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

*By former Director of Applied Research Jonathan Pinckney.

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.

THE PILLARS PROJECT: Labor Unions and Professional Associations

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

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.

THE PILLARS PROJECT: The Faith Community

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

Why should faith communities care about authoritarianism?

A flourishing democracy is one of the strongest protections for the free exercise of religion. From the persecution of Christians and ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims in mainland China to the suppression of the Baha’i faith in Iran to the targeting of religious minorities in the backsliding democracy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India, the pattern from around the world is clear: when democracy breaks down, people of faith suffer.

The connections between faith and freedom are even more important at a time when some American politicians are appropriating religion to advocate for an exclusive “Christian nationalism” that uses government to impose their ideology on others. The examples of dozens of countries that have put the supremacy of one religion at the center of their politics shows the devastating consequences of this approach: heightened deadly conflictincreased political corruption as political leaders adopt the mantle of religion to pursue their personal agendas, and often a decline in the vibrancy of religious life. Indeed, the close affiliation of a political ideology with certain brands of Christianity is the primary reason for the stunning growth over the last three decades in Americans abandoning identification with religion.

Yet the answer to the appropriation of religion by an authoritarian faction in the United States is not to depoliticize religion. Indeed, history shows that when people of faith withdraw from the social issues of the day their withdrawal reinforces existing systems of injustice.

Instead, faith communities have a critical role to play in revitalizing our democracy and countering toxic polarization. Communities of faith have always been a bedrock of American democracy. Following one’s conscience in defiance of established state churches motivated the pilgrims and many of the other early immigrants to North America. Faith was at the center of almost all the great American social movements; from the Abolitionist movement against slavery in the 1800s to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. As the great writer of Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville put it: “in America the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom…[are] intimately united.”

So what does this role look like for faith communities in America today? The specifics will look different depending on faith communities’ positioning in the rich tapestry of American religious life. But the history of religious engagement in struggles for democracy in America and around the world suggests a few common effective strategies.

How can Faith Communities Support Democracy?

  • Communities of faith often come with unique positions of moral influence that make them powerful persuaders for democracy. Such acts of persuasion are most effective when they are clearly linked to faith community’s spiritual mandates, and when they directly address the spiritual and moral claims of those undermining democracy. For instance, in Malawi in the 1990s a pastoral letter by Catholic bishops condemning restrictions on political freedoms was pivotal in leading to the restoration of democracy. The letter linked human rights and freedom to the Catholic Church’s spiritual mission and undermined the moral authority that dictatorial president Hastings Banda claimed as a church elder. Religious women like Quaker Minister Lucretia Mott leveraged their faith and gender as powerful advocates for the abolition of slavery in the 1800s. More recently, after the January 6th attack on the Capitol, numerous faith leaders, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, issued statements calling on their members to “honor democratic institutions and processes.”
  • Persuasion is important but may have a limited impact unless it’s backed up by courageous acts of noncooperation, where religious leaders, institutions, or communities refuse to continue normal patterns of behavior in response to egregious violations of democratic principles or human rights. There is a long and storied tradition of non-cooperation and civil disobedience across many faith traditions, from the earliest history of Christianity to modern debates on civil disobedience in Islam. For example, during the People Power movement in the Philippines, courageous Catholic nuns who knelt before tanks while praying the rosary were crucial in preventing a violent crackdown and ensuring the movement’s success.
  • Faith communities can engage in bridgebuilding and mediation, drawing on their positions of respect in the communities where they live and work to connect parties across difference. Democratic breakdown is fueled by hyper-partisan polarization. Faith communities provide one of the strongest and most resilient forums for overcoming that polarization. Effective engagement typically looks more like shared effort towards common goals, rather than dialogue for dialogue’s sake, and requires outreach beyond sympathetic audiences. In Liberia, Muslim and Christian women ended their country’s civil war by forming the “Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace” that brought women together across long-standing divides and pressured their government and rebel groups to do the same.
  • Faith communities are often one of the best-placed organizations for providing material support for pro-democracy mobilization. Community organizing networks rely on the physical infrastructure, interpersonal networks, and practical resources that churches, temples, mosques, and other religious institutions provide. This approach was most famously and effectively used in the American civil rights movement, when Black churches formed the backbone for almost every major civil rights campaign. Similarly, evangelical churches in East Germany in the 1980s provided one of the few free spaces for organizing against the country’s Communist dictatorship, playing a pivotal role in the nonviolent resistance campaign that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Faith communities often provide great symbolic power to unify across difference, build momentum to push for change, and remain resilient in the face of challenges. From the freedom songs of the civil rights movement to the Muslims and Christians joined in prayer during the Arab Spring in Egypt to the courageous activists of the Polish Solidarity movement against Communism celebrating Mass on the frontlines of their campaign for freedom, religious faith is one of the most powerful animating forces in the struggle for justice and democracy.

The Horizons Project’s Work

The Horizons Project recognizes the importance of the faith community as a force for democracy and is engaging with diverse faith leaders and coalitions to establish a common framework to understand and combat the authoritarian threat; and strategically link faith-based organizations with the pro-democracy civil society ecosystem. We are reaching out to or partnering with organizations such as the One America Movementthe Kairos Centerthe Poor People’s Campaign, the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, the Ignatian Solidarity NetworkNETWORKSojournersFaith in Public LifeFriends Committee on National LegislationMormon Women for Ethical GovernancePax Christi, and the National Council of Churches.

  • Research and Analysis: As part of its larger pillars of support project, Horizons is examining how faith communities have protected democracy both in the US and other countries during democratic backsliding, and the most effective ways for faith communities to do so. We will be working with faith communities 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 one or more salons on Faith 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 faith communities 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 faith leaders, 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.

THE PILLARS PROJECT: The Business Community

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

Why should business leaders care about authoritarianism?

There is a long-standing recognition among many American business leaders that fostering a democratic political environment is in the interest of American businesses. The research is clear: Democracy is good for business. Populism, polarization, and rising authoritarianism undermine a free market economy, punitively and inefficiently politicize tax and regulatory policyand create significant political risk. While supporting political leaders who undermine democracy may yield short-term benefits, it does not provide the foundation for stable business growth. Multi-national companies have well-developed responsible business principles and best practices for engaging foreign governments and civic groups in fragile democracies, but the sector is just recently turning needed attention to the alarming rate of democratic decline in the US.

Beyond the general advantages of fostering democracy, individual companies have much to gain from leading in pro-democracy work. In a survey of 3,000 Americans, 76% said they would prefer to work at companies that promote democracy, and 81% said they were more likely to recommend those companies’ products.

Thus far, much of the work to promote democracy by businesses has been limited to areas such as get-out-the-vote programs, civic engagement partnerships or depolarization initiatives, all important efforts, but with limited impact given the problem’s scale. As a resurgent debate about the role of business in society becomes increasingly politicized, especially around issues of ESG and DEI, there is a dedicated authoritarian faction deploying tried and true tactics to divide the country while undermining core democratic institutions. This dynamic has opened criticisms of the “politicization of business” and calls for corporate restraint in politics. There is an urgent need, however, for corporations and business leaders to distinguish between normal politics and attempts to roll back democracy. Partnering with others to take courageous stands in the face of these anti-democratic forces is critical, requiring better alignment and coordination with the diverse, trans-partisan pro-democracy civil society ecosystem in the US.

How can business leaders support the pro-democracy ecosystem?

  • Business leaders can be powerful persuaders for democracy through making public statements condemning anti-democratic practices and upholding the rule of law. Such statements are particularly powerful when made in concert with social movement leaders and other “unlikely allies.” For example, the US Chamber of Commerce joint statement with the AFL-CIO on the day of the 2020 election sent a powerful signal that American society was united in its demand for a free and fair election, and a statement by over 70 Black executives condemning a 2021 Georgia law restricting voting rights helped show corporate America’s support for democratic rights.
  • Statements can send powerful signals but are typically insufficient when not backed up by concrete action. Beyond statements, business leaders can refuse to cooperate with authoritarian practices, cutting off their normal patterns of interaction with political leaders and organizations that undermine democracy to continue. For instance, after the January 6th insurrection, nearly 150 companies ended their campaign contributions to the members of Congress who refused to certify the 2020 election.
  • Businesses can also provide material support for key activities by social movements and civil society organizations working directly to advance democracy. Charitable donations are just one piece in a much larger tactical repertoire, and often not the most effective piece. Businesses also have deep resources of technical expertiseinsider knowledge, and human capital that can be leveraged to support pro-democracy work. Several American companies have provided their employees with paid time off to vote, protest, or dedicate time and resources to pro-democracy actions.
  • Business leaders can play a key role in bridgebuilding and negotiation. Business leaders can leverage their relationships to political elites to advocate for democracy in private, and, when appropriate, act as trusted intermediaries between movements and government leaders. For instance, during the Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter sit-ins in the civil rights movement executives from the Burlington Fabrics company organized a committee of civic leaders that, through their negotiations with lunch counter business owners, helped give greater legitimacy to the Black student-led sit-ins and facilitated Greensboro’s desegregation.

The Horizons Project’s Work

The Horizons Project recognizes the importance of the business community as a force for democracy and is engaging with many diverse business leaders and coalitions to help establish a common framework to understand and combat the authoritarian threat; and link the corporate sector more strategically with the pro-democracy civil society ecosystem. We are reaching out to or partnering with organizations such as the Civic AllianceLeadership Now, the Erb Institute at the University of Michiganthe Interfaith Center on Corporate ResponsibilityBusiness for Americathe American Sustainable Business Network’s Business for Democracy working groupthe Business Roundtable, and the Ethical Capitalism Group.

  • Research and Analysis: As part of its larger pillars of support project, Horizons is examining how businesses have helped protect democracy both in the US and in other countries during democratic backsliding, and the most effective ways for businesses to leverage their unique position to do so. We will be working with business leaders 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 Business and Democracy in 2023.
  • Relationship-Building: Research shows that business efforts to promote social good are most effective when done in concert with social movements, and that protecting and restoring American democracy will require united effort across a wide range of sectors. Horizons is building connective tissue between business leaders 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 business leaders, 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.

Exploring Narrative Practices for Broad-based Movements in Contexts of Democratic Decline

*This piece was originally published on March 1, 2023 on OpenGlobalRights by Chief Network Weaver Julia Roig and James Savage.

Versión en Español

The rise in authoritarianism and democratic decline around the world is well-documented, and yet the analysis of why this is happening and prioritizing what to do about it is not as clear cut. The ways that social movements incorporate diversity and create space for reflection together—including narrative practices—are therefore more important than ever, so that movement actors model the democratic values they are advocating and can find common cause with potential allies who may have different approaches or priorities.

Anti-democratic forces rely on fueling deeply divided societies with a diet of dangerous othering of whatever racial, ethnic, gendered, or religious “out-group” should be blamed for society’s ills. Operating within these divisive contexts, pro-democracy, rights-based actors often struggle with fragmentation among and between movements and potential allies.

The Narrative Engagement Across Difference Project (NEAD) was designed by a consortium of organizers, academics, and philanthropists to take a deep look at narrative practices from a multidisciplinary lens and to reflect on how we can better unlock more effective collective action within diverse, broad-based movements.

The NEAD team starts from a broad understanding of “narrative” as a process of making meaning, acknowledging that humans understand themselves and the world around them through stories (characters, plot lines, and values). There is a burgeoning interest in narrative studies and practice within the field of social change and movement-building. Many narrative practitioners and funders are using creative means to build narrative infrastructure and power, especially for those whose voices have been traditionally marginalized or “othered,” and yet we continue to experience fragmentation and toxic othering within many of our movement ecologies where civic space is closing.

To ground NEAD’s future exploration in existing research, the team recently released the findings of a broad literature review. The report categorizes three areas of narrative practice that support collaboration between groups coming together with the aim of reducing systems of authoritarianism and strengthening democratic values:

1. Legitimacy—how narratives regulate and determine the nature of interactions between people (i.e., how we position ourselves and others as legitimate, worthy, good, or bad);

2. Power—the dynamics of relations and decision-making in the narrative landscape (i.e., how and where control is exerted or privilege experienced to deem what is acceptable, normal, or transgressive); and

3. Complexity—the capacity of any narrative to evolve and change (i.e., when and how the elaboration of nuanced, multifaceted descriptions of people, events, and values produce multiple, complex, and evolving stories and meaning-making).

The research offers several provocations—or cautionary tales—with implications for common narrative practices within social movements that are worth highlighting and wrestling with.

First, should we seek a “shared narrative”?In coalitional work, we often assume that if we share a narrative of the social change we seek, then we will have shared attitudes and we can share work and collective action (e.g., “Immigrants are welcome here”). But endeavoring to negotiate a shared narrative, while common practice for strategic communications goals to reach a broader audience with consistent framing and messaging choices, could impede our ability to bring different perspectives into pro-democracy movements.

Seeking a shared narrative as a starting point for convening allies that then drives collective action also runs the risk of developing overly simplified narratives among those who already think alike and who can become “stuck in their story” without the benefit of being pushed to see beyond their own blind spots. Instead, complexifying narratives can be a movement-building tool, allowing both people and stories of lived experience to have layers, nuance, with multiple identities and contexts that can be woven together.

Second, delegitimizing “others” often backfires and gives fuel to harmful narratives. When people feel heard, they open themselves to reflection, consider alternatives to their own perspectives, and better engage in ways that build trust and deepen relationships. Narratives that delegitimize and promote othering intentionally or not shut down this aperture: for example, “Beware of letting the Trump-a-saurus Rex animals out of the zoo, or they will wreak havoc on our democracy.” Determining when our narrative strategies are undermining our overall movement goals of a pluralistic society in the long term is a crucial reflective practice.

When movements feed into an “us-versus-them” zeitgeist, we give fuel to the authoritarian playbook that thrives on the tactics of divide and rule. This lesson applies to legitimizing across all types of difference (ideological, generational, racial, religious; both within our groups and between groups) not as a call for everyone to just “get along” but to commit to a reflective practice of engaging diverse actors and their lived experience to broaden movement participation, while unmasking the systems of discrimination and oppression that sow division and harm.

Third, there are consequences of activating negative emotions as motivators. In the short term, negative emotions like anger and outrage are proven motivators for movement participation, especially within repressive environments and in the context of online engagement. The trade-offs demonstrated by the NEAD report indicate that using anger to mobilize can often result in a simplified narrative landscape of bad actors and/or righteous anger that sets up a contestation of dominant narratives lacking in complexity. Simple narratives that emphasize the need for security are a common tactic used by authoritarian regimes. While there are situations when moral clarity in a simplified message is needed—for instance, “Police brutality and murder of civilians is wrong and must stop”—the call for movement participation that recognizes justified anger and grieving, while also complexifying the nature of systemic injustices can help to diversify movement participation. In the long term, the report findings posit that simple narratives that rely on activating negative emotions can forestall needed conversations and broader support for critical reflections among potential allies.

This is just a taste of the rich findings within the literature review. The initial multi-disciplinary scoping effort was intended to offer practitioners and funders fodder for reflection on the narrative practices within movements to build stronger collective power to tackle authoritarianism and nurture democratic and civic space. The NEAD team is committed to joining efforts with learning partners within the pro-democracy, pro-rights ecosystem to continue reflecting on and experimenting with these narrative practices in different contexts.

Julia Roig is the Chief Network Weaver at The Horizons Project, which bridges peacebuilding, democracy, and social justice communities in the US and globally. Twitter @jroig_horizons

James Savage is the Program Director for the Enabling Environment for Human Rights Defenders Program at the Fund for Global Human Rights. His work focuses on civic space issues, including narrative-building. Twitter: @jamesmsavage

Narrative Engagement Across Difference (NEAD) Project

The Narrative Engagement Across Difference (NEAD) Project is a unique consortium of actors – organizers, philanthropists, and academics – who have come together to gather insights into collaboration across difference in the deeply divided contexts of rising authoritarianism, declining democracies and restricted civic space. NEAD was designed specifically to take a deep look at narrative practices from a multi-disciplinary lens to reflect on how we can better understand and deploy narratives that will help unlock more effective collective action within diverse, broad-based movements.

Throughout 2021, the NEAD consortium held a number of consultations with narrative strategists, network leaders and activists from around the world to explore their challenges of working with narratives in divisive contexts of declining democracies; and, we also conducted a very broad multi-disciplinary literature review to unearth and explore findings from different vantage points to further illuminate narrative practices. You can read the findings of that literature review here.

The next phase of the NEAD Project in 2023-2024 is to engage in an action-learning process with movements and network partners to explore the research in practice; to conduct a series of narrative experiments; and, to convene spaces for on-going learning and reflection. We believe we must all embody the deep narratives we want to see in the world. This means that the NEAD team is committed to working with curiosity, emergence and to creating spaces where diverse lived experiences are valued (across all lines of difference.) We not only are accepting of complexity and nuance; we seek to “thicken” the stories of those considered “other” and support broadening the aperture of allyship for – and participation in – democracy and human rights movements around the world.

Our goal is to identify and test out key narrative practices that are grounded in relational organizing and reparative communications strategies in highly polarized contexts, (those that promote democratic values and human rights) and to create more fertile ground in which the seeds of new narratives articulating our shared future can germinate and grow. The NEAD Project is establishing learning partnerships to experiment with these narrative practices, at a grounded level with coalitions and movement leaders who are committed to this kind of self-exploration and broader ecosystem approach.

This is long-term work that must be complementary with those addressing the urgency of current threats and the need to deploy narrative change strategies in the short-term. It is not an either/or proposition. Within an ecosystem, the long-term and short-term can be mutually reinforcing, and the deep narrative exploration can be complementary with more specific advocacy campaigns (and vice versa).

SOME FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES:

Self-reflection: A part of our inquiry is to consider how each of our own worldviews and narrative strategies to date have been helping or hindering our pro-democracy, pro-rights goals. For example, the tension, between the “progressive” and “conservative” group identities, homogenizes a spectrum of actors, which include those who have been disinclined to support or are sometimes hostile to social justice causes yet may be engaged on some levels. In the growing recognition that we need to come together across movements (feminist, youth, environmental, disabilities, race, etc.), how can we reach beyond our natural allies to find common cause – perhaps with “strange bedfellows” – that communicates our commitment to and vision for true pluralism and diversity of thought? In the face of such disruption around the world, the future we want to create is going to take all of us to address the existential threats facing humanity and offer alternatives to the ‘security playbook’ increasingly relied on to deal with them. An ecosystem approach to deep narrative engagement that includes inter-movement organizing, together with bridge-building approaches to other constituencies will bring about the societal changes needed to face our most vexing challenges.

Cross-ideological collaboration: If the breadth of a movement is a critical factor in how likely it is to be successful – as some research suggests – efforts to counter authoritarianism trends will require a diverse coalition to think about how to reach key constituencies like religious leaders, businesses, and a variety of other civic actors. This requires organizers to grapple with the thorny question of how such broad coalitions form and forge their common agenda. And coalition-building must be balanced with the need to foreground the voice and agency of historically marginalized communities enduring structural and physical violence. Narrative strategies to engage with these audiences therefore become critical to achieving the ideals of democratic, inclusive, and peaceful societies. Developing strategies to partner, not always to convince, is a tactic that incorporates concepts of building power with others, not power overas well as engaging in strategic coalition-building to right power imbalances. Systems of power and injustices must change, and yet when we approach systemic change through an abundance agenda rather than on a zero-sum power struggle, our deep narrative engagement strategies can also shift to be more inclusive.

Reparative approach to social change: During this moment in history, when the entire world has faced the collective trauma of a global pandemic, the barriers to forming these broader coalitions in practice are more fraught than ever. The pandemic has been used by many in political power to further divide populations, fomenting and feeding on our fears and anxieties to clamp down on political opposition through expanded security laws and technologies, and to further demonize the exercise of people power, those organizing to address injustices and forge a different future. A trauma-informed approach to deep narrative engagement therefore is also needed, including tools and strategies that are restorative of societal relationships and reflect the future state we want to create together (with all our fellow citizens).

PROJECT PARTNERS: The NEAD Project is being implemented in partnership with the Fund for Global Human Rights as part of the philanthropic initiative Civic Futures.

THE VISTA: February 2023

The Horizons Project is celebrating Black History and Black Excellence this month and every month. This is especially important as this history is currently being contested and censored in some US states. To learn more, check out Gen Z for Change’s TikTok on the AP African Studies debates in Florida. One of their Black History Month videos also highlights the need to recognize both historic figures, but also current (youth!) leaders deserving of celebration. You can also watch an informative series of Black History Month videos from TheNorthSide_Historian’s TikTok channel.

As February comes to a close, you won’t want to miss this conversation about the on-going impact of the 1619 Project and its documentary series on Hulu. We also strongly recommend this inspiring Momentum podcast episode with the leadership team at Race Forward: The Beat of The Racial Justice Movement. This is a beautiful Twitter thread on the long life of Rosa Parks that goes beyond the iconic moment when she sat in the front of the bus. Why is it so important to keep talking about the reality of slavery and racial injustice within the context of the movement for truth, racial healing, and transformation? American Promise shared a powerful graphic to put the temporal aspect of our history in context. And while many organizations are still struggling with the best way to implement their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) commitments, Pedro de Silva II wrote a thought-provoking piece, Diversity and the Rightness of Being Wrong, on the challenges of fitting relational work into transactional environments.

We hope you enjoy some of the other materials we have been reading, watching, and listening to this month. This rich diversity of approaches and voices truly helps in Forging a People Powered Democracy, which happens to be the theme of an upcoming conference hosted by the 22nd Century Initiative this July in Minneapolis. Horizons looks forward to seeing you there! Find out more about pre-registration here.

READING

A Ban Isn’t a Plan

by Anand Giridharadas, The.Ink

If you haven’t read The Persuaders, we highly recommend it! In this short piece, Anand extols the need to Focus on building a movement that can beat American fascism: “We need to build a movement like we never have before: attractive, fun, substantive, visionary, tomorrow-oriented, rooted in people’s lives, open-armed, fiery, merciful… A movement that listens. And has the fortitude to listen to people who think despicable things and keep listening not out of masochism but because of an abiding, strategic impulse to win.”

Blurring the Boundaries

by Brett Davidson, International Resource for Impact and Storytelling

Brett describes the way narrative-change work can be negatively affected by the way organizing is often siloed along lines of issues and identities. He recommends developing new conceptual containers for our work based on the visions we want for the world, rather than the injustices we are trying to eradicate. The article lays out the importance of partnering with creatives to craft and advance new interconnected narratives and describes four potential new “containers” for this cross-siloed work: inspiring metaphors of rope or braid, breath, family, and home.

If Americans Hate Government, Why Would They Value Democracy?

by Stephen Hill, Democracy SOS

If Americans want democracy to flourish, and we want Americans to mobilize to implement badly needed reforms, then Hill highlights the need to reawaken our collective imaginations to the positive role that government has played, and could play, in our lives. He notes that we exist simultaneously as individuals and as participants in an ongoing social experiment in self-governance and explores the need to wage better public relations on government’s positive role to counteract an anti-government bias as a precursor to pro-democracy organizing.

WATCHING

Conversation with Julia Roig

Beyond Intractability

Heidi and Guy Burgess lead the Beyond Intractability website, which includes an important compilation of conversations and musings on the intersection between conflict transformation and social justice. On February 17, Heidi and Guy interviewed Horizons’ Chief Network Weaver, Julia Roig, on her work as a systems-level organizer and how Horizons is focusing their weaving efforts on the rise of authoritarianism in the US. You can read more about some of the tensions and issues we discussed in their newsletter here, and also some of Julia’s previous comments on their “massively parallel approaches” to social change.

Dr. Gabor Maté on “The Myth of Normal”

Democracy Now! Productions

In this extended interview, Canadian physician and author Dr. Gabor Maté discusses his new book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture. He describes the ways healing requires a reconnection between the mind and the body and the importance of cultivating a sense of community, meaning, belonging, and purpose.

Why is Everyone So Angry?

Liv Boeree, YouTube Channel

Liv Boeree’s YouTube channel explores the fringes of science, game theory, and philosophy. In this short film, she describes the dynamics of toxic polarization; how online outrage is spilling over into real world interactions; the economic forces of media industry; and how to game the attention economy to turn it into something that works better for society.

LISTENING TO

The Murder of Tyre Nichols, the Authoritarian Takeover of Florida Education, and the Case for Teaching CRT

Is This Democracy Podcast

Lilliana Mason, Thomas Zimmer, and Perry Bacon Jr. share their thoughts on the murder of Tyre Nichols and why the lack of accountability for police departments is a democratic crisis. They also discuss why the rejection of the AP African American Studies course is emblematic of an escalating assault on public education and how the recurring “history wars” are really conflicts over who gets to define American national identity. They emphasize how this is not just a Florida story, as the authoritarian faction within the Republican party is trying to mandate a white nationalist understanding of the past and the present, and censor any critical dissent, wherever they are in charge.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Authoritarianism Around the Globe

Burn the Boats with Ken Harbaugh Podcast

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat describes the similarities between current authoritarian movements and those of the past. Her most recent book, Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present, examines how authoritarians use propaganda, virility, corruption, and violence to stay in power, and how they can be opposed. If you’d like to hear more from Ruth, you can subscribe to her weekly newsletter Lucid for free.

Orange Alternative

99% Invisible Podcast

This episode discusses creative nonviolent civil resistance tactics utilized in Poland before the end of the Cold War, tied into what Russians are doing to voice their opposition to the invasion of Ukraine. Today, a protest movement happening in Russia, which some people have compared to the Polish Orange Alternative is called The Little Picketers. “The little picketers are small, clay figurines, about the size of the palm of your hand that are placed throughout Russian cities. Some of them hold peace signs, or Ukrainian flags, or anti-war messages. It’s easy for anyone to get some clay and make a Little Picketer, and then discreetly drop it off in a public space without anyone else noticing. They usually get thrown away by Russian authorities — but before that happens, a photo is taken and submitted to an Instagram account, where they persist.”

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Think Yourself Better: 10 Rules of Philosophy to Live By

by Julian Baggini, The Guardian

This article lays out advice from philosophers about how to think – and live – well. One of our favorites is number eight from Ludwig Wittgenstein: to seek clarity not certainty. “One of the few certainties we have is that certainty of any interesting kind is rarely possible. If you seek greater clarity, on the other hand, new vistas open up… Another reason to be suspicious of certainty is that it is seductive. Certainty [can be] the friend of dogmatism, arrogance, and fundamentalism.”