, Mormon Women for Ethical Governance (MWEG) 2023 Conference

You can watch all of the MWEG 2023 Conference sessions on-line with many inspiring talks, with a diversity of women’s perspectives on strengthening democracy. We highly recommend this session with the political director at Sojourners on the impact of our calcified political identities.

The Broke Project: Building Narrative Power

Shanelle Matthews, Trina Stout, Annie Neimand, Michael Huang, Frank2023 Conference

Frank is a community for movement builders and change makers who use communications to drive positive social, institutional, and behavioral change hosted by the Center for Public Interest Communications. They recently released the recordings from their 10th annual gathering. All the sessions offer great insights, but we’d recommend this one session on the Broke Project that gives an overview of in-depth social science research and narrative tools to better understand poverty and effective storytelling for economic justice.

Four Tools for Nervous System Regulation

Emilie Leyes on Tik Tok

If you’re still on TikTok, Horizons enjoys creators like Emilie who share useful tools for overall mental health and responding to feelings of overwhelm (that are so common to those working for social change.) ICYMI, our friends at Think Peace also released the reflections of a recently-convened community of practice – those working at the nexus of social change (including peacebuilding/social justice/transitional justice/reconciliation) and wellbeing (including mental health, bio-psychosocial support, neuroscience and behavioral sciences as well as somatics, embodiment, and holistic approaches to healing).

LISTENING TO

How Does an Ecosystem Act?

Wisdom Practice with Krista Tippett, The OnBeing Project

This is a short, but insightful reflection on an important topic for Horizons: “how to activate connective tissue, and communal momentum, and shared learning, and cross-pollination, and accompaniment, which we obviously need if all of [us are] to meet what is before us in this century….How can those of us committed to orienting in this way start to function like the ecosystem the world needs us to be?”

The Way Back

Throughline Podcast

As we grapple with how societies can heal from past harm and trauma in order to move forward together, this podcast delves into the role of public apologies. “Our society is saturated in apologies. They’re scripted, they’re public, and they often feel less than sincere… It’s not even always clear who they’re for. So, what purpose do these apologies serve? Because real apologies are not just PR stunts. Not just a way to move on. At their best, they’re about acknowledgement and accountability, healing and repair.”

America Needs bell hooks

Lion’s Roar

Lion’s Roar has compiled a great selection of bell hooks’ writings and recorded conversations as a voice for love and justice – particularly for “students in Florida and elsewhere for whom her truth is apparently dangerous. Because we must all celebrate a great voice like bell’s when it is silenced — and needed more than ever. [One] of the Black thinkers targeted in attacks on the straw man of “critical race theory.” Yet far from a threat, the writings of bell hooks are exactly what America needs — honest analysis of injustices past and present, and love and compassion as their answer.”

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

World Book Day is an annual celebration of the written word hosted by UNESCO each April 23, with this year’s theme focusing on indigenous languages, recognizing a less rigid concept of “book” to also acknowledge various forms of literature, including oral traditions. You may enjoy this fun list published by Atlas Obscura of their favorite stories about stories. They share tales of bookmakers, booksellers, book collectors, book thieves, and more. Also, as a part of the celebration, you can download one book from around the world for free from Amazon Kindle before April 30.

THE VISTA: March 2023

During this last week of March, the U.S. is hosting the Summit for Democracy and Women’s History Month comes to a close. As proclaimed by one of the Summit’s side events: The Status of Women IS the Status of Democracy it is clear that gendered attacks on human rights continue to be directly tied to the trends of democratic decline globally, a tactic studied by many scholars of authoritarianism. The current dehumanization of transgender people in the US is just one of many examples of the dangerous “othering” used to keep citizens divided and fearful. If you have questions about states’ current legislation against gender-affirming health care, please consult these resources at the Human Rights Campaign.

As john a. powell and Sara Grossman of the Othering & Belonging Institute recently wrote about Countering Authoritarianism, “this moment calls for renewed concern about the threat of fragmentation and the ways division is being exploited by anti-democratic actors.” Horizons agrees! And we recently released the first research product from our Narrative Engagement Across Difference (NEAD) Project, a multi-disciplinary literature review of narrative practices that support collaboration across difference in the deeply divided contexts of declining democracies. This short blog in both English and Spanish offers a summary of the findings, stressing the importance of complexifying narratives in both our discourse and our coalitional work. Recognizing the impact of trauma on our movement-building practices was an important aspect of the NEAD inquiry. For example, this article by Prentis Hemphill taken from New Narratives for Health describes a personal journey with trauma and the words we use to describe how the body holds trauma and experiences healing.

The United States is a complex country that requires narrative practices full of nuance and that legitimizes the diversity of lived experience. As New America’s Us@250 is preparing to celebrate the country’s 250th birthday, check out their focus on narrative change – how we think about our national narrative, American identity, and the future of the country. There are several discussions unfolding about changing societal norms and concepts of free speech and how to approach systems change and complexity, with a commitment to “operating with awareness, responding to resonance and engaging creatively.” These are all essential elements of reparative narrative practice.

We hope you enjoy some of the other materials we’ve been reading, watching, and listening to:

READING

6 Reasons Why Movements Sing to the Choir

by Rivera Sun, Waging Nonviolence

We often critique the old adage of movements only “singing to the choir” rather than reaching out beyond the already converted. In this article, Sun uses this beautiful musical metaphor to remind us of when it’s actually needed to sing to our own choir. For example, when some may need to rest their voices or when we need to find new inspiration to sing together again. “Be thoughtful about this aspect of organizing for change. Not only will it make your movement stronger, it can also be a source of inner resilience, inspiration, solidarity and connection. There’s a reason why singing together is more than a metaphor in movements for change. It’s powerful. Tap into it with love.”

The Belonging Barometer: The State of Belonging in America

Over Zero and the Center for Inclusion and Belonging at the American Immigration Council

“Belonging is a fundamental human need, and one that is linked to many of the most complex challenges of our time.” This newly released report makes the case for including belonging as a key aspect of programs and policies in the United States, linking it to indicators of health, democracy, and intergroup dynamics. The report includes recommendations for changemakers of potential interventions and measurement tools; helps to define concepts of belonging; and describes initial findings from survey data on the state of belonging across five life settings – family, friends, workplace, local community, and the nation.

Liberal Professors Can Rescue the G.O.P.

by Jon A. Shields, New York Times Opinion

The pro-democracy agenda must be cross-ideological. This professor from Claremont McKenna College extols the need to provide mentors and serious intellectual foundations for conservative undergraduates so they have positive influences and role models for engaging in political life. Even “liberal professors have the power to help…. They can show their conservative students how to become thoughtful and knowledgeable partisans — by exposing them to rich conservative intellectual traditions…setting up reading groups, helping to vet speakers and creating courses on conservative intellectual thought.”

WATCHING

Is it Still Possible to Change Minds in Politics?

Anand Giridharadas with Maurice Mitchell and Dorian Warren, The Ink

We highly recommend watching this video recording of an important conversation about the possibility and difficulty of persuasion in a time of polarization, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and political violence. The panel reflects on various topics, including the current state of the neo-fascist right and how to build a pro-democracy movement that can seize the moment. They highlight the importance of finding a way to move towards a “powerful posture of joy and victory” to prevent hate-fueled authoritarianism in the country.

Healing Race Season 1

Healing Race, YouTube Channel

Shout out to the Listen First Coalition for sharing this great video series in their recent updates. As the country continues to grapple with our history and systems of racial injustice, discussing race can be difficult but essential. Healing Race is a new video series started by two college friends, Andre, who is black and Todd, who is white, as they delve deep into the topic of race and race relations in the US. The goal of the series is to demonstrate the power of real and unfiltered conversations about race as a step towards working together for change.

The Rise of a Pro-Democracy Coalition

Simon Rosenberg’s YouTube Channel

Check out this recent webinar recording hosted by Markers for Democracy (and many others) featuring Robert Hubbell, Bill Kristol and Simon Rosenberg discussing how people across the political spectrum must come together (and are!) to form a pro-democracy coalition.

LISTENING TO

The Revolution Will Be Hilarious

Getting to Yes, And Podcast

In this episode, American University professor Caty Borum discusses the intersection of social justice and comedy which she explores in her new book, “The Revolution will be Hilarious.” Borum explains how comedy can be used as an important tool in the fight for social justice because comedy brings levity and a sense of humanity to many people and situations, helping to capture the nuance and true nature of so many different lived experiences.

Tucker’s Latest Lies

The Bulwark Podcast

The Horizons team feels that it is important to reckon with the latest controversies that have arisen about the Fox News’ 2020 election coverage and Tucker Carlson’s most recent attempts to rewrite the narrative of January 6th. This podcast episode with two conservatives, host Charlie Sykes and Will Saletan, discuss these issues and more, also covering the inflammatory rhetoric at the recent CPAC meeting and reflections on the state of the Republican party.

Do Generations Matter?

Prospect: Generations Podcast

We love to highlight inter-generational collaboration! The American Prospect has started a new podcast series: Generations which is bringing together younger and older staff to discuss various topics surrounding politics and culture. In this pilot episode, Lee Harris and Paul Starr are featured who both graduated from college during turning points in US history. Lee graduated in 2020 during the pandemic and the George Floyd protests and Paul graduated in 1970 during the Vietnam War and the counterculture era.

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

CQ Roundup with Hayden Joseph, Ana Egge, Pelvis Wrestley and more

by: Christopher Treacy, Country Queer

Music has the power to unite us and to remind us of our common humanity – in all our complexity. Country Queer is a website that focuses on LGBTQ+ voices in country and roots music. These musical roundups include interviews and reviews of new music releases from queer and allied artists, and other news and events such as virtual concerts and fundraisers. For example, this recent benefit concert in Nashville where local singers banded together in support of LGBTQ+ rights.

THE PILLARS PROJECT: Veterans and Military Families

Why should veterans and military families care about authoritarianism?

American democracy is in a moment of crisis. Long-standing authoritarian trends and practices by a dedicated segment of our political class are undermining shared agreement on the rules of the political game, curbing constitutional rights and freedoms, excluding minority groups from political representation, and using disinformation and violence to suppress opposition. A growing segment of anti-democratic extremists have taken one of our political parties hostage, sidelining principled and patriotic pro-democracy leaders, in an attempt to advance a white Christian nationalist agenda.

Veterans are uniquely positioned to help stem this authoritarian threat. Upon entering their military service, veterans swore an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. They chose to put their country above all else, and for that, they are venerated in their communities as true patriots and model citizens. Veterans have been on the frontlines of the fight against authoritarianism in the U.S. and around the world throughout our nation’s history. From the beaches of Normandy to the Korean Peninsula to the shore of Kuwait, committed servicemen and women risked their lives to defend freedom and democracy. Today, however, the authoritarian threat is found much closer to home.

Former top military commanders, including Gen. James MattisLt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and Gen. Mark Milleyamong others, have modeled how both veterans and current servicemen and women can uphold their oath and code of ethics by standing against strongman tactics. Yet, as the January 6 insurrection revealed, some of the same characteristics that inspired veterans to serve—including a strong sense of patriotism, duty, and volunteerism for a purpose bigger than themselves—can also drive them down paths of violent extremism and manipulation by dishonorable, undemocratic actors.

Authoritarians seek to leverage Americans’ respect for veterans and current servicemen and women by using them as political pawns and targeting them and their families with anti-democratic misinformation and disinformation. More troublingly, White supremacist and other anti-government violent extremist groups explicitly seek out veterans for recruitment, hoping to use their discipline, skills, and credibility while taking advantage of their struggle to find purpose and community after leaving the military.

Getting veterans and military families directly involved in the struggle for democracy is a potent way to draw on the strong sense of civic duty and the skills and discipline that veterans and those who support them have developed during their military service. It can also provide a powerful avenue for preventing recruitment into violent extremist groups and help assuage the difficulties of the transition to civilian life. Many American veterans who have gotten involved in pro-democracy struggles see their activism both as a direct continuation of the commitments they made through their oath of allegiance, and as a core community through which they are able to find collective purpose in civilian life.

Veterans and military families have a long history on the forefronts of activism to advance American democracy. Today, many organizations are mobilizing veterans and military families for greater civic engagement. Leveling up those engagement efforts and joining forces with the larger pro-democracy ecosystem can be a powerful force for protecting, healing, and revitalizing American democracy.

How can Veterans and Military Families Support Democracy?

  • Veterans can use their discipline, training, and high levels of community cohesion to be powerful mobilizers for democracy, participating in and often leading community organizations and social movements to protect the right to vote and advance the rights of all Americans to fully participate in our democratic process. During the civil rights movement, Black WWII and Korean War veterans like Medgar Evers and Hosea Williams drew on the skills and confidence they gained during their military service to lead key civil rights organizations and often lead the way in the riskiest forms of activism.
  • Veterans and military families are in a particularly influential position to build bridges across partisan and identity-based divides. Toxic partisan polarization has extended across almost every major social identity in American life, from geography to hometown to race and ethnicity. Yet veterans and military families span the political spectrum. This makes non-partisan veterans groups one particularly important forum for conversation to break down toxic polarization, build networks across divides, and counter the misinformation and disinformation that authoritarian actors use to undermine American democracy.
  • In moments of democratic crisis, veterans can be important influencers to active-duty military, police, and other security forces, drawing on their connections and shared experience to call on people in these institutions to stand up for democracy and not follow illegal or unconstitutional orders. For instance, during the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, former air force chief General Volodymyr Antonets built an extensive network of contacts among mid-ranking Ukrainian officers that helped ensure that the Ukrainian military was not used to violently suppress peaceful pro-democracy protesters.

The Horizons Project’s Work

The Horizons Project recognizes the importance of veterans as a force for democracy and is engaging with diverse veteran service and military family organizations to help establish a common framework to understand and combat the authoritarian threat. We also seek to link these organizations more strategically with the pro-democracy civil society ecosystem. We are reaching out to or partnering with organizations such as We the VeteransDivided We FallVeterans for Political InnovationCommon DefenseArmed Services Arts PartnershipMilitary Veterans in JournalismThe Mission ContinuesVeterans for American IdealsSecure Families Initiative, and National Military Family Association, among others.

  • Research and Analysis: As part of its larger pillars of support project, Horizons is examining how veterans have helped protect democracy both in the US and other countries during democratic backsliding, and the most effective ways for veterans to leverage their unique position to do so. We will work with veteran and military family groups to share the results of this research and explore practical tools and ideas for how veteran service and military family organizations can mobilize their respective constituencies to pro-actively protect democracy from the current authoritarian threat. Horizons will produce short, action-focused publications and, together with partners, hold a series of salons on Veterans and Democracy.
  • Relationship-Building: Research shows that protecting and restoring American democracy will require united effort across a wide range of sectors. Horizons is building connective tissue among veteran and military family groups, as well as other key nodes in the pro-democracy ecosystem to strategize how efforts to protect democracy can be most effectively coordinated at the state level and nationally. We will organize both formal events and informal conversations between veteran service and military family organizations, grassroots organizers, and others in the pro-democracy space to help build the foundations for united action to protect democracy as we move towards the 2024 election and beyond.

*This article was written by former Director of Applied Research Jonathan Pinckney.

THE PILLARS PROJECT: Labor Unions and Professional Associations

Why should labor unions and professional associations care about authoritarianism?

American democracy is in a moment of crisis. Long-standing trends and practices that undermined agreement on the rules of the political game have been weaponized by a segment of our political class that seeks to undermine constitutional rights and freedoms, exclude minority groups from power, and suppress opposition through disinformation and violence.

Democratic backsliding in the United States is a particular threat to labor and professional organizations. The research is clear: democracy is good for labor. Democracies not only provide more robust protections for freedom of association, they pay higher wages! Rollbacks in democracyhave led to significant attacks on both labor rights and the autonomy of professional organizations in IndiaHungary, and elsewhere. Would-be authoritarians undermine the autonomy of outside organizations to centralize control over all the major organs of society.

Both labor and professional groups have played critical roles in advancing and protecting democracy in the past, and many continue to do so today. When labor and professional groups join social movements pushing for democratic change, they tend to have much higher rates of success and long-term sustainability. Professional disciplines such as the law have particularly important relationships to the state of American democracy. Yet there is a strong need in the current moment of democratic crisis for disparate efforts to protect and advance democracy to be levelled up and conducted collaboratively with the broader pro-democracy ecosystem.

How can Labor and Professional Groups Support Democracy?

  • Labor and professional groups can be influential persuaders for democracy, when it is clear that they are speaking for the interests of their members and not seeking political power. For example, in Tunisia lawyers’ associations played a powerful role in advocating for the rule of law during the Ben Ali dictatorship, and later used the respect and symbolic power of their black robes on the front lines of 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising to lend legitimacy to those protests and help facilitate a democratic transition.
  • Labor and professional groups bring formidable organizing skills and networks to the pro-democracy ecosystem. For example, the civil rights movement in Winston-Salem, North Carolina had foundered, struggling to attract participants and effectively organize the Black community until tobacco industry unions (led by Black workers) organized membership drives for the NAACP, began building dense local networks among the Black working class through activities centered on the local union hall, and organized citizenship classes, political rallies, and mass meetings on civil and voting rights issues.
  • Labor and professional groups can often provide crucial resources for frontline activists struggling to advance democracy, from professional know-how to specialized access to political elites. During the 2017 protests against Trump administration’s “Muslim ban,” thousands of lawyers descended on airports to provide pro bono legal counsel to immigrants caught by the ban. Conversation and connection between organizers and professional groups can help better catalog what resources are needed in the moment, and help streamline effective coordinated action.
  • In moments of democratic crisis, labor and professional groups are critical sources of organized non-cooperation, from organizing sectoral or general strikes to refusing to participate in legal proceedings or unjust professional standards. Research shows that the capacity for such widespread non-cooperation is crucial to counter an authoritarian breakthrough. For instance, widespread strikes organized by labor unions in cooperation with pro-democracy activists have been crucial in pushing back against democratic backsliding across many countries including Sri LankaIndiaFiji, and South Korea.

The Horizons Project’s Work

  • Research and Analysis: As part of its larger pillars of support project, Horizons is examining how labor and professional organizations have helped protect democracy in the US and other countries during democratic backsliding, and the most effective ways to do so. We will be working with labor and professional groups to share the results of this research, providing practical tools and ideas to help shift priorities and collective action to pro-actively protect democracy from the current authoritarian threat. Horizons will be producing short, action-focused publications and, together with partners, hold a series of salons on Labor and Democracy.
  • Relationship-Building: Research shows that protecting and restoring American democracy will require united effort across a wide range of sectors. Horizons is building connective tissue between labor and professional groups and other key nodes in the pro-democracy ecosystem to strategize how efforts at protecting democracy can be most effectively coordinated both at the state level and nationally. We plan to organize both formal events and informal conversations between labor and professional organizations, grassroots organizers, and others in the pro-democracy space to help build the foundations for united action to protect democracy as we move towards the 2024 election and beyond.

*This article was written by former Director of Applied Research Jonathan Pinckney.