US Bishops and the January 6th Capitol Attack on Democracy: A Pillars of Support Caselet

*This article was written by Research Assistant Adam Fefer.

This caselet is about US Catholic bishops’ responses to the January 6th Capitol attack. Why did some bishops denounce the attack as anti-democratic while others merely called for peace or stayed quiet? On the one hand, Catholic teaching on the sanctity and protection of life places bishops on the traditionalist side of issues like abortion and physician-assisted suicide. On the other hand, Catholic social and economic teaching places bishops on the progressive side of issues like universal healthcare, the living wage, debt reduction for developing nations, and immigration (Fichter et al. 2019). Bishops focused on so-called “life issues” (especially abortion) seem to have been less likely to view the attack as anti-democratic. By contrast, bishops who take a broader “seamless garment” approach to Catholic social and economic teaching seem to have been more likely to take a strong stand against the attack.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) occupies a unique role in American religion: no other denomination has an authoritative, ecclesiastical body like it. The temporal focus of this caselet is mostly January 2021, the month where many bishops issued condemnations of the attacks and of Donald Trump’s incendiary behavior. The geographical focus is largely on archdioceses of the most populous US cities. The conclusion offers other examples of Catholic political activity that are relevant to pro-democracy organizing.

I. Catholics’ Right Turn and Persistent Divisions

The January 6th attack exemplified the US’ increasing democratic backsliding, especially since 2016 (Williamson 2023). US backsliding is largely a Republican Party-led phenomenon. This is true nationally, where leaders like Donald Trump have undermined the integrity of elections and checks on executive power. It is also true sub-nationally, where Republican-led state legislatures have furthered voter suppression and racial gerrymandering (Grumbach 2022). 

The US Catholic clergy and laity are divided on partisan lines (Audi & Rocca 2015). Roughly 48% of Catholic voters self-describe as Republican while 47% self-describe as Democrats (Smith 2020). These divisions are relatively new, tracing to the late 20th century. In the early 20th century, by contrast, Catholics supported the Democratic Party. For example, between 70-80% of Catholics voted for FDR in 1936 (Rozell 2022, Catholic University of America 2023). As a predominantly immigrant, working class bloc, Catholics were key beneficiaries of FDR’s New Deal (McAndrews 2021). Official Catholic doctrine is also progressive on many issues: support for a strong welfare state and immigration as well as opposition to the death penalty and nuclear deterrence (Feldman 2006). During the early 20th century, the Catholic clergy was relatively apolitical; parish-specific issues like education and spiritual guidance dominated the Catholic agenda (Sammon 2008).

By the mid-twentieth century, Catholics had more fully integrated into American society and the middle class (Massa 2021). These trends were exemplified by JFK’s 1960 presidential campaign and the decline of overt anti-Catholicism. During this time, Catholic clergy and their upwardly mobile laity became more politically engaged (McAndrews 2021). For example, liberal Catholics spoke out against the Vietnam War and in favor of civil rights. Meanwhile, an increasingly vocal conservative clergy focused on issues of perceived moral decline, like abortion and contraception. 

The 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision was a landmark in US Catholic history (Sammon 2008). Catholic clergy and laity mobilized vigorously against the decision. In doing so, Catholics found common ground with Evangelical Christians in their mutual hostility toward abortion, school desegregation, LGBTQ+ rights, and feminism. Since then, conservative Catholic activists have worked to make abortion a “non-negotiable” part of Catholic political identification. This is especially the case among white, church-going Catholics (Feldman 2006). These changes upended previous patterns of Catholic support. For example, Reagan obtained between 54-61% of the Catholic vote in his 1984 reelection campaign (Prendergast 1999). Abortion has become a central part of Catholic politics. 

Despite being split on partisan lines, Catholic majorities have consistently supported winning presidential candidates. This includes both Reagan campaigns, both Bill Clinton campaigns, and both Obama campaigns. However, these patterns break down when examining ethnicity, religiosity, and income (Gray & Bendyna 2008). For example, despite Donald Trump winning the Catholic vote, Hispanic Catholics supported Hilary Clinton by a margin of 67-26 (Martinez & Smith 2016). The Trump presidency energized many liberal Catholics, who detested his “Muslim travel ban” and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric (Barb 2022). However, progressive Catholic interests are relatively marginalized in institutions like USCCB.

II. The January 6th Campaign and Catholic Bishops’ Tactics

The 2020 election campaign witnessed “unprecedented levels” of polarization among Catholic bishops and the US population writ large (Gayte 2022, 113). This culminated in the January 6th attack, which exemplified many Republican elites’ disdain for a key tenet of democracy, namely that parties accept election results (Williamson 2023).

The bishops’ pro-democracy responses to January 6th consisted of multiple tactics. These included signed public statements, declarations by organizations and institutions, letters of opposition or support, and interviews with journalists. 

It should first be noted that Catholic leaders and institutions outside of USCCB also spoke out against the January 6th attack. For example, Father James Martin wrote an op-ed denouncing the attack, while Catholic laity held commemorative vigils for January 6th a year later (Martin 2021, Jenkins 2022). The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (2021) released a newsletter denouncing the attacks. And the Catholic lobby NETWORK also issued a response (2021) to the “violent effort by extremists to overthrow the United States government.” Finally, Catholic media including America Magazine (2021) and National Catholic Reporter (2021) also denounced the attacks.

We can begin our analysis of bishops with Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, also USCCB’s president. Gomez expressed that “peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of this great nation. In this troubling moment, we must recommit ourselves to the values and principles of our democracy” (USCCB 2021a). Gomez’s response was noteworthy given his statements both before and after January 6, 2021. For example, on January 20, Gomez authored a letter stating, “that our new President [Biden] has pledged to pursue certain policies [related to abortion] that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity” (USCCB 2021b). Gomez’s letter furthered divisions among US bishops. For example, Chicago’s Cardinal Blase J. Cupich authored his own letter in response, which called Gomez’s statement “ill-considered” and issued without other bishops’ prior consultation (White 2021). This exchange highlights the centrality of abortion politics in USCCB.

In Chicago, Cardinal Cupich lamented “the deliberate erosion of the norms of our system of government [and] violence in the service of a falsehood,” prayed for “the peaceful and orderly transition of power” and implored elected officials to “recognize threats to democracy, no matter their source” (Archdiocese of Chicago 2021). Philadelphia’s Archbishop Nelson J. Perez affirmed that “Regardless of political affiliation, we are united by democracy,” expressing his gratitude to those who “worked through a dark day in our history to ensure the peaceful transition of power” (Archdiocese of Philadelphia 2021). And in one of the most forceful statements, San Diego’s Bishop (now Cardinal) Robert McElroy said “We must be clear in identifying this moment as the logical trajectory of the last four years of President Trump’s leadership of our country…we have stood by without giving greater witness to the terrible danger that leadership rooted in division brings to a democratic society” (White 2021).

Other archbishops’ responses are noteworthy for their omissions. For example, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan condemned “the man [Trump] who should be leading us…[for] stoking these flames” (Lavenburg 2021). Although Dolan omitted mention of the attack on democracy, his direct criticism of Trump was surprising in light of his behavior during the 2020 campaign. Indeed, Dolan had called Trump a great friend, “salute[d] Trump’s leadership” on Fox News, and gave a prayer at the 2020 Republican National convention (White 2020, Warren Davis 2020).

In addition to Dolan, San Antonio’s Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, Dallas’ Bishop Edward J. Burns, and the Diocese of Austin all tweeted for “peace” without explicitly mentioning the attack on democracy (Gledhill 2021, Guidos 2021). Meanwhile, Houston’s Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Phoenix’s Bishop Thomas Olmsted were noteworthy for their silence, unsurprising in light of their conservative views on social issues. These omissions cohere with Reese’s (2020) finding that across 160 USCCB press releases between 2019-20, bishops were unlikely to criticize Trump by name and instead make references to his “administration.”

What patterns can we glean from these varied responses? Consider first the bishops who diagnosed January 6th as an attack on democracy. One thing that stands out is their broad political agendas that encompass more than just abortion. For example, both Bishop McElroy and Cardinal Cupich have been strong advocates for immigration, anti-poverty, and the environment, lamenting the church’s narrow focus on abortion (O’Loughlin 2015). Archbishops Perez and Gomez also have strong records on immigration and poverty, although they seem content with the USCCB’s prioritization of abortion (Gayte 2022). Looking at the neutral or silent responses, one finds bishops who are more singularly focused on abortion, including Cardinal DiNardo (Reese 2019).

III. Beyond USCCB and January 6th

Looking beyond USCCB and January 6, there are several domains of Catholic political activity that may be relevant to pro-democracy organizing. To begin, bishops and parishioners have criticized prominent Catholic politicians with anti-democratic sympathies. Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbot in Texas have faced Catholic backlash, albeit more for their stances on immigration and capital punishment (Scanlon 2023, Guidos 2022, Nowlin 2020). It is crucial that Catholic organizers recognize the threats DeSantis and Abbot pose to democratic practices such as voting rights and lawful protests (ACLU 2023, 2024). 

A second domain is higher education, where Catholic leaders at universities like Notre Dame, Fordham, and Villanova have denounced Donald Trump’s immigration ban and racist rhetoric (Jenkins 2020). As with Catholic governors, university leaders could go further by identifying Trump’s threat to democracy. Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics (2021) was exemplary in this respect, providing a host of analyses that linked the January 6th attack to narrow self-interest, charismatic demagoguery, and disinformation. 

Finally, Catholic podcasts have become important forums for articulating pro-democracy agendas and shaping parishioners’ beliefs via digital video and audio art. For example, The Commonweal Podcast and Just Politics have broadcast episodes entitled “Should Catholics Promote Democracy?” and “Actual Strategies for Saving Democracy,” respectively. NETWORK, a Catholic lobby for social justice, has sponsored a three-part “White Supremacy and American Christianity” series. Organizing via podcasts and universities may help reach youth voters, a key demographic, yet one that is more religiously disengaged. 

IV. The Future of Pro-Democracy Catholic Politics

The USCCB’s right-wing orientation that prioritizes abortion may generate pessimism that Catholics can be a pillar of democracy. However, there are several sources of optimism. First, Catholics are more liberal than Evangelicals –and many mainline Protestants– on issues like immigration, affirmative action, and social welfare (Sammon 2008). Relatedly, the Catholic church is among the US’ most racially integrated and diverse Christian denominations (Lipka 2015). This cluster of issues may serve to push Catholics toward politicians who emphasize inclusive, multiracial democracy.

A second reason for optimism is that Catholics are a key swing constituency. Because official church doctrine pushes them in opposite political directions, strategic political parties cannot expect unwavering Catholic support. In addition, Catholic voters are concentrated in midwestern swing states. That Donald Trump courted fringe Catholic elites –like the conspiracist Carlo Maria Viganò– during his 2020 campaign may serve to further push Catholics away from leaders who propagate conspiracies about elections (Anti-Defamation League 2023).

Finally, and concerning bishops specifically, Pope Francis appointed many bishops who wish to broaden USCCB’s agenda and prioritize social and economic issues (Allen 2016). Although these bishops currently constitute less than a quarter of the USCCB, they have been outspoken in attempting to change the conference’s priorities. Especially in the post-Roe environment, many USCCB bishops have taken a conservative hard line on issues like trans rights and the religious liberty to discriminate. So long as such issues continue to direct the conference’s agenda, many bishops and parishioners may continue to support anti-democratic politicians.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Catholicism is a very hierarchical denomination. How might bishops best use these hierarchies to engage priests and deacons in pro-democracy activity?
  2. In addition to abortion, some Catholic parishioners prioritize “culture war” issues (e.g., related gender and racial identities) over issues relating to US democracy. How might these priorities be reversed? 
  3. How might Catholic organizations educate more Catholics to consider issues beyond abortion when deciding who to vote for at the local, state, and national level?

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References

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Gray, M. M. & Bendyna, M. E. (2008). “Between Church, Party, & Conscience: Protecting Life and Promoting Social Justice among U.S. Catholics.” In K. E. Heyer and M. J. Rozell (Eds.) Catholics and Politics: The Dynamic Tension Between Faith and Power, pp. 75-92. Georgetown University Press

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Guidos, R. (2023). “Bishops: Using migrants as political pawns ‘offends God’.” America: the Jesuit Review. https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2022/09/19/bishops-migrants-desantis-busing-migrants-243807

Jenkins, J. (2020). “Theologians, activists, former bishops staff urge Catholic voters to oppose Trump.” National Catholic Review. https://www.ncronline.org/news/theologians-activists-former-bishops-staff-urge-catholic-voters-oppose-trump

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Nowlin, S. (2020). “All 16 of Texas’ Catholic Bishops Blast Gov. Greg Abbott, Who’s Catholic, for Decision Not to Accept Refugees.” San Antonio Current. URL: https://www.sacurrent.com/news/all-16-of-texas-catholic-bishops-blast-gov-greg-abbott-whos-catholic-for-decision-not-to-accept-refugees-22781683

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Prendergast, William B. (1999). The Catholic Vote in American Politics. Georgetown University Press.

Reese, T. (2019). “Abortion preeminent issue, global warming not urgent, say bishops.” National Catholic Reporter. URL: https://www.ncronline.org/news/signs-times/abortion-preeminent-issue-global-warming-not-urgent-say-bishops

Reese, T. (2020). “Analysis: Catholic bishops reprimand Trump as often as they praise him.” America Magazine. URL: https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2020/08/04/catholic-bishops-trump-criticism-praise-usccb

Reese, T. (2022). “Catholic bishops punt again on ‘Faithful Citizenship,’ reflecting divisions on politics.” National Catholic Register. URL: https://www.ncronline.org/opinion/guest-voices/catholic-bishops-punt-again-faithful-citizenship-reflecting-divisions-politics

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Scanlon, K. (2023). “Florida’s Catholic bishops criticize DeSantis for lowering death penalty threshold.” National Catholic Reporter. https://www.ncronline.org/news/floridas-catholic-bishops-criticize-desantis-lowering-death-penalty-threshold

Schlumpf, H. (2019). “Bishops’ meeting reveals division over how to influence political debate.” National Catholic Register. URL: https://www.ncronline.org/news/bishops-meeting-reveals-division-over-how-influence-political-debate

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Race and Democracy

Within the broad ecosystem of social change in the US, we often find a lack of alignment between racial justice and pro-democracy agendas. At best, there are siloed efforts of potential allies—and at worst, considerations of race are left out of democracy reform or civic revitalization work because it is seen as too “divisive” or ideological. At the Horizons Project, we seek to help break down these siloes, and we want to support our partners in placing racial equity and racial healing at the center of our pro-democracy organizing. We believe that addressing both historic and current racial injustice is an essential part of building healthy connective tissue among actors and strategies working to confront the latest manifestation of the authoritarian threat in the US and working towards a shared democratic future.

Stoking racial divides and fear is a tried-and-true element of the Authoritarian Playbook. The antidote to this tactic is to come together within broad-based movements across many lines of difference, including race, class, religion, geography, etc. Horizons is committed to supporting a pro-democracy united front that is working to block, bridge, and build at the same time. We must organize to block the most harmful effects of the authoritarian resurgence that continues to fall predominantly upon BIPOC communities; we must bridge amongst sectors to find common cause across all lines of identity and mobilize our collective action for change; and we must tirelessly work to build a multi-racial, pluralistic, inclusive democracy where all people can thrive.

There are many entry points to working on race and democracy, at times in tension with each other—prioritizing different time horizons, different target audiences, and deploying different theories of change. As systems-level organizers, the Horizons Project commits to highlighting this diversity of perspectives and naming the points of tension in service to our ability to collectively synergize and strategize our efforts. In this spirit, we’ve compiled a list of resources (that is surely not meant to be comprehensive) that we hope helps to shape the contours of organizations and tools to help navigate this essential topic:

RESOURCES

What Does It Mean to Have a Strong Multi-Racial Democracy? Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

“Racism, rather than being the exception to the rule of American democracy, was fundamental to how many of the country’s founders understood themselves and conceptions of citizenship, argues Khalil Gibran Muhammad. Speaking with Archon Fung, Muhammad describes the often-tortuous path the United States has taken towards building a more inclusive, multiracial democracy. ‘So, when you ask the question about how racial conflict or solidarity advance or don’t advance the American project, first we have to recognize that conflict or solidarity are not these moments where we’ve either gone wrong or we’ve come together. But indeed, moments where we’ve responded to the fundamentals of our political nation.’”

Racial Authoritarianism in US Democracy, by Vesla Weaver and Gwen Prowse

“Recently, casual and savage violence of police against peaceful protesters and images of police in military gear sweeping up residents into unmarked vans has led journalists to question whether U.S. democracy is in peril. Many observers described these recent actions as authoritarian. But racial authoritarianism has been central to citizenship and governance of race-class subjugated communities throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. It describes state oppression such that groups of residents live under extremely divergent experiences of government and laws. Yet when police engage in excessive surveillance, incursions on civil liberties, and arbitrary force as a matter of routine patrol, many scholars of American politics are reluctant to consider it a violation of democracy and instead deem them aberrations in an otherwise functioning democracy. This mischaracterization is not limited only to intellectual discourse but also affects the public sphere. By obscuring evidence of racial authoritarianism, reforms will not land where needed.”

11 Terms You Should Know to Better Understand Structural Racism, The Aspen Institute

“Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead, it has been part of the social, economic, and political systems in which we all exist. It is part of America’s past and its present. This glossary describes terms related to structural racism and terms used to promote racial equity analysis. It was created by the Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Community Change, a group that worked with leading innovators to produce strong and reliable frameworks for successful and sustainable community change and development.”

Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? by Stephen Menendian

“To summarize: Equality means that the law and government treats everyone the same, irrespective of their status or identity. Equity means that, in some circumstances, people must be treated differently to provide meaningful equality of opportunity. Neither “equality” nor “equity” guarantee equality of outcomes. Equity is primarily in service of equality of opportunity, not outcomes. But achieving equality of opportunity requires both equality (formally equal treatment) and equity (situationally different treatment), depending on the circumstances.”

Racial Equity Tool Kit, Government Alliance on Race and Equity

“Racial equity tools are designed to integrate explicit consideration of racial equity in decisions, including policies, practices, programs, and budgets. It is both a product and a process. Use of a racial equity tool can help to develop strategies and actions that reduce racial inequities and improve success for all groups.”

Racial Equity Impact Assessment, Race Forward

“A Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) is a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision. REIAs are used to minimize unanticipated adverse consequences in various contexts, including the analysis of proposed policies, institutional practices, programs, plans and budgetary decisions. The REIA can be a vital tool for preventing institutional racism and for identifying new options to remedy long-standing inequities.”

Let’s Get to the Root of Racial Injustice, by Megan Ming Francis

This short video captures Megan Ming Francis challenging the idea that education alone can adequately address the lingering reality of racial injustice. In a beautifully cogent presentation, she argues that to combat continuing racial injustices today, we must expand our vision and responsibility to what civil rights means. By this she means that the battle against racist violence is inherent in protecting civil rights.

The Structural Racism Remedies Project, The Othering & Belonging Institute

This “open-source, searchable repository of policy-based recommendations for addressing structural and systemic racism or advancing racial equity drawn from a vast array of published material…This project finds significant challenges and barriers to a reform agenda aimed at addressing systemic and structural racism due to: 1) budgetary and fiscal limitations on spending and appropriations, 2) ideological and political opposition to the goals of racial equity or particular proposals, 3) legal and constitutional limitations on consideration of race in policy-making, and 4) systems resistance to policy implementation that undermines policy intentions. Any thoughtful and effective agenda must grapple with these challenges.”

Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Implementation Guidebook, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

“This Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Implementation Guidebook will help communities, organizations and individuals plan, implement and evaluate TRHT efforts. It includes specific guidance on implementing the different areas of the TRHT framework and ensuring inclusion of a decolonization agenda in the work. It has been updated based on learnings from the first five years of TRHT implementation.”

A Dream in Our Name, Liberation Ventures

“This report is intended to accelerate ongoing conversations about how all of us stand to benefit from Racial Repair. Through this framework, we apply a new lens on what comprehensive reparations can mean, who it is for, and what role we each can play. We clarify the component parts of “repair” to translate it from being an abstract term to an implementable action. Fundamentally, we’re broadening the vision for reparations to ensure that all people see themselves in the work of repair, and we’re calling forth our collective responsibility to do this necessary work.”

Race, Arts and Democracy, The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Arizona State University

“The Race, Arts and Democracy series underscores the vital connections between race, the arts and the work to sustain, imagine, understand and document democracy. Programs feature acclaimed and emerging artists in and beyond the United States whose work illuminates the complexities of race and the possibilities of democracy. This [program] series explores the power of creativity and how the arts enable us to see and learn more together about justice, access and equity, civil rights, economic inequality and the multifaceted work to achieve social justice in our world today.”

Talking About Race, Living Room Conversations

“The motto of Living Room Conversations is respect, relate, connect. We know that in the pursuit of racial equity, individual conversations are not the final stop in the journey. Conversations can help us better understand individual bias and racism, as well as consider how racism is part of our systems and institutions. Living Room Conversations has created this resource page in response to increased demand and design to have conversations about race.”

On Talking to Kids About Race, Multiracial Democracy and EmbraceRace, Outside Conversations Podcast

The Co-Founder and Co-Director of EmbraceRace, Andrew Grant-Thomas talks about the organization’s founding, “its work in the world, the future of a multiracial democracy, advocacy and how we can talk (and listen!) to our children about race.”

Global Democracy Supporters Must Confront Systemic Racism, by Ashley Quarcoo

In the article written in 2020 during the rise of racial justice movements world-wide, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published this piece directed to the global democracy promotion sector. “If Western democracies wish to maintain some credibility as lead advocates for human rights and democratic governance, they must seek to fully understand and address the role that racism plays in undermining the legitimacy of their institutions.”

More Resources:

From Scarcity to Solidarity Toolkit, Showing Up For Racial Justice

Martin Luther King’s Multiple Lanes to Multiracial Democracy by Maria Stephan

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History by Ned BlackHawk

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nicole Hannah-Jones

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis

Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Our History Has Always Been Contraband: In Defense of Black Studies edited by Colin Kaepernick, Robin D.G. Kelley, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Tyranny of the Minority: Why American Democracy Reached the Breaking Point by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

The Source of Self Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

The Darkened Light of Faith: Race, Democracy, and Freedom in African American Political Thought by Melvin L. Rogers

Where Do We Go From Here?: Chaos of Community by Martin Luther King Jr.

Asian American Histories of the United States by Catherine Ceniza Choy

Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times by Otis Moss III

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

From #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamatta Taylor

Understanding Pillars of Support

Horizons has been focusing on how various Pillars of Support, notably faith-based organizations, businesses, unions & professional associations, and veterans/military groups, have contributed to authoritarian systems and how they have supported pro-democracy movements in the US and globally.

To complement our pillars-focused research and organizing, we have developed this short, 5-min video focused on what pillars of support are, why they matter, and what it means to both engage and pressure key pillars as part of pro-democracy organizing that reaches beyond the base.

We hope that activists, organizers, trainers, educators, bridgers, funders, and other democracy practitioners will find this tool helpful in your daily work. Please feel free to share the video with interested folks.

Thanks, and we look forward to joining forces in this critical year for democracy in the US and around the world!

Calling in Calling Out

Building powerful movements for a just and democratic society requires tearing down the walls separating people and welcoming new people into the movement. It takes recognizing that individuals, shaped by their lived experiences, are in different places along their journeys towards growth and change. Call-out culture, which includes public shaming to hold people accountable and oftentimes claiming one’s own moral high ground, can generate antagonism and challenge our ability to make progress together. But what other strategies do we have to hold people accountable for saying and doing harmful things?

Social justice and women’s rights activist Loretta Ross makes a case for the need to “call-in” instead of call-out. This approach prioritizes relationship-building over shaming. By “calling-in” someone who makes a harmful comment, a person may take them aside to share why the comment was harmful or inappropriate and offer alternative framing instead of calling them out in front of a large group. It creates a compassionate space for the person to reflect, hold themselves accountable and grow, instead of a space in which they may deny or deflect responsibility, retreat and/or not return out of shame or embarrassment.

However, not all situations lend themselves to calling someone in. Urgency, power dynamics, and individual safety are all important factors to consider when choosing how to respond to someone engaging in harmful behavior. In other words, calling out may sometimes be the more appropriate approach, especially if the individual in question has more power or is a repeat offender that has not been open to change. Yet, too often, we resort to calling out as the first and/or only option when this is not always the case, and we do so in ways that can cause additional harm and shame. By taking the time to pause and reflect on our intended outcome and how it will serve our larger goals for positive social change, we can create opportunities for people to reflect, grow and re-engage with accountability and new understanding.

Constructive methods of calling in and calling out both involve holding individuals and institutions accountable for harm while centering human dignity and embracing individuals’ capacity to change. However, calling in usually involves a private conversation with a small group or 1:1, while calling out means engaging in a more public space or forum. Based on the larger goal, an individual may choose either approach, or a mix of both—all while centering these approaches around care and a common humanity. At the Horizons Project, we work with networks of academics, social justice activists, bridge-builders, and democracy advocates to better understand how and when to use calling in and calling out methods in a way that will prevent harm, inspire collective learning, and hold people accountable with love.

*We would like to thank Tabitha Moore, a Vermont-based racial justice trainer and activist, for her thought leadership and contributions to this area of exploration as part of The Horizons Project research team.

RESOURCES

Interested in learning more? Check out these resources on calling in and calling out that are inspiring us right now.

Calling In and Calling Out Guide, Harvard University’s Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging

“In fostering spaces of inclusion and belonging, it is important to recognize, name, and address when individuals or groups with marginalized identities are experiencing harm, such as bias or discrimination. The concepts of “calling out” or “calling in” have become popular ways of thinking about how to bring attention to this type of harm. Knowing the difference between these concepts can help us reflect, then act, in the ways we feel will best promote constructive change. This guide is a continuously evolving document that we plan to improve over time.”

Interrupting Bias: Calling Out vs. Calling In, The Vermont-NEA Racial Justice Task Force and Seed the Way

A quick tips guide for when you might choose to call someone in or out and how to do it.

#ListenFirst Conversations Complete Guide, #Listen First

“A #ListenFirst conversation is any conversation that helps us see each other across differences and discover human connection. It might be between two friends or among many strangers. It might be on a park bench, in a classroom, in the workplace, at home, or online. Regardless of where you are or who you’re with, here are our favorite principles and tips!”

Shame, Safety and Moving Beyond Cancel Culture, The Ezra Klein Show

“When is cancellation merited or useful? When is it insufficient or harmful? And what other tools are available in those cases?”

Loretta J. Ross: “Don’t call people out – call them in”, TED Talk

‘We live in a call-out culture, says activist and scholar Loretta J. Ross. You’re probably familiar with it: the public shaming and blaming, on social media and in real life, of people who may have done wrong and are being held accountable. In this bold, actionable talk, Ross gives us a toolkit for starting productive conversations instead of fights — what she calls a “call-in culture” — and shares strategies that help challenge wrongdoing while still creating space for growth, forgiveness and maybe even an unexpected friend. “Fighting hate should be fun,” Ross says. “It’s being a hater that sucks.”’

How to talk to insurrectionists and conspiracy theorists, Nafees Hamid, CNN

“I’m a cognitive scientist who has been studying the drivers of political violence for the better part of a decade. My work has involved interviews, social network analysis, psychology experiments, and surveys of jihadists, white nationalists, and conspiracists. My colleagues and I also conducted the first-ever brain scan studies on jihadist supporters. Our findings point to one thing that ordinary people can do if they feel that someone they know might be getting radicalized: Stay connected.”

Narrative Competency

As we continue the collective work towards a just, inclusive and peaceful democracy, it is important to be able to understand and talk about the shared values and ideas that underpin it. We often use frames to help us make sense of these ideas and values, and we share stories to illustrate how these ideas and values might show up in everyday life. Narratives offer ways for us to package these stories and “provide a coherent view of the world based on our lived experience, our culture, and our education.” Narrative competency is the ability to collect and understand these narratives and share them in a way that can help make meaning of the world around us.

At the Horizons Project, we know that the narratives we use matter, especially during times of deep division. How we communicate can either invite or block collaboration; build or break down trust; uncover or bury shared values and goals. As agents of social change, we have our own cognitive biases that are based on our own stories and experiences. These biases influence how we and others perceive narratives, regardless of how they were intended. To develop narrative competency, it is important to start from a place of self-reflection, to explore our own biases so that we may be curious of other narratives and how we can engage with them. The purpose of developing narrative competency is not to change narratives we disagree with or prove them wrong. It is to better understand how they came into being and describe the current ecosystem. Rather than simplifying complex stories into “black or white” frames, an approach to narrative competency embraces complexity and nuance to better understand how different people make sense of the world.

Developing the competency to cultivate and share narrative frames of our country’s past, present and future is critical to inspiring and mobilizing people towards a society in which everyone feels a sense of belonging and can thrive. It will require curating insights from a diverse array of organizers, community and civic leaders, and activists representing different ideologies, geographies and backgrounds. At The Horizons Project, we are committed to leveraging existing platforms and sources of cultural influence to galvanize the larger ecosystem of social change around inclusive narratives that will help us form the broadest coalition possible to work towards a pluralistic, just and peaceful democracy.

RESOURCES

Interested in learning more? Check out these resources on Narrative Competency that are inspiring us right now.

Healing US democracy starts with understanding our values, norms, and narratives, The Horizons Project

“What are the common values that underpin US democracy? What is the “big story” we all share about how society should work and how we fit together as citizens? In the US today, with levels of toxic polarization astoundingly high, the narratives we use to make sense of the system and the sacred values we hold around democracy seem to be as divergent as ever. But by understanding these narratives and values, we can begin to rediscover how to respect different world views and commit to America’s future together. Experts shared some of their latest research and practice in a recent session on Democracy Narratives and Sacred Values co-convened by the Horizons Project with the Alliance for Peacebuilding for their Spring Series on Preventing and Reducing Conflict and Instability in the United States: Shaping What Comes Next.”

Engaging with Narratives of Peace, Toda Peace Institute 

“Narrative competency must be a fundamental aspect of our work as peacebuilders in the modern age. The term narrative is ubiquitous today and commonly used interchangeably with story. However, within the peacebuilding field there is currently a lack of understanding of the concept of narrative fundamentally as a cognitive framework that resides at the level of our unconscious minds, which allows human beings to make meaning of the world. While much has been written about how activists can address narrative change, peacebuilders have a special calling to engage with narratives in a way that is self-reflective, curious, seeks complexity and constructs meaning with others.”

Short Video on Restorative Advocacy & Narrative EngagementNarratives and Civic Space Convening by OXFAM and the Ford Foundation 

“Julia Roig, in her segment, focuses on PartnersGlobal Engaging Narratives for Peace research and approach. She explains that social change agents must acknowledge their own cognitive biases and mental models. This affects how social change agents engage effectively with narrative change, and/or can further polarization and isolate potential allies by how issues are framed. She also explores how narrative engagement can contribute to Restorative Advocacy when our goal isn’t to change others’ narrative understanding or identity, but rather when we seek to “complexify” narratives, especially in the public sphere.”

A Call for Investment in Narrative Competency in Divided Times (Part One), Alliance Magazine 

“Narrative is a central and cutting-edge topic in a variety of well-established academic fields…  The study of narrative bridges the artificial divides between rationality and emotion or interests and identity that were once typical in the scientific literature and it offers important insights that need to be more widely embedded within the philanthropic ecosystem. To summarize a complicated topic: ‘narrative‘ is an abstract template for sensemaking, the central intersection of multiple, related stories that makes it possible for us to see the world in a meaningful way. Narrative is the lens through which human beings see the world and understand how it operates, and for whom it is the basis of political and moral decision making.”

How to Invest in Narrative Competency to Combat Toxic Polarization (Part Two)Alliance Magazine 

In Part One of this series, Horizons’ Chief Network Weaver, Julia Roig, argued the importance of investing in Narrative Competency. In Part Two, she and co-author Melanie Greenberg offer recommendations for how. “By using a cultural lens for programming, philanthropy can help overcome the oversimplification of narrative and identity arising out of deep polarization and can help sustain curiosity about the other.”

Narrative Power & Collective Action, Conversations with people working to change narratives for social good, Oxfam Part I and Part II 

Narratives are a form of power that can mobilize and connect, as well as divide and isolate. Social, public or dominant narratives help to legitimize existing power relationships, prop them up or make them seem natural. As an anthology of perspectives this knowledge offering is one way to amplify different and diverse ways of knowing and doing narratives.”

The Role of Narrative in Managing Conflict and Supporting Peace, Institute for Integrated Transitions

“A helpful way to visualize narratives is as trees making up a narrative landscape. The roots contain a mix of facts, stories, and parables about a common collective past. These are the foundation for people’s political/moral views or their identity/history. The trunk is the central framing that grows from all or a bundle of these roots. The branches are the policy preferences, actions, and outcomes attached to the truck, which are resilient, but liable to change.”

How to Use Stories to Bring ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ Together, Annie Neimand & Samantha Wright, Stanford Social Innovation Review

“Advocates often recycle the same type of stories to build a base of support, but this can create story fatigue among supporters and lose the opportunity to engage new ones. Choosing the right kind of story depends on your audience’s exposure to the issue and your opposition’s power. A familiar plot structure can help an audience understand complicated dynamics, but if they are familiar with the topic, an unexpected framing can make it feel new again. Issues with strong organized opposition pair better with stories that humanize or offer new insights.”

The Role of Narrative Change in Collective Action

This short webinar from the 2021 Collective Impact Action Summit is a Master Class on narrative change. Melody Barnes (Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions) interviewing Crystal Echo Hawk (IllumiNativeRashad Robinson (Color of Change), and Nayantara Sen (Real Food Real Stories.)

“The metaphor actually begins with a story, the story as a single star in the night sky. If a story is like a star in the night sky, it is the singular unit of change….a narrative is like a constellation because it is a pattern of stars congregated together to create a mechanism that brings stories together as a whole, so then an individual story has more meaning when it sits within the narrative that you see as a constellation in the sky…There’s more to culture than just narrative but the critical thing to know is that you can’t change culture without changing narrative. We work on individual stars. We change the pattern that they sit within a constellation, and we change the cultural conditions or the galactic conditions…for what actually allows narratives to stick.” – Nayantara Sen

How America Fractured Into Four Parts, George Packer, The Atlantic

An essay exploring four dominant narratives in US that since the 1970s, emerged around four moral identities:

  • “Free America,” which focuses on individual rights and freedom from government intervention and draws on elitist traditionalism and anti-communism.
  • “Smart America,” which embraces capitalism, meritocracy, and globalism, but not patriotism.
  • “Real America,” which encourages popular democracy, anti-intellectualism, and nationalism, and is primarily white.
  • “Just America,” which is critical of institutional injustice and oppression, but has its own trappings.

Our Futures Now: Turning Imagination into Narrative Power, The Narrative Initiative 

This article describes how we can use imaginings of the future in narrative work. “Once we know the history, power and role of today’s dominant narratives we understand our present assumptions…then we can really name, describe and even map paths towards possible futures that aren’t dependent on today. That’s where this work gets exciting.” Márquez Rhyne, Program Manager at Transmedia Story at the University of Chicago

Keeping Democratic Ideals Alive During the Pandemic, Frameworks Institute 

The way we talk about leaders, leadership, and institutions now sets the context for what comes next. We won’t revitalize democracy by leaving people to assume that politics is, and always will be, broken beyond repair. But if we remind people of our democratic ideals—and show how they connect to this crisis and our future beyond it—we can rebuild demand for leaders and systems that put people first. Framing advice: (1) Lift up democratic values; (2) Make the truth compelling and clear; (3) Show how issues and incidents are connected. Frameworks also has valuable materials on Shifting Mindsets and how we can think about advocacy in both the short and long term.”

The Larger Us Podcast with Karen Stenner on Why Some People Are Primed to Be Authoritarians

“The exploration of narrative and sense-making is informed by many disciplines, and Karen Stenner has spent years researching why some people seem to have a psychological predisposition towards authoritarianism on both the right and the left (in the right conditions,) which has led her to argue that “liberal democracy has now exceeded many people’s capacity to tolerate it.” The podcast interview discusses why support for authoritarianism is so widespread, what we can do about it, and what’s next in countries like the US where right wing populism has been surging.”

Changing the Narrative about Narrative: The Infrastructure Required to Build Narrative Power, Rashad Robinson, Nonprofit Quarterly 

“Narrative is now a big buzzword in the field of social change. That is more a testament to people wanting to understand narrative, however, than it is a testament to people actually understanding it. This paper presents a high-level outline of just some of the components of strategic thinking required to create the right story about narrative change within the progressive movement, with a focus on the components related to building the infrastructure we need to build what I call narrative power.”

Good vs. Toxic Polarization

Polarization is generally considered a necessary and healthy aspect of democratic societies. In his writing on social change work, Quaker activist and trainer George Lakey compares polarization to “a blacksmith’s forge,” one that heats up society and makes norms and institutions malleable and more susceptible to change.

Toxic polarization is categorically different and can often lead to destructive and violent engagement. A component of toxic polarization is affective polarization, which refers to when groups aren’t simply in disagreement with each other, but actively dislike and even dehumanize each other. Here, political outgroup members are seen to pose a threat not only to ideas and values, but to identities and social groups. Another component is perceptual polarization, which measures the degree to which we view the other side as extreme in comparison to our own. Thus, toxic polarization exists as a state of intense, chronic polarization – marked by high levels of loyalty to a person’s ingroup and contempt or even hate for outgroups.

Toxic polarization limits our ability to humanize and engage with political opponents. It influences where we live, the information we consume, who we hire, and even the health care decisions we make. While toxic polarization has caused increasing numbers of people to view the other side as an existential threat, it has also created chronic exhaustion among Americans. In toxically polarized societies, people tend to exaggerate the extent to which they disagree on policy issues. A recent project from Beyond Conflict found that Americans incorrectly believe that members of the other party dehumanize, dislike, and disagree with them about twice as much as they actually do. Citizens along the ideological spectrum believe we are more polarized than we are, which can exacerbate polarization and make us less willing to work together to solve problems. It also makes it more difficult to agree on the nature of the problems we face.

At The Horizons Project, we are exploring how different actors within the ecosystem of peacebuilding, social justice and democracy have different theories of change and priorities to engage with the topic of polarization which can cause tensions and prevent collaboration. The following is a summary of those points of tension, followed by a list of recommended resources.

  • Calls for “healing divisions” and unity are often criticized as not addressing the root causes of the problems we are facing as a nation (e.g., inequality, racism, etc.)
  • Peacebuilders and bridge-builders who feel the need to maintain “neutrality” can be seen as propping up the status quo and not in solidarity with movement causes.
  • Tactics of engaging the “exhausted middle” (where complexity of thought may still be flourishing) are criticized as a waste of time because the mythical moderate/independent voter is seen as “wishy washy.” Instead, activating the base is prioritized. Tactics of upping the outrage are therefore seen as needed to engage the base first, and then target people in the middle.
  • Toxic polarization may be recognized as a problem across the board, but there is blame, defensiveness and othering (based on a lot of trauma on all sides) that drives us back to our ingroups and prevents intra-group self-reflection and dialogue around dehumanizing behavior and tactics.
  • Many want to “focus on the future” as a way of finding common ground and coming together around shared values. This can be deeply troubling and hurtful for those who feel that we need to first recognize past injustices and harms and finally confront the painful history of white supremacy that continues to bleed into our present. Yet, the future-oriented framing can also be off-putting to those who don’t want change (or fear change) – so any call to “build back better” or for “democratic renewal” are met with resistance because of nostalgia for the way things were in a romanticized past.
  • We struggle with lack of shared definitions of terms, and we don’t acknowledge that humans make sense of the world in different ways based on the multiple narrative streams flowing within the ecosystem. What does peace and peacebuilding mean? Is it finding calm and togetherness? What about “justice?” There are many negative connotations (or simple lack of understanding) of peace as a goal and/or peacebuilding as a tool.
  • What does “democracy” mean and is it a shared goal for the US anymore? For example, while there is a big push for renewed civic culture and to embed the values of respectful dialogue, tolerance and empathy within society. Many hear these calls for “civility” with cynicism. They are more concerned about power imbalances around race and class and building power to overcome political enemies to push back against undemocratic forces. Others understand calls for “inclusive” democracy as only for liberals that seek to exclude more conservative perspectives.
  • We have also acknowledged the existential dread that is flowing within our country, and we see how a different sense of urgency plays out in many of these debates. While many movements are working for those who feel a daily fear for their physical safety, this is juxtaposed with those who are also expressing fear of losing their way of life and/or feeling left behind in a changing society. Some don’t feel the same sense of urgency regarding the pace of change and/or have the luxury of not being as directly affected on a daily basis. This leads not only to a difference in tactics, but it can also cause resentment, distrust, and the inability to hear each other’s experience or find common cause.

Obviously, there is truth and need in all these various approaches and perspectives. Yet, until we name and wrestle with these tensions within the ecosystem, we won’t be able to deal effectively with our trauma, better hold space within ingroups, and lessen the criticism and resentment towards potential allies. New tools and conversations are necessary to rediscover our shared, higher-level goals of protecting our democracy and to prevent the very real threat of increasing levels of violent conflict. The Horizons team looks forward to working with its partners to explore and expand on the current research and tools available to manage polarization in a way that it promotes innovation and not toxicity.

RESOURCES

Interested in learning more? Check out ten resources on Good vs. Toxic Polarization that are inspiring us right now.

Good vs. Toxic Polarization: Insights from Activists and Peacebuilders, The Horizons Project

Polarizing narratives are key tools of nonviolent mobilization and social justice activism. But today, deep-seated polarization, exacerbated by a growing faction that rejects basic democratic norms and practices, threatens the foundations of our democracy. Differentiating between healthy and toxic polarization is vital among activists and peacebuilders to inform and align our strategies. What aspects of polarization are healthy and normal in a democratic society, and when can this polarization tip over into toxic conditions?

Review: Polarization: Understanding the Dynamics of Us Versus Them, Ilse Van den Berckt, Beyond the Horizon

“Bart Brandsma’s book at hand is a timely and precious contribution considering the time we live in. The book opens up the debate on how to manage divergent voices and preserve public order while respecting the democratic right of free speech and free articulation of thoughts. Declaring war on bigotry and dualistic (black-white) world view but at the same time taking into stock the need to address the societal reality, the author delves deep into minute dynamics of public debate, mechanics of argumentation and idiosyncrasies of human behavior.”

The Seven Habits of Highly Depolarizing People, David Blankenhorn, American Interest 

“We can recognize the mindset of the polarizer, but how does the depolarizer understand conflict and try to make sense of the world? Here is an attempt to answer these questions, by way of proposing the seven habits of highly depolarizing people.”

Why we don’t need to meet in the middle – but we can’t allow political polarization to fester unchecked, Nathan Bomey, USA Today

“Bridge builders see solutions where the rest of us see problems. And they see nuance where the rest of us see caricature. Bridge builders are a rare species. And we have a lot to learn from them. But in writing this book, I spent nearly as much time deconstructing myths about the metaphorical process of bridge building than I did on elucidating the lessons bridge builders can teach us.”

America’s Divided Mind: Understanding the Psychology that Drives us Apart, Beyond Conflict

“New insights from brain and behavioral science explain how polarization is fueled by Americans’ misperceptions about each other. Learn more about the psychology that drives us apart, and how we can start to reverse it.”

Polarization & Migration, Bart Brandsma, Times of Migration Youtube

“We live in polarized times. Polarization is a dangerous process that, if unchecked, can eventually lead to civil war. To stop polarization, we first need to to understand it. This comic/animation is based on a model of polarization developed by Bart Brandsma. It explains the process of polarization and for example migration and what kind of journalism can help stop and reverse this process.”

The Way Out, Peter Coleman, Columbia University Press

“The way out of our current culture of contempt can be hard to see unless you know where to look. This book will show you. It offers insights from leading research on how deeply divided societies can and do change. It will suggest what you can do – the actions, skills and competencies that will help you navigate these times most effectively – as well as what to look for in groups and organizations in your community that are already at work making America more functional again.”

Poles Apart: Why People Turn Against Each Other, and How to Bring them Back Together, Alison Goldsworthy, Laura Osborn, and Alexandra Chesterfield, Random House

“In Poles Apart, an expert on polarisation, a behavioural scientist and a professional communicator explain why we are so prone to be drawn into rival, often deeply antagonistic factions. They explore the shaping force of our genetic make-up on our fundamental views and the nature of the influences that family, friends and peers exert. They pinpoint the economic and political triggers that tip people from healthy disagreement to dangerous hostility, and the part played by social media in spreading entrenched opinions. And they help us to understand why outlooks that can seem so bizarre and extreme to us seem so eminently sensible to those who hold them.”

Are We Overdoing Democracy?, The Exchange, New Hampshire Public Radio

In this podcast, Philosopher Robert Talisse describes the danger of bringing groups together based on their political identities to “dialogue” as reinforcing the prominence of our political identities and recommends instead that we focus on building community outside of our role in democracy, and instead create civic friendships.

Other great books on polarization 

So many political and social issues turn into battlegrounds where people aggressively declare that they’re in the right, and that those who disagree are simply too dumb or misinformed to understand. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We all have the capacity to listen and empathize, and we can inspire others to do the same. So, to do your part in healing our divided social discourse, start by checking out the nine thought-provoking books.”

Trauma Healing

Unaddressed traumas pose significant challenges to building a healthy democratic society, exacerbating intra-group and inter-group conflicts and making it difficult to find common cause. Healing individual and group traumas is necessary to build effective movements and achieve sustainable peace. Trauma can take many forms in our society—it can come directly from a distressing event, be experienced over time from adversity (including chronic scarcity of essential resources) and/or be passed down through generations within communities where deep empathy and the recounting of direct traumatic experiences is common. Untreated trauma can lead to biological, cognitive and behavioral adaptations that affect social norms and group dynamics. In organizations, community groups, and social movements, untreated trauma can influence the movement’s norms and guiding principles, culture, and decision-making processes around strategies and tactics.

While the peacebuilding field’s efforts to mainstream trauma healing are well-documented (especially outside of the US), mainstreaming trauma-informed practices within the US social justice community are not always accessible due to distrust in historically racist systems, the overwhelming sense of urgency to prioritize collective action over individual restoration and an emphasis on shielding individuals from trauma triggers, which may prolong or worsen trauma responses. A deepened and collective understanding of trauma and approaches to trauma healing may help inform how activists, peacebuilders, bridge-builders, and democracy advocates do their work in a way that better supports sustainability and efficacy.

At The Horizons Project, we specifically seek to understand 1) the role that trauma plays in the strategic and tactical choices made by actors working within the larger ecosystem of social change, and 2) how trauma may influence others’ perceptions of certain tactics and behaviors. We are also exploring insights and tools for how practitioners across the ecosystem can create spaces for healing, empathy, and reducing tensions in a way that can contribute to the sustainability of their work.

*We would like to thank Michelle Barsa, Program Director at Beyond Conflict, for her thought leadership and contributions to this area of exploration as part of The Horizons Project research team.

RESOURCES

Interested in learning more? Check out ten resources on Trauma Healing that are inspiring us right now.

We need to build a movement that heals our nation’s traumas, Kazu Haga, Waging Nonviolence

“As a nation, we have never talked about the traumatic years of our collective childhood. Sure, in some small, hidden ways there were whispers of it. We would talk about it in activist spaces. Radicals would read books about it and have healing rituals. There would be murmurs and rumors spoken in progressive circles. But as a nation, we have never dove into it. And so the trauma that we all experienced got frozen and stuck.”

Homelessness, Poverty and the Brain: Mapping the Effects of Toxic Stress on Children, Perry Firth, Firesteel

“Children who are born to mothers who are homeless have low birth weight and require specialized care at four times the rate of their non-homeless peers. This, combined with the environmental stress of poverty and ongoing physical and emotional needs, means that as early as nine months, poverty-related achievement gaps show up, only to widen as children age. This early inequality then sets the stage for intergenerational poverty. Thus, deprivation during infancy and early childhood — when the brain is growing rapidly and aligning itself with the needs of its environment — can have powerful, negative, long-lasting effects.”

From Trauma to Transformative Futures: Four Dimensions, Interaction Institute for Social Change

This framework from the Interaction Institute for Social Change helps organizations, groups, and individuals consider how they might transition from trauma to reckoning to healing to transformative futures.

Trauma porn: Misguided ‘activism’ on social media harms more than it helps, Kiran Brar, The Butler Collegian

“With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining a sweeping amount of momentum the past couple of months, it is important to acknowledge what trauma porn [when people share graphic videos, usually of police brutality, on social media] is and the effects it may have on the Black community.”

The legacy of trauma, Tori DeAngelis, American Psychological Association 

“An emerging line of research is exploring how historical and cultural traumas affect survivors’ children for generations to come.”

Issue #50: Belonging and Transformative Resilience, Future of Belonging

Explore this conversation “with Ama Marston to discuss her book, Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World, and work focused on transformative resilience. [The] conversation focused on the mindset, solutions, and approaches for moving through crisis and trauma that transformative resilience offers, many of which align with fulfilling the need for belonging.”

We’re experiencing an empathy shortage, but we can fix it together, Jamil Zaki, TEDxMarin

“Being a psychologist studying empathy today is a little bit like being a climatologist studying the polar ice caps,” says psychology professor Jamil Zaki. That’s because according to research, our collective empathy is eroding. But there is good news: Empathy is a skill, it can be built, and he explains how he — and others — are doing just that.”

Trauma, Peacebuilding, and Development: An overview of key positions and critical questions, Mary Alice C. Clancy, Brandon Hamber, INCORE, University of Ulster

“This paper examines the methods academics and practitioners have advocated and utilised to deal with the trauma said to result from complex political emergencies, and how these methods relate to wider issues of peacebuilding and development.”

Adverse Community Experiences and Resilience: A Framework for Addressing and Preventing Community Trauma, Rachel David, Howard Pinderhughes and Myesha Wiliams, Prevention Institute

“This report offers a groundbreaking framework for understanding the relationship between community trauma and violence. Until now, there has been no basis for understanding how community trauma undermines both individual and community resilience, especially in communities highly impacted by violence, and what can be done about it. Funded by Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit in Northern California, and based on interviews with practitioners in communities with high rates of violence, the report outlines specific strategies to address and prevent community trauma—and foster resilience—using techniques from those living in affected areas.”

The Wellbeing Project

Discover the Project’s resources on wellbeing, including a free webinar series and a report on how a changemaker’s wellbeing influences their work.

Restorative Movement Building

What does it mean to challenge injustices and address societal harms in ways that strengthen social bonds and encourage longer-term healing? Restorative Movement Building is at the nexus of social justice and peacebuilding work. Individuals using restorative tools, approaches and mindsets are challenging injustice, building power and disrupting harmful systems in ways that promote healing, prioritize belonging and seek societal transformation.

Overall, this approach centers love, nonviolence and shared humanity as essential to transforming society in a way that works for everyone. At The Horizons Project, we see Restorative Movement Building as a central thread across all our areas of exploration. It can incorporate calling in and calling out strategies, create space for healing trauma, address toxic polarization through prioritizing relationships and provide a frame for a larger narrative focused on collective action while building belonging.

While activists, peacebuilders, and organizers have been working on social and economic justice, political violence prevention, and democracy strengthening issues for decades, they tend to work in siloes based on different approaches. At times, and especially in the short-term, these approaches can be in tension with one another. Social justice actors see a real urgency to raise awareness of injustices and address the power dynamics that uphold them to achieve transformational change. On the other hand, peacebuilders may seek a slower pace of change to make time for building relationships and encourage empathy and understanding so that no one gets left behind or inadvertently excluded as society progresses.

These different approaches can strengthen and reinforce one another in the long-term and make change more sustainable. The key challenge The Horizons Project is attempting to address is to help all these actors see themselves as operating within the larger ecosystem of social change working towards shared goals. Restorative practices help us to accept these tensions as normal and expected, so different groups can come together to learn and grow in their respective approaches (emergence) and determine who is best placed to take on specific roles/actions.

Restorative Movement-Building is a concept that the Horizons team is still exploring, scoping, and defining for ourselves. We are eager to engage with and learn from our partners in the process. Check back later for more information and resources as we embark on this journey together.

RESOURCES

Interested in learning more? Check out ten resources on Restorative Movement Building that are inspiring us right now.

Healing Resistance: A Conversation with Author Kazu Haga, The Horizons Project

“Nonviolence is a cornerstone of activism and radical change, but less attention has been given to the restorative power of nonviolent resistance. In this recent Horizons Project event, Senior Advisor Maria J. Stephan interviewed author and Kingian nonviolence practitioner Kazu Haga on his book, Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm. The event publicly launched the Horizons Project.”

Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm, Kazu Haga, Parallax Press

“Activists and change agents, restorative justice practitioners, faith leaders, and anybody engaged in social progress and shifting society will find this mindful approach to nonviolent action indispensable. Nonviolence was once considered the highest form of activism and radical change. And yet its basic truth, its restorative power, has been forgotten. In Healing Resistance, leading trainer Kazu Haga blazingly reclaims the energy and assertiveness of nonviolent practice and shows that a principled approach to nonviolence is the way to transform not only unjust systems but broken relationships.”

The Relational Work of Systems Change, Katherine Milligan, Juanita Zerda and John Kania, Stanford Social Innovation Review

“Sometimes we lose sight of a simple truth about systems: They are made up of people. Despite all of the frameworks and tools at our disposal and all of our learning as a field of practice, purely technical, rational approaches to systems change will not make much of a dent in shifting power or altering our most deeply held beliefs. If most collective impact efforts fall short of supporting people to change in fundamentally consciousness-altering ways, then, the system they are a part of will not significantly change either.”

The Three Horizons of innovation and culture change, Daniel Christian Wahl, Activate the Future

“‘Three Horizons thinking’ is an effective method for making sense of and facilitating cultural transformation and exploring innovation and wise action in the face of uncertainty and not-knowing.”

This graphic is not in the book chapter this excerpt is taken from. Source: H3Uni

Why coalition building isn’t about the coalition: Listening, leading, and making change happen, Nick Martlew, Mobilisation Lab

“Think of any campaign success you’ve seen or been involved in. I would wager good money (and as Yorkshireman I don’t say that lightly) that it wasn’t achieved by one actor alone: it was collective action that brought about change. Now think of when collective action becomes the worst form of coalition building, sacrificing ambition and wasting time. For the people whose rights we’re fighting for, that’s unacceptable. It’s also avoidable.”

Making Change: What Works, The Institute for Public Policy Research

“Movements change the world. Throughout history, loosely organized networks of individuals and organizations have sought changes to societies – and won. From the abolitionist struggle and campaigns for voting rights to #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, the impact of movements can be seen everywhere. Over the last year, IPPR and the Runnymede Trust have sought to understand what we can learn from movements that have made change – as well as those who have fallen short – for our efforts to create change today.”

Collaborating with the Enemy, Adam Kahane, Harold Jarche

“When two or more parties get together to address a problematic situation, they ask themselves a series of questions to understand their options. First they determine if they can change the situation. If so, can they effect change unilaterally, in which case they can force their solution. If they cannot change the situation, then they have two unilateral decisions possible: adapt to what has been forced on them, or exit the situation if possible. If they can change the situation but cannot effect change unilaterally,” then new options open.

Synergizing Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding Guide and Online Course, United States Institute of Peace

“The Synergizing Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding (SNAP) guide provides a strategic framework for activists, peacebuilders, and organizers working to transform violent conflict and advance a just peace. It demonstrates how nonviolent action and peacebuilding approaches can be used together synergistically to mobilize communities, address power imbalances and conflict drivers, and support inclusive, participatory peace processes.”

Organizing Tools from Liberating Structures

“This website offers an alternative way to approach and design how people learn and work together. It provides a menu of thirty-three “Liberating Structures” to replace or complement conventional meeting and engagement practices.”

Trainings from East Point Peace Academy

With trainings on healthy conflict engagement, Kingian nonviolence, and vulnerability, East Point Peace Academy provides diverse opportunities to build up your restorative resistance practice.

Movement Ecology: Self-Paced Course, Ayni School

“This self-paced mini course on Movement Ecology is an introduction to understanding the many different strategies that arise when we are faced with creating social change.”