THE VISTA: January 2023

Happy New Year from The Horizons Project! In January we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and take the opportunity to look back on one of the greatest pro-democracy movements in history, the civil rights movement. At Horizons, we have been taking inspiration from this quote from Dr. King’s book Stride Toward Freedom about the Montgomery bus boycott: ‘Anyone who starts out with the conviction that the road to racial justice is only one lane wide will inevitably create a traffic jam and make the journey infinitely longer.’ This concept of multiple lanes within a movement has been animating our work from the start and was the launching point for two articles we recently released. Chief Network Weaver Julia Roig published a short piece in Alliance magazine on the role funders can play in supporting a broad-based democracy movement; and Chief Organizer Maria J. Stephan emphasized the diversity of participation and the multiple, complementary approaches needed for such movements to be successful in this Waging Nonviolence article.

Dr. King is well known for his leadership in the civil rights movement, but also for his staunch opposition to poverty and economic exploitation. Before his assassination in 1968, Dr. King was organizing a march on Washington called the Poor People’s Campaign to fight for economic justice and equality for the poor in the United States. Today, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has picked up this unfinished work and is one of the critical lanes within the current pro-democracy movement.

Here are some of the other resources we have been reading, watching, and listening to this month from a wide variety of sources and perspectives:

READING

The Beautiful Work: A multiracial, multi-faith, gender-inclusive America

by Eric K. Ward, Western States Center

Ward asks the question “What if we are already winning the war? How do we win the peace?” He calls out the ways in which we are distracted by turning against each other, “the myths of who is to blame for our suffering — the Jews, the immigrants, the trans community… Inter-communal violence (the wedging, for example, of Blacks from Jews, rural from urban, or immigrants along color lines) only strengthens the hand of authoritarians.” He also acknowledges in the article how many other countries have gone through similar challenges and sends appreciation out to some of the Western States Center’s global learning partners, such as Northern Ireland’s Social Change Initiative, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage Prize laureates.

Organizing for collective impact: Prepared for anything, more effective at everything

by Caleb Christen in The Fulcrum

This is the fourth in a series of articles analyzing how the democracy ecosystem can prepare to support and facilitate a mass movement. Christen stresses the importance of pre-established relationships and their impact on the preparedness of an inter-movement community of democracy and civic health-promoting movements. He highlights the fact that the inter-movement community has numerous independent yet interdependent fields; for example, those working on structural reform, bridging divides, and civic education, and he extols the importance of meaningful, cross-sectoral relationships that need to be established in advance of democracy’s next crisis or opportunity.

Critical Race Theory Professors Cancel Courses or Modify Their Teaching

by Daniel Golden in ProPublica & The Atlantic

In just over two years, critical race theory has gone from a largely obscure academic subject to a favorite bogeyman of the MAGA faction. The anti-CRT efforts have quickly expanded from sloganeering to writing laws and seven states, including Florida, have passed legislation aimed at restricting public colleges’ teaching or training related to critical race theory with very real implications for professors as outlined in this article. “Those laws face impediments. On Nov. 17, 2022, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the higher-education provisions of Florida’s Individual Freedom Act. “The First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark”, Judge Mark Walker wrote. The DeSantis administration filed a notice of appeal on Nov. 29 and is seeking to stay the injunction pending that appeal. The 11th Circuit, where most of the judges are Republican appointees, will hear the appeal, with briefs to be filed in the next few months and oral arguments potentially this coming summer”.

Get Religious Fundamentalism Out of the Classroom

By Jill Filipovic in Slate and Her Newsletter

Jill Filipovic places the recent controversy at Hamlin University within the context of religious fundamentalism encroaching on education. She presents a snapshot of the facts on the ground and failures by institutional leadership and the student press. She argues that claims of harm and trauma must be evaluated at some level and responses must be proportional to objective harms. Failing to do this allows for those who claim trauma to impose their will on the larger society and these attacks on the liberal value of free thought has opponents across the political spectrum.

WATCHING

What if the January 6, 2021 Insurrection Had Succeeded?

Rising Up With Sonali

This month, we also commemorated the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection and attack on the US Capitol, and some are asking “What if?” What if the election results had been overturned? What if Donald Trump were illegally installed for a second term as president? These questions are the basis of a new graphic novel: a 4-part series 1/6: What if the Attack on the US Capitol Succeeded? released together with Western States Center. The first installment imagines an alternative timeline where the pro-Trump mob succeeded in overthrowing the election results and imposing martial law. Check out Sonali Kolhatkar’s interview with the co-authors: Alan Jenkins, writer, Harvard law professor, and human rights advocate; and Gan Golan, activist, illustrator, and New York Times bestselling author.

Vaush Joins TYT to Discuss Why Young Men Feel Alienated in the U.S.

The Young Turks

This is a thought-provoking and important conversation with Twitter streamer Vaush and Ana Kasparian on TYT’s nightly newscast, discussing ways “the Left” is out of touch with young men. The video broadcast focuses on the rising crisis of loneliness and social isolation facing young men in the US and ways progressive activists could be further inflaming the problem.

From January 6 to Ephesians 6

American Enterprise Institute

On the second anniversary of the January 6 violent assault on US democracy, the American Enterprise Institute and the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies held a public webinar, sharing reflections on the role of religious leaders and faith communities in protecting democracy. Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III was interviewed on his life in ministry and his inspiration behind assembling faith leaders to pray for our nation and model healthy public discourse on contentious issues. Jacqueline C. Rivers then moderated a panel discussion with AEI’s Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School, and Rev. Cornel R. West of Union Theological Seminary. Dr. West took the opportunity to name the fundamental structural features of fascism and our joint responsibility to confront fascism wherever and whenever it appears.

White Supremacy and American Christianity

NETWORK Video Series

NETWORK, a Catholic leader in the global movement for justice and peace hosted a webinar series entitled “White Supremacy and American Christianity” that featured Fr. Bryan Massingale S.T.D., one of the world’s leading Catholic social ethicists and a prominent African American theologian, and Robert Jones, Ph.D., the founder and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute and author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. Marcia Chatelain, Ph.D., a professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University and the leading organizer behind the #FergusonSyllabus, joined the second conversation.

LISTENING TO

Straight White American Jesus

Podcast Series

Check out this “in-depth examination of the culture and politics of Christian Nationalism and Evangelicalism by two ex-evangelical ministers-turned-religion professors. As former insiders and critical scholars of religion, Dan Miller and Bradley Onishi have a unique perspective on the Religious Right. Guests have included Chrissy Stroop, R. Marie Griffith, Janelle Wong, Randall Balmer, Katherine Stewart, and many others”.

Ending Toxic Polarization Starts with You

Making Peace Visible Podcast

Columbia University psychology and education professor and author Peter T. Coleman discusses recommendations from his book, The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization, evidence-based practices that everyone can do on their own- or with a group- to help recalibrate assumptions, and re-create bonds with people you disagree with. Coleman also partnered with the organization Starts With Us to turn the lessons from the book into an online challenge, called Finding the Way Out. It’s like an exercise routine, for strengthening compassion muscles.

Uniting America with John Wood Jr.

New Videocast Series

John Wood Jr., National Ambassador for Braver Angels, has launched a new podcast series based on his experience living at the intersections of race, class, politics, and faith. With discussions that focus on rebuilding trust between the American people and saving American democracy, his intention with the podcast is to challenge, and humanize, some of the leading and most controversial figures in our politics and help bring more people into a pro-democracy movement.

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

At the End of the Year: Guided Reflections Across a Transitional Threshold

At the beginning of 2023, did you reflect on the past year and make any New Year’s resolutions? There’s still time to set your intentions for the coming year! This article by Andrea Mignolo offers a nice framework with prompts for reflection and inspiration for the year ahead.

How Can Funders Support Pro-democracy Movements?

As the United States celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day on 16 January, it is a moment to look back on the ways a broad-based, pro-democracy movement came together to push for civil rights and racial justice. Looking ahead to 2023, the need to galvanize such a large-scale, diverse movement is as crucial as ever.

This article by Julia Roig was first published on Alliance Magazine.

The alarming rates of democratic decline and rising authoritarianism around the world are well documented. Philanthropists can find inspiration from the diversity of entry points for the many actors involved in the US civil rights movement and play their part to help break down the often siloed and fragmented pro-democracy efforts of today.

‘Anyone who starts out with the conviction that the road to racial justice is only one lane wide will inevitably create a traffic jam and make the journey infinitely longer,’ 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Stride Towards Freedom

This quote from Dr King, taken from his book about the Montgomery bus boycott, extols the need for multiple entry points for movement participation with various, complementary approaches and roles. Such systems approach to countering authoritarianism and fighting for democracy requires a systemic view of where funding can have the most leverage within the very complex pro-democracy movement ecologies that continue to evolve around the world. Studies show that movements are most successful when there is a wide diversity of societal participation. While different country contexts vary, funders have several ways they can support the process of broadening and coalescing pro-democracy movements:

  • Fund mapping efforts to help different actors see themselves as a part of the larger movement. Many funders engage in mapping efforts, along geographic or technical lines – but these are often intended for internal use and/or to illuminate who is doing what to ‘pick winners’ for grant-making. Ecosystem mapping is critical, however, for the broader purpose of helping the multitude of activists and organizations to engage in joint planning and to determine complementary efforts, a process of continual updating and reflection. Funders can support gathering different mappers together to avoid redundancies, aggregate complex information, make sense of different analyses and theories of change and ensure this information is open and accessible to all actors as a convening, sense-making, and relationship-building tool.
  • Strengthen collective action muscles. Funders are used to supporting coalitions or networks that come together for specific policy goals, electoral gains, or identity-based human (civil) rights campaigns. This is important work, but these siloed efforts do not necessarily add up to the level of mobilization needed to respond to . Whether it’s across issues, identities, ideologies, or expertise, many groups are not used to working together proactively towards higher-level shared goals because of competition for resources, a lack of a shared analysis, a myopic focus on their ‘lane’ or simply because of lack of awareness of others’ work. Funders can make a big difference in supporting the connective tissue between organizations, coalitions, and networks, bridging those working at multiple levels, with different constituencies and perspectives as a part of a united front to protect democracy. Strengthening the collective action muscles to respond with urgency also includes the slow work of relationship-building, creating spaces to plan together, sharing resources, and collaborating on targeted activities across these lines of difference.
  • Support training, coaching, and facilitation infrastructure. At the time of the civil rights movement, great effort was placed on building up the skills for nonviolent action, civil resistance, and strategic partnering. Recent research shows that of all the kinds of external support for movements, sustainable access to training and learning opportunities is the most impactful. There is an urgent need to scale up training, coaching and facilitation capabilities and offerings within and amongst movement actors. Especially those skills that will support diversifying and broadening participation in democracy movements: conflict resolution skills, working with complexity and systems thinking, nonviolent discipline, and the multitude of civil resistance tactics that will allow movements to go on offence and respond creatively to the ever-evolving authoritarian playbook. Supporting better networking of seasoned trainers and coaches to share and update their resources and frameworks; aggregating and disseminating available training programs throughout the ecosystem, cross-fertilizing participation amongst different network nodes to build relationships with training programs and offering peer mentoring opportunities across regions globally will all make a huge difference.
  • Provide both general operating funds and quick response funds to spur collaboration. One common obstacle to collaboration across different network nodes within the pro-democracy ecosystem is a scarcity mindset, and the fact that participating in these movement spaces is time-consuming and often seen as taking away needed human resources and focus from an organization’s primary mission. General operating support allows groups and movements to have the breathing space to go on the offence together and not always be in reactive mode. Funders can also offer quick access to funding for diverse actors to travel to attend coalition events, to support convenings amongst groups, to bring together researchers with practitioners to share analysis and to fund key devised narrative campaigns and other experiments amongst different network nodes.

In 2023, let us celebrate Dr King and one of the greatest pro-democracy movements in history by having a bold vision for democratic renewal that incorporates the numerous ‘roads’ to justice. The pro-democracy ecosystem needs philanthropy to use its influence and strategic investments to bring together the many actors working on separate but interrelated efforts (such as violence prevention, strategic litigation and legislation, electoral politics, grassroots mobilization of different constituencies, research and analysis, campaigning, and cultural change efforts, etc.) These critical connections will be key to realizing the next greatest pro-democracy movements to come.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Multiple Lanes to Multiracial Democracy

King understood that no single approach would be sufficient to combat the interconnected evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism.

This article by Maria J. Stephan was first published on Waging Nonviolence.

On the heels of the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 assault on U.S. democracy and an eerily similar attack in Brazil, we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who helped lead the greatest pro-democracy movement in U.S. history, otherwise known as the civil rights movement. He understood that no single approach would be sufficient to combat the interconnected evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism.

“Anyone who starts out with the conviction that the road to racial justice is only one lane wide will inevitably create a traffic jam and make the journey infinitely longer,” he wrote in “Stride Towards Freedom,” his book about the Montgomery bus boycott, one of the best organized and most successful campaigns of the civil rights movement.

King believed in the power of listening and dialogue to humanize, educate, persuade and build alliances across differences. At the same time, he understood that only by shifting power dynamics and raising the costs of violent extremism and institutional racism — through petitions, boycotts, walk-outs, sit-ins, strikes and countless other forms of protest and noncooperation — would harmful practices come to an end. Working for change within institutions like courts and legislatures required mobilizing pressure and changing incentives from outside those institutions.

Multiple approaches were necessary to educate people about the injustices of Jim Crow segregation, to raise the social, political and economic costs of maintaining the status quo, and to build the broad-based coalitions needed to change laws and policies. At the time, King’s embrace of boycotts, strikes and other forms of nonviolent direct action to challenge segregation policies in the South was criticized by white clergy and others, who insisted that he reject confrontational tactics in favor of dialogue. For King, both approaches were necessary. As he wrote in the Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “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.”

King’s strategic insights remain relevant today. Whereas Jim Crow was a single-party authoritarian system anchored in the Democratic Party and bolstered by churches, courts, media, the Ku Klux Klan and other institutions, today’s authoritarian ecosystem has evolved. Now the Republican Party has been captured by an extremist faction that embraces lies, conspiracies and violence — culminating in a violent attempt to overthrow the government. That party now holds the reins of power in 27 states (covering 53 percent of the population) and one body of Congress.

Meanwhile, Evangelical and Catholic churches and leaders have provided moral and material scaffolding for MAGA extremism; corporations and financiers have funded it; media outlets have amplified lies and conspiracies; and veterans’ groups infiltrated by white nationalists have filled the ranks of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and QAnon. Dismantling this interconnected web of support for authoritarianism in the U.S., in turn, requires a systemic response involving many diverse actors employing different strategies and approaches.

There is no time for despair. Today, like earlier, multiple approaches are needed to combat racism and white nationalism and to build a multiracial democracy grounded in love and justice. Those approaches include dialogue and direct action, inside and outside strategies, working within and across groups and movements to build alignment around the rejection of conspiracies, political violence and election subversion — and around a reimagining of U.S. democracy grounded in abundance, courage and universal flourishing.

Many organizations across the country are experimenting with different approaches to bringing various constituencies into a pro-democracy movement — not based on party identity but grounded in a shared willingness to build stronger communities free from violence and extremism. There are plenty of onramps to pro-democracy work if we are open enough to welcome in a broad cross-section of actors.

People’s Action, Showing Up for Racial Justice, United Vision for Idaho, the Rural Digital Youth Resiliency Project, and RuralOrganizing.org are pioneering ways to organize across race and class, particularly in rural areas. The One America MovementSojournersNETWORK, and the Georgetown Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and Faith for Black Lives are leading engagement strategies with Christian communities. The Secure Families Initiative and the Mission Continues are doing important work with veterans, while the Western States Center is conducting critical analysis and organizing to counter white supremacist violence. Leadership Now, Civic Alliance and local organizations like the Wisconsin Business Leaders for Democracy are galvanizing the business community around democratic norms and practices.

Alongside this important engagement work, other groups are turning to the courts and other forms of pressure to raise the costs of anti-democratic behaviors. Groups like Protect Democracy and the Brennan Center, for example, have helped prepare hundreds of legal cases to hold individuals responsible for spreading dangerous conspiracies and violence accountable in the courts.

Making political violence and anti-democratic behaviors backfire requires building the capacities to go on the offense with our movements, something this paper helpfully describes. Finding the levers of influence to make it more costly for politicians and other actors to engage in anti-democratic behaviors takes solid analyses of where their social, political, spiritual and financial support comes from. And, in turn, linking that analysis to campaigns that target those sources of power with tactics of pressure and engagement.

During the civil rights movement, the Montgomery bus boycott and the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins were excellent examples of campaigns that linked economic analysis (of revenue streams for white-owned businesses upholding segregation) to campaigns that relied on tactics of non-cooperation. Both campaigns involved significant training and preparation, including (how to respond to anticipated violence and harassment) and building parallel institutions like Black-run car pools. (The Nashville segment of the documentary film “A Force More Powerful” highlights some of this preparation.) During the campaigns, intense negotiations were happening between civil rights leaders, politicians and business owners until shifting power dynamics made negotiated agreements possible.

During King’s time there was an acknowledgement of how difficult this work is and how much investment in relationships, skills-building and planning was required to dismantle a Jim Crow authoritarian system built on racism and violence. Important victories like the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were the result of multi-faceted strategies that involved diverse actors doing many different things. The significance of intra-movement trainings to building the size and effectiveness of the civil rights movement, which were led by Rev. James Lawson, C.T. Vivian, Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette and others, cannot be overstated.

Today, the challenges are no less significant or complex. While the Jan. 6 insurrection may have failed in the short term, and some election deniers may have been defeated during the midterms, U.S. democracy continues to face deep existential threats. Everyone has a role to play in stopping the slide into political violence and extremism, and in strengthening democratic culture and institutions.

There is a lane for everyone: Those skilled in educating the public about the risks we face (such as the creators of this new graphic novel about Jan. 6); those who are engaging courageous conservatives (like Country First and Millions of Conversations); those conducting important analyses (like the Bridging Divides Initiative and Political Research Associates); those experimenting with different forms of dialogue (like Urban Rural Action and the Village Square); those who are organizing within and between communities and movements (like the Poor People’s Campaign, the Women’s March, the Social & Economic Justice Leaders Project and the 22nd Century Initiative); those who are leading trainings in organizing, nonviolence and conflict resolution (like Training for Change350.orgBeautiful Trouble, the International Center on Nonviolent ConflictPace e BeneEast Point Peace Academy and Nonviolent Peaceforce); and groups that are leading local and national experiments in racial justice and healing as part of the national Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Movement.

Strengthening our collective muscle to both resist the interconnected injustices that King described and to build a democracy grounded in love and justice requires being able to “see” one another, with our different skills, relationships and levers, as core elements of a shared pro-democracy ecosystem — in the U.S. and globally. That takes recognizing that resurgent authoritarianism, misogyny and white nationalism have deep transnational roots and can only be transformed through global solidarity. May we continue to embrace King’s powerful advice that we pursue multiple, connected lanes in order to achieve racial justice and multiracial democracy.

THE VISTA: December 2022

December is a month to both reflect on the past year and look ahead. As we surveyed 2022, we compiled these top insights to share with you from our organizing efforts over the last 12 months. And to help us all look ahead, check out this recent report by the Democracy Funders Network, Imagining Better Futures for American Democracy. You can read more about why this future-orientation is so needed for broad-based movement-building in this article: Pro-Democracy Forces Need to Go on the Offense.

Looking into the future doesn’t mean we don’t also have to continue to grapple with our nation’s history; in fact, one of our most-used phrases this past year has been “it’s both/and!” More in Common released an interesting report in December Diffusing the History Wars: Finding Common Ground in Teaching America’s Story. And, Trevor Smith and Aria Florant describe this polarity between past and present beautifully in their recent piece, On the Other Side of Reparations, A New World Awaits. “If we want to achieve a reparations process for Black Americans and create a new reparative world, perhaps we need to imagine what lies on the other side of reparations…our storytelling… must be expansive in ways that allow people to see themselves in a new world that awaits them.”

Happy Holidays from the Horizons Team! Enjoy some other resources we’ve been reading, watching, and listening to in December:

READING

Is America Still on the Path to Authoritarianism?

by Brian Klaas

While many celebrated the results of the November mid-terms elections in the US as a “win for democracy,” this article explains in detail why “the specter of authoritarianism will continue to loom large for many years to come.” Using the analogy of democracy as a sandcastle: “in the past, democracies were destroyed in a single big wave. It could be a coup, a civil war, a revolution, or an elected dictator seizing power. But those ways of destroying the sandcastle are rarer these days. Instead, the tide comes in very slowly, and each wave laps away at the sandcastle, taking a few grains of sand with it each time. It’s so much slower than the forces that people picture when they think of democracy being destroyed that most people in the country don’t even notice the damage that’s been done. But sure enough, America’s democratic sandcastle has eroded, slowly and steadily.”

Why Bother Bridging Differences in College, Anyway?

by Manu Meel in Greater Good Magazine

The CEO of BridgeUSA tells the story of his journey to bridgebuilding, and the importance of this work on college campuses. “There are few institutions in American society as well-positioned as higher education to build bridges across lines of difference and create spaces for empathy, dialogue, and intellectual curiosity. College campuses and universities are some of the few remaining physical places where Americans of different income, ethnic, and ideological backgrounds have the opportunity to interact and engage. More importantly, the leaders of tomorrow are on today’s college campuses; we have a unique opportunity to invest in the future of our democracy by having universities prioritize deliberation, freedom of thought, and reasoned conversation at a moment of deep division and uncertainty.”

Covering The Right Wrong

by A.J. Bauer in Nieman Lab’s Predictions for Journalism 2023

“We should and must expect more thoughtful analysis and news judgement from a mainstream political press that claims to lament the ongoing erosion of democratic norms and institutions…Journalists can’t be so cavalier as to assume that ‘shedding light’ on antisemitism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and racism is always either harmless or beneficial.” This article also includes a link to the 2021 Field Guide to White Supremacy which includes revisions to the AP Stylebook to help reporters adequately and accurately report on right-wing extremism without advancing its aims.

What Too Little Forgiveness Does to Us

by Timothy Keller in the Opinion Section of the New York Times

In this essay, Dr. Keller describes the way that a culture of forgiveness serves the same goals as justice-seeking. “Many people committed to justice value forgiveness, but others worry that it lets oppressors off the hook. Technology also makes a contribution. Social media is a realm in which missteps and wrongful, impulsive posts are never forgiven. Screenshots of every foolish word you have ever said online can be circulated in perpetuity. And our politics is filled with vitriol. In our cultural moment a conciliatory, forgiving voice is nowhere to be heard. Calls for forgiveness and reconciliation sound like both-sidesism, a mealy-mouthed lack of principle and courage.”

WATCHING

We are including only one resource to watch this month because Horizons wants to stress how powerful this short video is and how much we recommend watching it and reading the accompanying article:

Building Resilient Organizations

by Maurice Mitchell

Any and all organizers, movement leaders and funders working for social change should not miss this short video and read the powerful insights within Maurice’s article Building Resilient Organizations: Toward Joy and Durable Power in a Time of Crisis (co-published in Nonprofit Quarterly, The Forge and Convergence.) “There are things we can and must do to shift movements for justice toward a powerful posture of joy and victory. Such a metamorphosis is not inevitable, but it is essential. This essay describes the problems our movements face, identifies underlying causes, analyzes symptoms of the core problems, and proposes some concrete solutions to reset our course.”

LISTENING TO

Reassessing Radicalization

Think Peace Podcast

“When it comes to violent aggression, you may wonder what it is that can cause someone to commit horrific acts of violence? Is it just plain evil? Genetics? Adverse life experiences? Is it faulty brain chemistry? In this episode of the Think Peace Podcast, host Colette Rausch sits down with Dr. Sumaiya Sheikh to discuss the neuroscience of violent aggression, what can trigger people to become radicalized and then commit violent acts, and what possibilities there may be to prevent violent acts before they happen.”

How Can Business Help Solve America’s Democracy Crisis?

Politics In Question Podcast

Leadership Now CEO Daniella Ballou-Aares discusses the state of US democracy and how businesses can and should be involved. She mentioned the importance of “pre-defining what the factors are where businesses are willing to step out on an issue because political leaders are crossing well-defined lines of what is appropriate in a democracy. These triggers could be: refusal to accept legitimate election results; responding to political violence; political retribution for free speech, etc.” She also highlights the importance of “stepping out in a coalition, which is usually done at the state level, but in some cases can be done nationally (for example, the business coalition re: legitimacy of the 2020 election).”

An Ecology of Intelligence

OnBeing Podcast Playlist

If you have time over the holidays, please take time to enjoy this playlist of podcasts that was compiled by On Being during the autumn of 2022 and includes several episodes from their archives that highlight “the pleasure of thinking deeply together.” The collection was curated as a part of their series following the practice of contemplative reading through James Bridle’s Ways of Being.

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

Greater Good Magazine Editors Favorite Books of 2022

“As we enter our third year of a pandemic, many of us are discouraged by the state of the world. Polarization is high, people feel lonely and disconnected, and many have burned out at work or been traumatized by overwhelming loss. This year’s favorite books offer a mixture of advice on how to address these issues through shifting our worldview, improving our social interactions and institutions, and doing what we can to increase our personal well-being.”

THE HORIZONS PROJECT’S TOP INSIGHTS & LEARNINGS FROM 2022 

Since our official launch in January of 2022, the Horizons’ team has spent the bulk of our time building relationships with the many inspiring organizers, network leaders, researchers, and funders who together are weaving an impressive tapestry of social change efforts in the United States. It has been our honor to learn, strategize, and walk together on this path with so many of you! As our first year closes, we’ve compiled several insights and lessons learned that will inform our organizing work in 2023:

“It’s Both-And!” We have found ourselves saying this phrase repeatedly this year as we engage with different communities and theories of change in the social change ecosystem. For example, we need to raise the heat to bring more urgency to democratic decline in the US; and we need to decrease dehumanization and toxic othering of our fellow citizens. Fighting for racial justice is fundamental to moving forward together as a country; and that involves organizing within white communities to listen with empathy to real grievances and fears for our communities to heal. The Horizons team recognizes the need to embrace this complexity and work on being comfortable with all the dualities and nuances of ecosystem-level organizing. If you want to read more this is a great article on complexity.

Sensemaking together is some of the most important work we do as organizers. When we launched our website, we laid out the many ways that different sectors are diagnosing the most pressing problem(s) in the United States and the tensions those differences can raise. Throughout the year, we’ve made a point of leaning into those tensions by convening small-group salons and (many!) individual conversations to reflect together on our different analyses, perspectives, and priority actions. For example, discussing “what authoritarianism looks like” with a group of bridgebuilders highlighted the importance of intra-group dialogues (notably amongst conservatives) to changing behaviors. This article beautifully describes the importance of sensemaking; and we have learned what an important step it is to build relationships, establish trust, and widen our circle of potential allies. Horizons loved exploring sensemaking practices with a group of impressive women leaders, captured in this article.

Toxic polarization is indeed a problem, but it is more a symptom of systemic challenges we must confront. There are many important conversations unfolding about the nature of polarization in the United States and globally, and hundreds of efforts to address the challenges of polarization within a vibrant bridgebuilding community throughout the United States. Horizons believes in making a distinction between good polarization versus toxic polarization. This is because we view polarization as a symptom of living under the conditions of democratic decline, where political, economic, and social actors are actively working to keep us divided to stay in power and/or to maintain the status quo. Coming together across ideological divides is crucial. And yet, as we seek to humanize one another we must also mobilize more effectively against the forces keeping us divided and stand up as partisans for democracy. That will require a strategy of engagement and pressure to block harmful, anti-democratic practices and build new ways of living together in a pluralistic society.

How we engage with narratives is as important as ever, beyond messaging efforts that only seek to persuade or raise awareness. Building on an explosion of interest and investment in narrative expertise in the social change field, Horizons spent the past year exploring narrative competencies that support more effective organizing “across difference”. One of the most important insights we have gleaned is the need to “embody the narratives we seek to promote” so that we are not pushing out messages as much as living our values and the future we want. Narrative change starts within, and if we are using dehumanizing language in our own messages, we are contributing to a larger narrative where there are some people who don’t belong. We loved this article on the uses of storytelling that highlights how narrative competencies can foster not only power-building, but also connection and healing.

Training, mentoring, and coaching to support intra-movement dialogue, organizing, and conflict resolution deserve much greater investment. Some of the most urgent work needed is not only to bridge across ideological differences, but to address conflict and undermine extremism within groups. Within left and progressive circles, there is growing awareness that toxic movement spaces, weak conflict resolution practices, and unhealthy orientations toward power and authority are diminishing their effectiveness, as this brilliant Maurice Mitchell piece points out. Meanwhile, given the concentration of political extremism on the right, and the many cases of “courageous conservatives” facing harassment or social ostracism, this highlights the need for much greater investment in intra-conservative dialogue and conflict resolution. We need to bring together and build connections with conflict resolution trainers and coaches to embed those skills and provide coaching throughout movement networks to support this transformation (and not focus so much on cross-ideological empathy and understanding). Investing in sustained support for training and coaching is one of the most important investments funders can make to pro-democracy movements. And encouraging learning across different disciplines (organizing, nonviolence, civil resistance, conflict resolution, narrative competency, etc.) is an important way funders can strengthen movement capacities.

Greater connectivity and strategic complementarity between different parts of the anti-authoritarian ecosystem allow us to go on offense. Horizons began the year by reflecting on the historical and contemporary reality of authoritarianism in the US, while making the case that the strongest bulwark against democratic backsliding is broad-based fronts or movements. We ended the year by helping to convene a core group of local, state, and national organizers, activists, scholars and bridgebuilders to discuss how to strengthen our collective efforts to counter authoritarianism in the US. That discussion was informed by this paper highlighting seven key capacities (intelligence, community power-building and resilience, non-cooperation, conflict resolution, etc.) that, if strengthened and better connected, could allow us to proactively target the promoters and enablers of hate, political violence, and authoritarianism at the local, state, and federal levels. We need to build up our collaboration and solidarity muscles within the ecosystem to come together as a “united front” to better connect these capacities and to anticipate and outmaneuver authoritarians while tapping into our collective imagination about what a reimagined democracy of the future could look like. Learning strategies and tactics from organizers and movement leaders from other backsliding democracies around the world is key to that effort.

Strengthening democracy must be pursued in tandem with eradicating racism and white nationalism. Since our founding, the most formidable obstacle to realizing the democratic ideals animating the American experiment has been the creation of a racial hierarchy that has placed white people at the top, while discouraging poor and working-class Americans from finding common cause across racial lines. Authoritarianism and structural racism are inextricably linked. The ideology of white supremacy has historically been propagated by many institutional pillars of support, including corporations and Christian churches. One of the most pressing needs for the pro-democracy movement therefore is to strengthen religious outreach focused on combatting notions of white Christian dominance, while also bolstering more linkages between “bipartisan” institutional reform efforts and the community-level and national movements to advance racial justice such as the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation movement. Building a race-class-democracy narrative and organizing strategy is key to achieving democratic transformation.

We need more political education about what authoritarianism is and looks like within communities, especially to galvanize intragroup organizing. There are plenty of reasons why people go along with harmful behaviors committed by their ingroups, especially when they feel under threat. We hear a lot of “both-sides-ism” when it comes to the problem of authoritarianism in the United States, which indicates the need for more awareness-raising and public education about what authoritarianism is, what is enabling it, and how to stop it. Greater investment and infrastructure is needed to support “courageous conversations” especially among conservatives working against the authoritarian faction within their ranks, as described in this article. Developing solidarity networks (legal, spiritual, financial, public relations support) could make a significant difference in growing the size and influence of people who refuse to aid and abet authoritarianism in their churches, radio programs, small businesses, and professional groups. Meanwhile, strengthening analysis and relationships between racial justice and democracy groups and initiatives would bolster the effectiveness of both.

There is much to celebrate, but we are not “out of the woods” after the 2022 midterm elections. The fact that election denying candidates running for offices that would oversee the 2024 presidential election were defeated in battleground states, and that the midterms were relatively free of election-related violence, was significant and a tribute to months and years of organizing at the local, state, and federal levels, as this report highlights. At the same time, it would be a grave mistake to think that the threats of authoritarianism and political violence have been eliminated. The dominance of the authoritarian faction within the GOP (and Donald Trump’s return to the national spotlight), the persistence of authoritarian enablers in key societal pillars (religious institutions, media, corporations, veterans’ groups), easy access to assault weapons, and the mainstreaming of political violence on the right (and to a lesser extent on the left), including the chilling effects of police violence, continue to pose significant threats to peace and security. Organizing within and across these key pillars of support will be needed in the coming years to counter authoritarianism and political violence and build a pluralistic democracy.

Caring for one another and finding joy together as we organize is also “doing the work.” When we launched Horizons initially, we interviewed Kazu Haga about his book Healing Resistance and we continue to be inspired by his message of centering joy and caring for one another as we organize. Incorporating the arts and beauty into our work, and building our imagination muscles to operate from a place of possibility and hope will carry us through 2023 and beyond. That was the resounding theme of the Mitchell article as well. We take inspiration from our ancestors who led powerful movements for rights, freedoms, and justice in this country – and stand in solidarity with those around the world who are engaged in similar struggles – as we tap into the deep reservoirs of hope and healing in our collective work. As bell hooks reminded us, “To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.”

Happy Holidays from the Horizons Team!

THE VISTA: November 2022

At the time of writing our November newsletter, the results of all the US mid-term elections are still unknown. One clear win for democracy was that most of the local Secretary of State and Gubernatorial candidates who were “2020 election deniers” were unsuccessful in their bids for office. As we celebrate the wins of the many pro-democracy candidates and the tireless community organizers around the country, Horizons has been reflecting on Daniel Stid’s recent blog “…the conflation of democracy with politics is one of the biggest challenges to sustaining it. Democracy is so much larger than politics… we have to do a better job demarcating when we’re talking about what, otherwise we can create an idea or expectation that democracy is only working when we get the political wins we want, or that everything we don’t agree with is inherently anti-democratic”.

We still have a lot of work to do on the democracy agenda in the US and globally, and there are many resources and thought leaders offering a path forward. The Brennan Center for Justice provided a thoughtful analysis of How Voter Suppression Legislation is Tied to Race.

Erica Chenoweth and Zoe Marks from the Harvard Kennedy School recently released a seminal report (commissioned by Social and Economic Justice Leaders Project) Pro-Democracy Organizing against Autocracy in the United States: A Strategic Assessment & Recommendations, that proposes nonviolent resistance strategies, support systems to protect communities at-risk, and infrastructure needed for effective pro-democracy organizing. Others are asking In a Fast-Changing Political Landscape, How is The Democracy Alliance Evolving? And, also offering observations that Philanthropy Needs New Strategies to Save American Democracy.

Jill Vialet from the Center for Social Sector Leadership describes a new form of Democracy Entrepreneurship and highlights the importance of bringing an entrepreneurial mindset to the work of democratic reform. Part of this new mindset is how we talk about democracy, and in his recent opinion piece, How to Strangle Democracy While Pretending to Engage in It, Carlos Lozada reflects on how the rhetoric we use can “move public discourse beyond extreme, intransigent postures of either kind, with the hope that in the process our debates will become more ‘democracy friendly’”.

At Horizons, we are committed to helping build a renewed global democracy movement, and the recent article by Rachel Kleinfeld, A Helsinki Moment for a New Democracy Strategy discusses lessons from the democracy community’s last paradigm shift to provide a lens for seeing what we need next; and, how countries need to work together on shared challenges. Finally, we hope you’ll tune in to the recent podcast interview with Horizons’ Co-Lead and Chief Organizer, Maria Stephan on the Difficult Conversations Podcast where she discusses the US’s long history of authoritarian tendencies, exactly how those tendencies are manifesting today, and how the tools and strategies of nonviolent action can be used to effectively counter them.

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holidays in the US, we are grateful for all the inspiring work and important ideas reflected in what we’ve been reading, watching, and listening to:

READING

The Pillars of Support Project

By The Horizons Project

Horizons recently launched a new initiative to compile research and make recommendations for engaging different pillars within society that are positioned to incentivize pro-democracy behavior or continue to prop up an authoritarian system. There are many excellent organizations working within these pillars, such as faith communities, the private sector, organized labor, and veterans’ groups to name just a few.

The Role of In-Group Moderates in Faith Communities

by The One America Movement (OAM)

When OAM describes the role of in-group moderates, they “aren’t talking about being politically or socially moderate, compromising your values, or changing who you are. Being an in-group moderate means that you are willing to speak out when members of your community (your friends, your family, your coworkers, your congregation, your political party) behave in a way that contradicts your values. This act of speaking up can look like pulling someone you love aside to explain to them how concerned you are about their words or actions”.

The Importance of Corporate Political Responsibility

by Andrew Winston, Elizabeth Doty, and Thomas Lyon, MIT Sloan Management Review

Corporate Political Responsibility (CPR) is a broader take on old-school corporate social responsibility, or CSR. CPR focuses on how business influences four key systems: the rules of the game (markets, laws, and regulations), civic institutions and representation (for instance, protecting democracy), civil society and public discourse, and natural systems and societal shared resources. The article includes a helpful table on “Putting Corporate Political Responsibility Into Action”.

Could Veterans Put Us on a Path Toward Bringing Respect and Civility Back to Politics?

by Dan Vallone, Stars and Stripes

As we celebrated Veterans Day November 11th, this special edition of Stars and Stripes highlighted the research of More In Common that found that 86% of Americans say they trust veterans to do what is right for America and 76% say veterans are role models for good citizenship. “This trust and respect holds true for Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike, and speaks to the distinct potential veterans have to bring Americans together across our political divide”.

WATCHING

Perspectives from Neuroscience: Visualizing the Wonders of the Brain

by Dr. Richard J. Davidson; The Wellbeing Summit for Social Change

The Wellbeing Project held a Summit for Social Change in June 2022 that brought together global social, governmental, arts, and business leaders to advance individual and collective wellbeing for those working on the front lines of social change. You can watch all the videos of the presentations and check out the practical tools and arts installations presented at the Summit here. This session on the neuroscience of wellbeing was one of our favorites.

Signals in the Noise

by Reframe

Check out this great Tik Tok explanatory video on how wellness and fitness influencers create pathways to misinformation and QAnon conspiracy theories. (And while you’re there, check out their other super videos on misinformation and other narrative change topics)!

Building and Sustaining Resilience Amid Rising Political Violence

by Western States Center (WSC)

WSC hosted a series of conversations, Looking Forward by Looking Back, to learn from those who have waged a long-term struggle against authoritarianism to reflect on the choices we will make to protect inclusive democracy in the US. If you missed this inspiring webinar sharing important lessons from the experience in South Africa, we highly recommend taking time to watch the recording; you can download the presentation slides here.

LISTENING TO

These Political Scientists Surveyed 500,000 Voters. Here Are Their Unnerving Conclusions

The Ezra Klein Show podcast

John Sides and Lynn Vavreck — political scientists at Vanderbilt and U.C.L.A., respectively — discuss the findings of their new book, The Bitter End: The 2020 Presidential Campaign and the Challenge to American Democracy. In this podcast, they make an interesting argument that our politics aren’t just polarized, but calcified, describing the process and implications of this calcification.

Complexity & Genius

The Deep Dive podcast with Philip McKenzie

Systems-level change is hard. In this podcast, Jennifer Garvey Berger discusses her new book Unlock Your Complexity Genius which explores how we think about and process complexity and how we leverage that thinking to understand ourselves and the world we inhabit.

Ripples of Hate

StoryCorps podcast

In 2012, StoryCorps broadcast a conversation with a young woman involved in the murder of Mulugeta Seraw, a Black man in Portland, Oregon. A decade later, they revisited it to look at the ripples of racist violence, and a few people who fought to stop it.

How to Depolarize Deeply Divided Societies

The Conversation Weekly podcast

Jennifer McCoy, a political scientist at Georgia State University, is studying cases of depolarization from around the world over the past century. Her research is identifying a couple of fundamental conditions of countries which have successfully depolarized (and sustained it.) Robert Talisse, a political philosopher at Vanderbilt University, describes a different phenomenon that he calls belief polarization. Talisse doesn’t believe polarization can ever be eliminated – only managed. And he has a couple of suggestions for how.

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

Fine Acts teamed up with the Democracy & Belonging Forum, an initiative of the Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley – to produce a collection of powerful visual artworks on the topic of Bridging & Belonging. They “commissioned 40 amazing artists to work on the topic, through the prism of solutions and hope. All works are now published under an open license on thegreats.co, their platform for free social impact art, so that anyone – including educators, activists and nonprofits globally – can use them in their work”.

The Pillars of Support Project

While many have recognized the rising crisis of American authoritarianism, making sense of the complexity of the authoritarian system is a challenge. Is the true problem misinformation fueled by social media? Or the inflexibility of our political institutions to respond to changes in demographics and technology? Is it about the normalization of political violence? The return to prominence and troubling mainstreaming of racist white nationalist ideologies? Or perhaps a lack of institutions of deliberative democracy? Maybe the real problem is the longstanding trend of rising economic inequality? Or is it all of the above?

The complexity of the problem has hampered efforts to coordinate action against authoritarianism. Yet such coordination is crucial. Research shows that the most effective social movements involve broad, diverse coalitions that are united around a shared strategy of success. And a central element of any strategy is a clear understanding of the system that the strategy seeks to address.

One powerful approach that can help make sense of this complexity is the “pillars of support” framework. The pillars framework can be summarized in a simple image: a roof held up by several pillars. The roof represents a political system’s leaders, while the pillars represent the key organizations or institutions that give those leaders the resources and legitimacy they need to exercise power. The model rests on two insights: power in any social or political system is something that flows up from below, and this flow almost always takes place through specific institutions. If we can identify those institutions and the resources they provide to the authoritarian system, then we can understand how power operates in that system and be better equipped to change it.

Horizons is currently conducting a set of research projects to explore and better understand the pillars of support for authoritarianism in the US, and what insights historical cases in the US and around the world can give us on how to change the incentives of key pillars to disrupt authoritarianism and incentivize pro-democracy behavior. Based on conversations with partners, we are focusing on four pillars: business, faith communities, civic/professional groups (including organized labor), and veterans’ groups. Key research questions include:

  • What are specific examples of how these key pillars have employed moral, cultural, social, economic/financial, and political levers to push back against democratic backsliding in semi-autocratic contexts in the US and globally?
  • Which groups and organizations constitute the key network nodes within each pillar in the US today?
  • What lessons from domestic and international cases could inform current pro-democracy organizing in the US?
  • How might these lessons inform best practices and specific tools that cross-partisan organizers can use in their work to push back against the authoritarian playbook across the US at the national level? At the state level? At the community level?
  • What are the barriers to operationalizing these best practices and tools and which groups, networks, individuals, etc. are best placed to overcome them?

To answer these questions, we are currently conducting two large-scale research projects. The first is collecting data on recent periods of democratic backsliding and rising authoritarianism. While scholars of nonviolent action have categorized hundreds of tactics for activists to employ, there is a lack of mapping the tactics that are uniquely applicable to engage specific societal pillars. So, for each period we examine two sets of questions: first, if a movement to protect democracy existed during this time, how did the movement seek to incentivize pillars to push back against authoritarianism, and how successful were such efforts? Second, we examine and systematically categorize any actions by pillars to push back against democratic backsliding and their outcomes. This enables us to identify the most effective levers that pillars have available to them to reverse authoritarianism and restore democracy.

When completed, this research project will provide systematic evidence of global trends both in what has been most effective in swaying pillars away from authoritarianism, and the most effective ways in which pro-democracy allies within these pillars have used their unique position of leverage to disrupt democratic backsliding. We will also harvest a wide range of vignettes that can provide inspiration for organizers and actors within the relevant pillars in the US.

Our second research project is developing a process to conduct comprehensive mapping of the pillars of support for authoritarianism in the US, focused on our four pillars of particular interest (business, faith, civic/professional, and veterans’ groups). The most acute democratic backsliding is taking place within certain states, and levels of authoritarianism vary widely from state to state. Recognizing this fact, we are piloting a process of mapping pillars of support for authoritarian systems at the state level, conducting an initial mapping in the state of Georgia over the course of 2023. Our goal is to offer both the results of the Georgia pillars analysis and the mapping process itself as a resource for pro-democracy organizers to replicate in other states. Ultimately these efforts would be linked in a larger national-level map.

No single framework can fully capture the complexity of the authoritarian system, but through carefully analyzing the key resources that sustain authoritarianism and the pillars of support through which those resources flow pro-democracy organizers can more strategically go on the offense to build key relationships and counter authoritarianism to advance a more just, inclusive democracy.

THE VISTA: October 2022

As the mid-term elections in the United States are fast approaching, check out this recent article from Horizons’ Chief Network Weaver, Julia Roig, on How to Rise Above Partisan Politics to Uphold Our Democracy. Horizons also recently released new resources by our new Director for Applied Research, Jonathan Pinckney on making Political Violence Backfire and lessons in building a United Front Against Authoritarianism. If you missed our webinar on Facilitating and Training in Cross-Sector Movements: Turbo-Charging Efforts for Coordination and Collaboration, you can read more and watch the recording here.

This past month saw several important initiatives and resources for bridging across political divides. A new United States Institute of Peace report summarizes global learning on what makes for effective “social contact” programming, including three categories of participant behaviors. Additionally, a team of researchers recently released Cultivating Contact: A Guide to Building Bridges and Meaningful Connections Between Groups. Stanford University’s Strengthening Democracy Challenge released the learning from the top 25 strategies that are seeking to reduce partisan animosity, political violence and curb antidemocratic attitudes. (Congratulations to our friends at Beyond Conflict for submitting the winning short video!) And finally, if you haven’t visited the essays page at Beyond Intractability, it also includes several insights from various authors on how the conflict resolution field can help address “hyper polarization.”

Check out some of the other inspiring resources Horizons is reading, watching, and listening to:

READING

Five Strategies to Support U.S. Democracy

by Rachel Kleinfeld, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

This important report describes the current threat, actions that are less likely to make a meaningful difference and prescribes five concrete strategies to support U.S. democracy: (1) Enable responsible conservatives to vote for democracy; (2) Reduce the social demand from the right for illiberal policies and politicians; (3) Engage the left in defending democracy by making it deliver; (4) Build a broad-based, multistranded, prodemocracy movement around a positive vision concretized in locally rooted action; and (5) Strengthen accountability to reset norms on what behavior is legal and acceptable.

How Russian Trolls Helped Keep the Women’s March Out of Lock Step

by Ellen Barry, The New York Times

A story of how feminism and the 2017 Women’s March became a clear target for an intense on-line disinformation campaign, taking advantage of existing fissures within the movement. Efforts to destabilize civil society activism by well-resourced (often state-backed) sabotage campaigns are on the rise, and particularly effective when combined with algorithms that promote negative content, in this case pumping up intersectional critiques of feminism and attacking organizers.

The Uncomfortable Truths That Could Yet Defeat Fascism

by Anand Giridharadas, The New York Times

This column nicely summarizes what we have been discussing with various partners recently. Giridharadas outlines steps needed for pro-democracy forces to succeed – to Command Attention, Make Meaning, Meet People Where They Are, Pick Fights, Provide a Home, and Tell the Better Story.

American Democracy is Indeed Shuddering Under Its Own Weight

by Jason Willick, The Washington Post

This article gives on overview of a recent study by Danish academic Suthan Krishnarajan that posits that the threat to U.S. democracy isn’t a “usurper system,” but democratic ideology itself. The findings show that citizens who “self-consciously support democracy can simultaneously support undemocratic actions on a large scale when it suits their political interests — and not recognize the contradiction.”

Media 2070: An invitation to Dream Up Media Reparations

This 100-page essay details “the history of U.S. media participation in anti-Black racism written by a growing consortium of media-makers and activists collectively dreaming reparative policies, interventions, and futures. This work is an effort to radically transform who has the capital to tell their own stories by 2070. It is liberation work within a lineage of civil-rights activism, racial-justice organizing and calls for reparations and makes visible the ways in which the media have taken part in and have supported state violence and harm against Black people. The work seeks to highlight how the media can serve as a lever for racial justice — and underscores the repair and reconciliation necessary to build strong, free, democratic communities.”

WATCHING

Our Stories. Our Stake.

by Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ)

Don’t miss this short video from SURJ, that tells the story of the largest organization explicitly organizing white communities in the U.S. “In a sense, the battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and minds of white people in this country. The fight against racism is not something we’re called on to help people of color with. We need to become involved as if our lives depended on it because, in truth, they do.” – Anne Braden

Inside the Completely Legal G.O.P Plot to Destroy American Democracy

by Johnny Harris and Michelle Cottle, The New York Times Editorial Board

“It can be difficult to gauge what stories suggest a truly terrifying threat to democracy, and which are simply disheartening or even petty. This Opinion Video aims to unpack one of the direst threats to democracy, which includes a sophisticated plot to control not only who can vote, but which votes get counted.”

The Impact of Misinformation on the Future of American Democracy

by the Atlantic Festival

You can re-watch this informative, in-person series of presentations from The Atlantic Festival, where several experts dissect sources of misinformation and discuss how to decipher facts versus fiction while preserving our right to free speech.

Futures Literacy: Shaping Your Present by Reimagining Futures

by Loes Damhof, TEDx Talk

If you’re a Ted Talk fan, this is a great short discussion on Futures Literacy. “The future does not exist; we can only imagine it.” By expanding how we imagine futures, we can see the present differently and learn how to embrace uncertainty by developing new skills, knowledge, and attitudes to keep going in an uncertain future.

LISTENING TO

Come Along as We Connect the Dots Between Climate, Migration, and the Far-Right

by Ari Shapiro, NPR

A team of reporters at All Things Considers introduce their travel log series as they seek to uncover the ways in which these three broad themes weave together. What is the connection between climate change, the movement of people around the globe, and the rise of xenophobic politicians?

Thinking Truth and Freedom with Zelens’kyi and Havel

Timothy Snyder posted on his Substack newsletter a long conversation with President Zelens’kyi of Ukraine entirely devoted to the subject of freedom, including a reflection on the tradition of the dissidents of the 1970s and 1980s, and in particular Václav Havel’s idea of “living in truth.”

What if Indigenous Wisdom Could Save the World?

by the What If to What Next Podcast

This is an older episode, where Sherri Mitchell, Weh’na Ha’mu’ Kwasset (She Who Brings the Light) an attorney, activist, and author of ‘Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-based Change’ has a wonderful conversation with Tyson Yunkaporta, an academic, arts critic, and senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges at Deakin University in Melbourne. His recent book, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.

INTERESTING TWEETS

IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE WOMEN OF IRAN

This is a very special read: a translation of recent writing from an feminist activist in Iran. “…what distinguishes this uprising as feminist is this figure-centered character; the possibility of creating images that do not necessarily capture the intensity of conflict, the cruelty of repression, or the unfolding of events, but instead carry the history of bodies.”

How to rise above partisan politics to uphold our democracy

This article was first published on Waging Nonviolence.

Recent polls have revealed that “threats to democracy” are a top priority for many of us living in the United States. On the one hand, this is good news. Acknowledging the dangerous path we are on will hopefully galvanize more people to get involved in our shared civic life. The bad news is that Americans have wildly divergent understandings of where the threats to democracy are coming from, who is responsible and the solutions needed.

Democracy has become a partisan issue, more and more politicized in today’s toxically polarized environment. While it is a foundational ideal and the system of government on which our country was supposedly based, the loud cries to “protect democracy” are increasingly divisive and seen as weaponized for political gain.

For example, Biden gave a prime-time “democracy in crisis” speech that has received critiques for being overly divisive. By squarely naming the “MAGA faction” as the biggest threat to democracy, the argument is that the president missed the opportunity to separate the specific anti-democratic behaviors of political leaders (and the systemic actors that support them) from the broad mix of everyday citizens who may have voted for former President Donald Trump. They may be left wondering where they fit in the democratic future Biden says he wants to build.

MAGA Republican politicians on the other hand have made very clear who does not belong in their vision of America by enflaming racial grievances and stoking fear of LGBTQ populations to dangerous effect.

As we celebrate the International Day of Democracy on Sept. 15, how can we better establish a shared national project to uphold and reshape our democracy that rises above any one political party? How do we mobilize citizens as partisans for democracy? Inviting our fellow Americans to sit on the same side of the table — confronting together this shared problem of democratic decline — will require all of us to re-evaluate the ways we define our most pressing priorities; who and how we engage across differences; and, what we demand from our elected leaders and institutions. Below are seven considerations for how we may come together as partisans for democracy.

1. Look beyond electoral politics. As the mid-term elections are fast approaching, many Democrats are gripped with mobilizing and expanding their base, and some Republicans are organizing to ensure that “anti-democratic” candidates within their party are not voted into office. This is crucial work because elections do indeed have consequences; however, partisanship for democracy cannot mean that only liberals or progressives will win elections.

As scholars of democracy from around the world have long shown, a pluralistic, inclusive democracy requires more than one functioning political party. We need leaders on both sides of the aisle who are committed to accountability and decision-making processes that are fair and transparent, allowing for ideological diversity and debate. Democracy entails much more than elections or voting, even as those essential institutions are currently being attacked and dismantled in many states.

How we engage in our electoral politics right now with a long-term vision of a healthy democracy that allows for ideological diversity is just as important as the outcome of any one election. The Republican party must be reformed from the inside. So, the way that current MAGA supporters are called into that work is key. We need all Americans to see themselves in a shared future where our system of government works for all, and everyone is free to advocate for the issues and policies they care about most.

2. Define “anti-democratic” behavior beyond partisan identities. “Democracy” is seen as an amorphous concept for many Americans distinct from their daily realities — and yet, “saving democracy” is also being deployed as a rallying cry by each political party and their donors and media ecosystems. Our partisan identities increasingly supersede other identities, hardened by those actively stoking division and fear of our fellow Americans. If we feel truly threatened (both in perception or reality) by our political opponents, how can we co-create a pluralistic and inclusive future where all people thrive?

Partisans for democracy therefore must take extra care not to further entrench political identities, instead naming the specific anti-democratic behaviors and systems that have dangerous consequences for our nation. We can do this without blanket statements and toxic othering of whole groups of people.

For example, all the Republican lawyers, judges, staffers and long-time partisan operatives who decided to testify publicly before the House Jan. 6 committee, spoke to their personal experiences of when they felt democratic norms and laws were being crossed. In addition, many Democrats in Congress vehemently opposed the campaign arm of the DNCC for financing ads in support of more extremist Republicans in recent state primaries in order to run against less favorable opponents in the upcoming mid-terms.

3. Bridge the understanding of “anti-democratic” behavior to mobilize against it. The majority of Americans think of themselves as good people, or are dealing with trauma and the impact of isolation and lack of belonging. Bridging work is necessary to find that sense of belonging to each other again, with the goal of mobilizing to co-create the country we want for our future. There is an urgent need, therefore, to jointly define what we all consider anti-democratic behavior that we must then agree to apply across the board to all our leaders no matter their political affiliation, distinguishing democratic norm-breaking from policy solutions.

The words we use matter and can trigger political identities and backlash, and we often get stuck in a loop of what-aboutism and both-sideism in our quest to find “common ground.” However, partisanship for democracy calls us to find ways to have hard conversations that address real threats we jointly face: Political violence and intimidation have no place in a democracy and those spurring violence with their rhetoric should not hold political office. No one is above the rule of law, and we must hold our leaders accountable if laws are broken or changed to rig the system.

All citizens should have easy access to voting and have their votes counted. Citizens have a right to organize, to freedom of speech and to all other internationally recognized human rights. All of us should expect our government leaders to focus on solving real problems that respond to our urgent needs as a society, instead of distracting us with cultural wedge issues and stoking fear and grievance.

Amplification of the “big lie” narrative that the 2020 election was stolen and that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was necessary to defend democracy are a clear and present danger to the country. Being a partisan for democracy calls all of us to find ways to speak truth, to jointly take courageous stands; and yet, do so in ways that calls in the biggest number of our fellow Americans to join in this urgent endeavor.

4. Calling out toxic othering. Partisanship for democracy will require all of us to refrain from dehumanizing language, and we must actively call out our colleagues and political leaders who fuel toxic “othering” if we are going to rebuild our democracy. The MAGA faction within the Republican party has been successful in stoking fears with great message discipline, using labels for their political opponents like “communists,” “groomers,” “terrorists” or “Antifa.” The constant reinforcement within MAGA echo-chambers of the great replacement conspiracy theory furthers racial resentment. Democratic leaders have also engaged in toxic othering language and tactics, such as equating a vote for Trump with being a racist or homophobe.

5. Now is not the time for neutrality. There are too many overlapping existential crises facing humanity for our democratic system of government to fail us; and in fact, these crises should and could be a force for bringing us together. The United States has a long history of movements coming together to face hard challenges and we can do it again. To find common cause with our fellow Americans, however, does not require being “neutral” as we bridge across divides, when core values and injustices are at stake. Rather, we must stand united against those specific anti-democratic behaviors and unjust systems.

Calls for “bringing down the heat” in society does a disservice to the seriousness of the threats we face. It also  misses an opportunity to use this moment of high societal conflict to propel us forward, which George Lakey describes as “good polarization.” Yet, our mobilizing tactics and organizing strategies must always center the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings if we want to achieve long-term societal healing.

6. Partisanship for democracy versus bipartisanship. Many pro-democracy efforts prioritize bringing representatives of the two political parties together to form bipartisan alliances to address specific reforms. The Our Common Purpose Report released by the American Academy for Arts and Sciences for example includes 31 recommendations that were carefully crafted with bipartisan input, many of which take a long-term view towards renewing a culture of citizenship and institutional responsiveness and accountability. All of this work is necessary and worthy of attention.

And yet, to maintain their bipartisan inclusivity, many of these coalitions often shy away from some of the most divisive and difficult issues, such as confronting the “big lie,” the outrageous independent state legislature theory, or engaging with racial truth, healing and transformation processes. In particular, we cannot achieve democratic renewal in the United States without addressing the historic and current nature of systemic racial injustice. Just because this has become such an effective wedge issue for many within the MAGA faction doesn’t mean that partisans for democracy shouldn’t be courageous and insist that we attach our national conversation about race to the conversation about democracy. This is an opportunity, as Heather McGhee has so eloquently written in “The Sum of Us,” to address the ways that systemic racism hurts everyone in the country.

7. A cross-ideological democracy movement is both necessary and possible. Many on the progressive left have treated “saving democracy” as a solely left-wing issue. Yet, there are many conservatives organizing pro-democracy efforts that need to be better linked to progressive democracy movements. Robert Kagan has called for a “national unity coalition,” Christine Todd Whitman is advocating for a “common sense coalition,” and Rep. Adam Kinzinger is building a “country first” movement. Multi-sector platforms are establishing concrete targets to measure progress, such as the Partnership for American Democracy. Additionally, there are many issue-area coalitions like Issue One, focused on protecting poll workers, and grassroots organizing platforms such as People’s Action (and many, many others.)

Whatever this broad democracy movement is called, a unified front must come together that cuts across partisan, ideological, race, class, geographic and other divisions. Many segments of society are feeling the immediate threats of our democratic decline in different ways; and, pro-democracy initiatives are coming to this work from various vantage points, focusing on either short-term or long-term priorities to bring about societal change.

All of the work is essential and potentially reinforcing, and yet coming (and staying) together as a front won’t be easy. Building the connective tissue between and amongst these different democracy efforts, centering the problem not so much on our polarization but our fragmentation will help in achieving a renewed and mobilized group of partisans for democracy.

This story was produced as part of the Democracy Day journalism collaborative, a nationwide effort to shine a light on the threats and opportunities facing American democracy. Read more at usdemocracyday.org.

Building A United Front

The scope of the challenges of democracy in the United States are vast. For a movement to protect and expand American democracy to succeed, it is crucial that that movement be broad and united, including people from across America’s diverse identities and from all points along the political spectrum. Participation and diversity are key advantages for movement success. Yet building such a united front comes with numerous challenges. Scholars of social movements have long recognized that coalition-building, particularly across major ideological or identity differences, can be near-impossible to achieve without favorable conditions and significant work. In particular, when groups come from different identities, or have different understandings of the core issues at stake, building a sustainable coalition is difficult.

So how can a broad-based pro-democracy movement be forged in this moment of democratic crisis? When have coalitions in the past and in other countries facing moments of democratic crisis been able to unite across differences? While many factors vary across cases, research points to two particularly key factors.

People Unite When They Share an Understanding of the Problem

One of the central challenges of forging a pro-democracy coalition comes with the gradual, step-by-step process of 21st century democratic backsliding. While democracy in the 20th century tended to collapse all at once with tanks in the streets, democracy in the 21st century tends to fall apart piecemeal, as opponents of democracy slowly whittle away at its foundations. This is a particular problem for forging a united pro-democracy front because research shows that groups and organizations are motivated to collaborate across partisan or ideological boundaries when they feel a shared sense of threat. The first crucial step in building a united front is thus to bring people into a shared understanding that the situation presents a crisis that can only be met through combining efforts.

Some researchers have found that to build this shared understanding frequently requires lengthy processes of what sociologists call “frame alignment,” where different interpretations of the situation are gradually, frequently through lengthy discussion, brought into congruence. For example, pro-democracy movements in Africa have focused on how protecting democracy also has implications for fighting corruption, an issue that appeals to many different social groups.

One of the most effective ways to promote this shared sense of urgency and threat is by focusing on an upcoming event that captures the processes of democratic backsliding and around which different groups can build a shared understanding. One of the most common of these events are elections. Their regularity and importance for shaping the political future both make them ideal factors around which to frame mobilization, particularly if a major change in democracy is on the ballot. For instance, across Africa, elections where an incumbent president was seeking to change constitutional rules and run for a third term have been the spark for major alliances uniting previously competing civil society and political opposition groups.

People Unite When They Share Social Ties

Even when many kinds of people and organizations feel a sense of threat, a united front is not inevitable. The people and organizations feeling that sense of threat also need to have social ties through which trusting relationships of cooperation can emerge. The denser and more sustained the connections between key nodes in the movement network are, the likelier the formation of a broad united front.

Because of this, bridge-builders play a critical role in building united fronts. While a situation of crisis can motivate previously competing organizations to work together, pre-existing social ties make that collaboration much more likely. Bridge-building activities build relationships of trust that can help overcome challenges to effective coalition formation, such as differing ideologies or backgrounds, or competition over resources and media attention.

United Fronts Face Challenges Later On

But creating a united front is only an initial step. Maintaining that united front requires significant organizational, rhetorical, and relational work. Without this work, these coalitions frequently fall apart, with disastrous consequences for long-term democracy. For instance, political and civic organizations in Ukraine were able to unite to fight election fraud in the 2004 “Orange Revolution,” but competition over political power and the personality of leadership figures led to this coalition collapsing and significant democratic backsliding.

Power imbalances between members of a united front are one particular challenge. Given that the process of uniting will require groups to compromise and come to agreement on their shared goals, groups that feel at a power disadvantage relative to others are likely to feel particularly vulnerable and be hesitant to give up their preferred policies and processes for the sake of the larger front. More powerful groups are in danger of dominating the agenda and driving others out.

Alliances between activists on the streets and more established social or political institutions come with particular difficulties. Activists invested in sparking change may have little patience for quiet, behind-the-scenes processes of dispute resolution. Political, business, or religious leaders may see protest or other confrontational tactics favored by activists as disruptive or harmful to resolving political challenges.

Bringing It All Together

So, how can the pro-democracy movement unite across difference, and stay united over the long-term? The research shows, first and foremost, that this will not be easy. But leaders in the movement can help forge a united front first through building a shared understanding and feeling of threat that requires collaboration across difference, and through building dense networks of social ties that can build trust and foster communication.

To stay united will require maintaining those relationships of trust through regular communication, recognition of power imbalances and differing perspectives, and willingness to compromise and adapt for the sake of maintaining the coalition.