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.

Violence and the Backfire Effect

Any movement that seeks to stand up against powerful opposition and advocate on important political issues must be prepared for a violent reaction. Eighty-six percent of major nonviolent movements around the world have faced significant violent government repression. And other forms of resistance to movements, such as disorganized violence or harassment by movement opponents, are so common that social scientists call it a “law” that movements will experience them.

But there are ways that movements can handle violence to their advantage. Through skillful rhetorical and practical strategies, they can cause the violence directed at them to backfire. Violence, rather than suppressing the movement it targets, can end up strengthening it. For instance, during the civil rights movement, attempts by the Selma police to violently disperse civil rights marchers backfired when dramatic pictures and footage of dogs and water hoses being turned on peaceful protesters sparked widespread outrage.

Why does violence backfire?

Violence backfires when news of violence is widely disseminated and the violence is framed as unjust, illegitimate, and possible to do something about. When these messages are clearly communicated and accepted, it can become psychologically costly for previously passive observers to simply stand by and ignore the violence. People sympathetic to the movement who have previously not participated in it can become emboldened to participate, and it can even change the perspectives of former opponents to be more sympathetic to the movement.

All these aspects (wide dissemination, framing as unjust, and framing as possible to do something about) are critical. If violence is perceived as regrettable but justly and legitimately carried out, then those learning about it will not be motivated to attempt to do anything about the perpetrators. If violence is perceived as unjust, but impossible to change, then audiences are more likely to be motivated to simply shrug their shoulders and accept it as inevitable. For instance, the rising frequency of mass shootings in the United States and lack of meaningful policy responses have sparked widespread apathy among most Americans.

What situations make it less likely that violence will backfire?

Structural racism and engrained patterns of prejudice make violence less likely to backfire. In an online experiment, simply showing a picture of Black protesters made American survey respondents more likely to describe a protest as violent and say that police should stop it. However, survey respondents disapproved much more vigorously of actual physical violence. People from marginalized groups face additional challenges when it comes to sparking backfire. Yet through maintaining nonviolent discipline they can maximize their chances of doing so. Highly polarized environments also make backfire more challenging, as partisans may be more likely to simply perceive their opponents’ actions as violent, no matter what they do.

A media environment suffused in misinformation and disinformation also presents a significant challenge to sparking backfire. For example, in 2020, data clearly shows that the Black Lives Matter movement was overwhelmingly peaceful, even more peaceful than the civil rights movement of the 1960s, despite facing significant violence from police forces and movement opponents. Yet polarized media discourses that spread misleading or inaccurate information about high levels of violence in BLM protests undermined support for the protests and reduced the backfire of violence directed towards them.

What can movements do to increase the potential for violence to backfire?

The standard toolkit to prevent violence from backfiring involves five key steps: cover-up, devaluation, reinterpretation, official channels, and intimidation/bribery. Perpetrators of violence seek first to prevent information about the event from emerging, then to devalue the targets of violence, then to reinterpret the facts to make them seem less damaging, then often to diffuse and redirect popular anger through time-consuming official channels, and finally, when all else fails, to intimidate or buy off those who might spread information about the violence. In a polarized environment, reinterpreting the facts is often the centerpiece of this toolkit. For instance, media and political figures on the far Right have sought to downplay the violence of the January 6th attack on the Capitol or claim that the attack was a “false flag” operation conducted by government agents or the far Left.

Enhancing backfire involves denying opponents these five strategies: clearly communicating information about violence, validating the target of violence, interpreting the situation as unjust, refusing to let official channels sap legitimate outrage, and insulating against intimidation and bribery. These struggles over communication and interpretation can be deeply challenging and are best taken advantage of when they have been extensively planned and prepared for in advance. As scholar and activist George Lakey put it: “it is not repression that destroys a movement, it is repression plus lack of preparation.” Researchers have studied many avenues that can heighten the “paradox of repression” and increase the chances of backfire. While the specifics vary widely across cases, a few consistent patterns stand out.

Build Institutions and Trusted Networks: Movements that have strategized about how to respond to violence, and put in place structures to respond to it, are much more likely to successfully spark backfire. One study found that backfire was much more likely when movements had previously invested in external and internal institution-building, particularly in institutions that facilitated “communication channels and tactical adaptability.” Movements that had built strong networks throughout social groups were able to draw on those networks to mobilize in response to that event, and to mobilize participants to engage in follow-up tactics that could show their opposition to the violence while putting them at reduced risk of violence themselves.

Get the Word Out: One of the key things that organized institutional structures can do is ensure that violence is clearly communicated and that attempts to cover up violence fail. Social media has made government cover-ups more difficult, leading to protests spreading more rapidly once they’ve been initiated. Yet social media has also exacerbated misinformation and disinformation, reducing people’s trust in publicly communicated information. Building relationships of trust across partisan and identity lines before a violent event occurs may make it easier to diffuse information about violence when it occurs. Movements should strategize each step in the communication chain, from the original source of information about violence, to the ways in which it is transmitted, to how different audiences receive and react to it.

Maintain Nonviolent Discipline: By adopting and sticking to nonviolent tactics, even in the face of violence, activists can highlight the injustice and illegitimacy of violence towards them, preventing attempts by their opponents to devalue the targets of violence, for example by reinterpreting state violence as necessary law enforcement. A growing series of studies show over and over again that even modest levels of physical violence significantly reduces support for that movement. Movements can improve nonviolent discipline through training, choosing more dispersed tactics that reduce the chances of direct physical confrontation.

Focus on Overcoming Fear and Apathy: Backfire is a product of society’s interpretation of a violent event, not directly of the event itself. One part of shaping this interpretation is through highlighting violence’s injustice. A second is not allowing the violence to lead to paralyzing fear and apathy. In Zimbabwe, the Women of Zimbabwe Arise movement achieved this through building a culture where they “turned arrests into a celebration of successful resistance…beatings, arrests, and detentions became a badge of honor.” Leaders walked at the front of protests that were likely to face police brutality, and thousands courted arrest when a single protester was arrested.

While the situation in the United States differs from Zimbabwe, and the movement for democracy faces a variety of different forms of violence, from online harassment to threats from heavily armed conspiracy theorists the same underlying principle holds reinterpreting violence as a badge of honor and sign of the impact of resistance can keep core members of the movement motivated and defang the power of the violence turned against them. Violence towards the movement should never be accepted as just or inevitable, but neither should it be treated as something so horrific that it paralyzes a movement with fear. Instead, movements can empower their members to accept violence as a sign that their work is touching on critical and impactful issues and is even more important to continue.

Facilitating and Training in Cross-Sector Movements: Turbo-Charging Efforts for Coordination and Collaboration

On September 14, 2022, The Horizons Project hosted a webinar to bring together movement trainers, facilitators, and organizers to discuss the current state of movement-building support in the US and how training and convening spaces could be better coordinated and envisioned more creatively to build a broad-based pro-democracy movement to counter the rising authoritarian threat.

Maria Stephan’s opening remarks are below.

“Hello everyone and welcome to today’s discussion on Facilitating and Training in Cross-Sector Movements: Turbo-Charging Efforts for Coordination and Collaboration. Today we’ll be speaking with a distinguished group of panelists about the current state of movement-building support in the US, and how training and convening spaces could be envisioned more creatively to support a broad-based front or movement to counter the rising authoritarian threats and to build a democracy that works for all Americans. While our conversation today will be focused on the US, we think there is significant cross-border import and relevance.

Why are we having this conversation now? Like most or all of you in this room, Horizons is deeply concerned about the state of US democracy, which was formally classified as “backsliding” last year by the Stockholm-based International IDEA. We’re concerned about the alarming rise of political violence and extreme us vs. them politics. This is not our first experience with authoritarianism in the US, however: the system of Jim Crow following the end of the Reconstruction period was one of the most virulent and violent forms of single-party rule. While the January 6th 2021 attempted insurrection was a dramatic reminder that “it can happen here” (to cite Sinclair Lewis, who wrote about rising fascism in the US in the 1930s), the rise in political violence (mostly but not exclusively from far-right groups) and state and local efforts to undermine free & fair elections are worrisome no matter which issues we care about the most – whether that be climate, health care, workers’ rights, or many others.

At the same time, we know that the only way that we have ever gotten closer to freedom & justice for all in the US, and what plenty of research has shown to be the strongest bulwark against authoritarianism globally, has been powerful, broad-based coalitions and movements capable of mobilizing people across difference. The history of USA is in many ways the history of movements – to achieve independence from colonial rule, to abolish slavery, to make suffrage truly universal, to expand civil and political rights for all. These movements have relied on a combination of dialogue and nonviolent action to build bridges, build power, and build belonging.

Training and facilitation are essential to building movement strength and sustainability. They have played a critical role in pro-democracy movements in the US (including the Civil Rights movement), the Philippines, Serbia, South Africa, and countless other places. Members of our panel have written extensively on this topic.

At Horizons we believe that both dialogue and direct action, organization, and mobilization, blocking harm and building democratic abundance, are necessary to overcome the divide and rule tactics that endemic to the Authoritarian Playbook.

To help shed light on the roles played by movement training and facilitation in both upholding and reimagining US democracy, we will now turn to a very talented and accomplished group of speakers. Let me introduce them briefly.

  • Ivan Marovic is the Director of Field Education and Applied Research at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. Since playing a leading role in Otpor, a youth movement which helped bring down Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, Ivan has become one of the leading educators in the field of strategic nonviolent conflict.
  • Nadine Bloch is the Training Director at Beautiful Trouble, a global network of organizers, artists, trainers, and writers where Nadine’s work explores the potent intersection of art, movements, and politics.
  • Jake Waxman is an advisory board member and senior trainer with the Leading Change Network. He has led over 200 workshops and trained over 1,500 coaches and 15,000 participants in the craft of Public Narrative and Leadership, Organizing, and Action.
  • Carlos Saavedra has been active in the immigrant rights movement for the last 20 years building and co-founding organizations for immigrant students and workers. Since founding the Ayni Institute in 2013, he has been coaching and training organizers and leaders in movement building.
  • Reverend Stephen A. Green is an activist and pastor who leads with radical love in action through his ministry at the St. Luke AME Church in Harlem, and as Chair of Faith for Black Lives, a faith-based social justice organization. He is also the creator and host of the podcast, “Sacred Desk with Rev. Stephen A. Green,” which features conversations with thought leaders and change agents focused on the latest headlines.”

THE VISTA: September 2022

The Horizons Project is growing! We are pleased to formally welcome both Nilanka Seneviratne as the Director for Systems and Operations, and Jonathan Pinckney as the Director for Applied Research. September is always a busy month.

We have new resources available on our website, including a compilation of “mapping” initiatives within the ecosystem of social change working on democracy, social justice, and bridgebuilding in the US. Please share others that we might have missed! Horizons also just released the first in a series of resources on the intersection of bridge-building and power-building.  

We continue to be so inspired by all the amazing work and thought leadership happening throughout the country. Here’s a sampling of what we’re reading, watching, and listening to these days: 

READING 

The Bridge Project: Reframing the Prevailing American Narrative for 2052 

by Connie Razza and Angela Peoples 

You don’t want to miss the Reframing the Prevailing American Narrative for 2052 Report, a narrative “destination” project that “takes a different approach from much of the narrative work that aims to win an election, to pass a policy, to make progress in the near term. The Bridge Project attempts to craft a story that aligns with who we are working to be in 30 years, and to strategize for transformation by building backward from that future narrative to inform the stories that shape our work today and in the coming years.” 

My final column: 2024 and the Dangers Ahead  

by Margaret Sullivan  

Editorialist, Sullivan, extolled fellow journalists to tread carefully in covering the upcoming elections. “One thing is certain. News outlets can’t continue to do speech, rally and debate coverage — the heart of campaign reporting — in the same old way. They will need to lean less on knee-jerk live coverage and more on reporting that relentlessly provides meaningful context.” 

Surviving Polarization 

by Adrian Rutt 

This is a meaty overview of several different takes on polarization, but one insight that was particularly powerful: “…we are all bundles of contradictions, whatever else we like to think about our expressed beliefs and their consistency and cogency…It is not the case that we possess rigorously formulated ‘belief systems’, which stamp out our thoughts and reactions in a fully determinable way. People alter their reactions and expressions to cope with the particularities of the situation they find themselves in.” 

Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation: A Struggle for Democracy and Racial Justice 

by Kitana Ananda 

This Non-Profit Quarterly article provides an excellent summary of a rich webinar discussion, that left the audience with three key takeaways: (1) build networks that plug people into ongoing efforts to combat disinformation through narrative analysis and solution building; (2) hold Big Tech accountable through advocacy and legislation to advance a racially equitable digital society; and, (3) diversify media, tech, and academic institutions that are working on these issues to center the analyses and needs of impacted communities. 

WATCHING

Joe Bubman, Executive Director of Urban Rural Action 

Watch this great short video describing the work of Urban Rural Action, highlighting the experience of folks in Maryland coming together from different ideological perspectives to tackle issues of immigration, economic development, and inclusion with practical local solutions for their state.  

Study Looks to Strengthen How We Feel About Democracy 

Stanford University’s Robb Willer is interviewed on MSNBC to discuss their new study on reducing toxic polarization and reducing Americans’ anti-democratic attitudes. An overview of the study was also summarized by Fast Company or you can read the full report: Strengthening Democracy Challenge

Faith and Polarization

Vice President for Programs at One America Movement, Chandra DeNap Whetstine gave an inspiring talk at Stand Together’s Catalyst Summit describing their approach to combatting toxic polarization, working with faith communities across the US. 

LISTENING TO

Power Building with Alicia Garza 

Finding Our Way Podcast  

In this episode, author, political strategist, and organizer Alicia Garza, breaks down what power is, how we build it, and why we need it in order to build a more equitable society. 

The Power of Crisis, Ian Bremmer 

Future Hindsight Podcast 

This interview discusses The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats – and Our Response – Will Change The World, a new book by Ian Bremmer which posits that the climate crisis, disruptive technologies, and pandemics are existential threats to humanity, but also offer an opportunity for real cooperation across the world. 

Journeying on the Road to Reconciliation 

ThinkPeace Podcast 

“Going down the road of reconciliation is a daunting path that not many people can take. This road may test you in ways you couldn’t imagine but when the end result leads to tangible and sustainable change, you realize that the journey is worth it.” Director of the Mary Hoch Center for Reconciliation, Antti Pentikainen discusses his journey into reconciliation, his experiences working in different contexts, and what have been the most effective methods in working towards reconciliation. 

INTERESTING TWEETS 

FOR FUN 

At The Horizons Project we love all genres of music, but we have a special place in our hearts for all those who can rock the mic. We were recently introduced to Harry Mack who brought us so much joy. Please enjoy his most recent freestyle and try really hard stop at one (or don’t because they are all great)!

MAPPING THE ECOSYSTEM OF SOCIAL CHANGE

This overview was created after a convening of organizations and networks who are endeavoring to map the larger “ecosystem of social change,” including social justice, bridge-building, and democracy organizations, practitioners, and organizers. This is not an exhaustive list of mapping efforts but rather a working document that we intend to periodically update as we learn of more efforts and seek to make sense of the diverse lenses they provide to our understanding of the ecosystem. If you have a map or know of a map that is not listed below but should be please email us at [email protected].

Democracy Strengthening

  • Bridge Alliance: Bridge Alliance created their Democracy Field Overview which combines civic engagement, electoral reform, policy and issues work of the many unique organizations and funders working within the political and civic reform sectors. It is a useful tool for those in the democracy field to learn about complementary work.
  • Citizen Connect: Citizen Connect is a website with many organizations from the bridging field & democracy spaces – a place where ordinary citizens can go to find out what’s going on and how to get engaged. The website currently has 600+ organizations and has the potential to become a coordinating space for larger ecosystem efforts.
  • Critical Connections Forum: CCF sought to get to know the democracy landscape (including 300+ different organizations). CCF sought to get to know the democracy landscape, and includes 300+ different organizations. They identified several areas in which to dig deeper: Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT), bridging, bottom-up political organizing, and participatory governance. They are making sense of the democracy “movement of movements” and identifying where critical connections have not yet been made. They have connected with others through the Co-Intelligence Institute. They’re largely focused on building baseline maps of the current state of relationships of organizations. Caleb from CCF authored Organizing for collective impact: The making of a mass pro-democracy movement which drew on this map.
  • FixUS: FixUS has developed their Landscape Review to curate the many existing organizations devoted to improving the state of US democracy through political, economic, cultural, and other changes.
  • Mapping American Social Movements: This project produces and displays free interactive maps showing the historical geography of dozens of social movements that have influenced American life and politics since the late 19th century, including radical movements, civil rights movements, labor movements, women’s movements, and more. This project allows us to see where social movements were active and where not, helping us better understand patterns of influence and endurance.
  • SNF Agora Institute: Mapping the Modern Agora integrates big data on civil society organizations to map the modern agora at scale. Specifically, it creates a comprehensive map of the civic life in US communities, develops a more coherent classification scheme for civil society, and develops new lines of research and inquiry that can emerge from creating a picture of the whole. They aspire to map not only the geographic aspects of civil society, but also the digital ones. And they hope is that this can become a tool for researchers and practitioners to better understand, make sense of, and invest in strengthening civic spaces in modern democracies.
  • Uphold Our Democracy: Uphold Our Democracy is currently mapping the US democracy space to inform next steps and a future strategy for the informal coalition that came together in 2020. They are looking at mapping the bridgers, social justice movement leaders, people working on democracy reform efforts, and then folks in the litigation space. They’ve also identified two periphery groups: funders and other the core members of the Uphold Our Democracy Coalition, as it was initially convened. Uphold did work on an initial mapping of organizations and training resources in 2020 that is publicly available here. Relatedly, there is the Global Democracy Coalition. This coalition is run by International Idea and Counterpart International and is very focused on The Summit for Democracy.

Nonviolent Action Campaigns

  • Crowd Counting Consortium: The CCC has been tracking nonviolent protest activity across the US since January 2017 (demonstrations, rallies, including things like campaign rallies, strikes and other labor actions and nonviolent direct actions.) It’s a large database of geo-coded events including information such as participating organizations, crowd size, participant claims, protest reasons, protester tactics, police and counter protester responses, and issue tags. Data is publicly available via a GitHub repository where compiled versions of the data are updated on a weekly basis. It’s attempting to make available data sets that scholars can use to identify and analyze causes and consequences of trends within the United States. CCC has also worked with the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).

Polarization/Bridgebuilding

  • Divided We Fall: Divided We Fall has created an ecosystem map of the bridge-building community as part of their Framework for the Bridge Building Ecosystem. They see this effort as a potential first step toward growing participation and collaboration across this ecosystem. This guide contains over 200 organizations that work on at least one of the following topics: Dialogue and Engagement, Youth and University, Advocacy and Research, Media and Journalism, and Technology.

Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation

  • Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth: RJOY is engaged with a few mapping initiatives, particularly focused on truth telling, racial healing, and reparations initiatives in the United States. Much of their work is focused on how to weave these networks, identifying those who are under the radar or on the margins and those who are at the center of the work. Based on their connections, RJOY seeks to bring folks closer together to build relationships. By really centering their work on relationships, they seek to support the sustainability of the network to be able to weave itself. These efforts have led to the extension of the Iowa City Truth Telling Commission and a few other initiatives.

  • The Bridging Divides Initiative: In partnership with the Truth Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Movement BDI has mapped TRHT Movement Organizations and Transitional Justice Initiatives in the United States, overlaying some of those members with local government-led TRHT initiatives (collected by the New England School of Law), and/or with some other efforts affiliated with George Mason University’s Mary Hoch Center for Reconciliation.

Violence Prevention/De-Escalation

  • Over Zero: Over Zero has been mapping groups that are focused on preventing and addressing political violence (many of whom don’t do that as their primary purpose but are playing a major role). They interviewed 50+ civil society groups in the US (state and national) and 12 international experts with experience in over 120 countries to develop this map and observed several different forums and roundtables over time. The team is in the process of finalizing a write-up and visuals.
  • Peace Direct: Peace Direct’s primary purpose for mapping is to recognize local peace builders who are oftentimes doing work but are simply not recognized. On Martin Luther King Day in 2019 they mapped US peacebuilding. They have mapped about 200 racial justice efforts across this country—though some call it different things (e.g., “legal defense,” “water protection,” “peacebuilding with a racial focus,” or leaving out the word “peace” all together). Their primary audience are local organizations, and they seek to build networks through their Local Action Fund (LAF).
  • The Bridging Divides Initiative: The Bridging Divides Initiative started as a mapping effort to try and understand both risk and resilience at a local level and make connections between them. BDI worked with ACLED to start their US-based coding, and they have a visualization of that data, also overlapping with some of the organizational data they compile. They often combine other types of event data around political violence and demonstrations, including about 12 different indicators to look at risk at a county level (specifically risk of political violence and democratic disruption.) This is displayed on a heatmap of the US and updated every two months. They collaborate with the Carter Center and some researchers at GW on this effort. They also work with Thought Partnerships Hub.

    One of their initial (and now dormant) efforts was a map of organizations that do bridging work that is available on their website. This bridging map serves as a template to show a lot of other different bridging efforts. In the last year they also started looking at threats and harassment of local officials together with the Anti-Defamation League and now the National League of Cities. They are planning to be able to share some initial details on that as early as October. Because of the sensitivity of the information, this data would be available by request-only. They developed a de-escalation directory, organizations that are offering de-escalation or bystander intervention training and/or Training of Trainers.

Violent Extremism

We’re Hiring Research Assistants!!

Position Title: Research Assistant

Location: Virtual

Reports to: Director of Partnerships and Outreach and Director of Applied Research (once hired)

Status: Temporary, part-time, non-exempt; Fall 2022; Between 10-20 hours per week (negotiable)

Position Summary

The Horizons Project is strengthening relationships and connections among the social justice, peacebuilding, and democracy communities in the United States, with the goal of reinforcing our collective efforts to address systemic injustices, advance societal healing, and build a truly inclusive and pluralistic democracy. Launched as an independent initiative in 2022 under the auspices of fiscal sponsor New Venture Fund, the Project is led by a small team of experienced organizers, practitioners and academics with deep connections and credibility to navigate these diverse networks across the ideological spectrum and issue areas in the US.

The Horizons Project seeks a research assistant to explore key pillars, levers, and outcomes (from US and global case studies) for combatting authoritarianism and building a broad-based democracy movement.

Responsibilities and Tasks

  • Conduct desk research exploring the role key organizational and institutional pillars of support (businesses, religious institutions, bureaucracies, security forces, professional groups, unions, cultural institutions, etc.) have played in both upholding authoritarian systems, and in supporting pro-democracy movements. For the purposes of this research, we will focus on the business, faith, civic, and media pillars in the US and explore:
  • Basic underpinnings of each pillar, including motivations/guiding principles, key coalitions, short- and long-term goals, etc.; 
  • Examples of how key pillars have employed particular levers to push back against democratic backsliding in semi-autocratic contexts globally; and
  • Lessons from international cases that could inform pro-democracy organizing in the US.
  • Develop draft overview and written materials to support the team’s efforts to cultivate and amplify existing insights and resources and identify gaps where more research and tools are needed. 
  • Compile high level takeaways from Horizons Project events, stakeholder meetings, and other key engagements.
  • Review and help prepare materials for team presentations and workshops.
  • Attend and provide summaries for key events.

Education, Experience, Knowledge, Skills and Ability   

  • A master’s or PhD (preferred) student studying peacebuilding, social justice, democracy and governance, or a related field.
  • Demonstrated interest in the fields of peacebuilding, nonviolent action, and/or democracy.
  • Experience working with or collecting data.
  • Experience conducting a significant independent research project.
  • Good organizational and interpersonal skills; can plan and prioritize own work and work of internal stakeholders.
  • Experiential knowledge or research on major social institutions in the United States.
  • Ability to review, distill, and articulate themes from across multiple disciplines and policy and research literature.
  • Strong communication skills, including writing, editing, and research.
  • Must be a quick learner, well-organized, and attentive to detail.
  • Must be able to multi-task and work under deadlines in a dynamic environment.

How to Apply

E-mail your resume, cover letter, and a brief writing sample demonstrating your research and writing ability as PDF or Word attachments to: [email protected].

Please reference the exact title of the job you are applying for in the subject line. This announcement will remain posted until the position is filled.

Please note that only those individuals whose qualifications match the current needs of this position will be considered applicants and will receive responses from [email protected].

Compensation

A stipend ranging from $15-20/hour will be available.

Hiring Statement

The Horizons Project is a project of New Venture Fund (NVF), a 501(c)(3) public charity that incubates new and innovative public-interest projects and grant-making programs. NVF is committed to attracting, developing, and retaining exceptional people, and to creating a work environment that is dynamic, rewarding and enables each of us to realize our potential. NVF’s work environment is safe and open to all employees and partners, respecting the full spectrum of race, color, religious creed, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, political affiliation, ancestry, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, and all other classifications protected by law in the locality and/or state in which you are working.

COVID-19 Policy

To center the safety and well-being of its employees, New Venture Fund requires that any employee who is required to conduct in-person activities for their job must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 within four weeks of their start date.  This position may require candidates to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  Accommodations may be sought and approved in accordance with the law by contacting human resources at [email protected].

THE VISTA: August 2022

In the Northern hemisphere, August is a quiet month when we try to stay cool, hopefully take time off, and then prepare for the academic year to kick off again. The slower pace has been a perfect time for the Horizons team to dig into so many new narrative resources, like this meaty compilation from the Narrative Initiative. Narrative competency is a key area of exploration for Horizons; and we remain committed to weaving bridgebuilding and powerbuilding concepts into our Narrative Engagement Across Difference initiative.

This IFIT report on Narrative, Power and Polarisation highlights that instead of one unifying narrative to counter polarization, we need to illuminate narrative biases, change narratives from within, and amplify smaller stories that help build social engagement at scale. This aligns with More In Common’s new report on American identity, which finds that personal stories of family history are a powerful way to break through the “us vs. them” narrative.

Many narrative practitioners are coming to the conclusion that we must be more conscious of fostering a sense of agency and community, rather than perpetuating a competitive, scarcity mindset that often comes with stories of crises. Framing choices have the power to inspire all of us to work through shared problems and to embrace a civic identity that respects differences, as also highlighted in this wonderful video series from Doing Things With Stories.

Here are some other resources we have found inspiring this month:

READING

Callings from “Fierce Civility”

By: Curtis Ogden

Civility has (almost) become a dirty word, seen as naive and impossible by some (at least when considering certain cultural and political divides), and as harmful by others, if ‘being civil’ means not speaking or hearing truths or working for social justice.” Fierce civility is not about ‘chronic niceness’ or conflict avoidance, but rather advocates for stances of assertiveness (as opposed to aggression) and receptivity (as opposed to passivity.)”

Cancel Culture

By: Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder

“In the United States today, the left and right alike have aggressively embraced cancelation campaigns. Each side has its own distinctive objectives, strategies, initiatives and networks—as well as its own particular strongholds.”

How to Be Influenced

By: Ian Leslie

“We live in age of social influence, and while there is no shortage of advice on [how] to influence others, how to build a following, how to change minds – there is a dearth of thinking on how to be influenced…Each human being is bounded but permeable, a creature capable of making its own thoughts and actions but prone to copying and adapting those of others. When everyone around us is doing the same thing, we feel a pressure to join in that is almost physical in its force.”

Not Knowing

By: Maree Conway

“If we accept that we don’t know why someone is doing something we don’t accept, we can begin to accept that it may not be a case of us right, them wrong. We’ve observed something that arouses something in us, but we can reject being judgemental as a response. We can accept that not knowing is okay. Of course, there are situations where this stance won’t apply and events that cause harm to others in particular are just wrong.”

A Funder’s Guide to Building Social Cohesion

By: The Democracy Funders Network, in collaboration with Civic Health Project, New Pluralists, and Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement

This guide is intended to orient funders to the different ways civil society actors are thinking about and addressing the problems of affective polarization and eroding social trust.

WATCHING

Building a Larger Us

Larger US put out this great video to accompany their new report on the need for collective psychology to counter tribalism and polarization. You can also find excellent explanatory Twitter threads here.

Are Americans Thinking More Systemically?

Check out this roundtable discussion hosted by the FrameWorks Institute featuring community leaders and organizers discussing the implications of shifting mindsets from individualistic to systemic level thinking and the impacts on health equity, the economy, race, and politics.

Radical Belonging and Bridging: A Path Forward for Societies in Crisis?

“…for too long, civic leaders concerned centrally with democracy and those concerned with the rights of marginalized and minority communities have worked in silos, despite the many shared goals and values that both groups share.” Watch this important conversation, the first in a series, that launched the Democracy & Belonging Forum of the Othering & Belonging Institute.

LISTENING

Hungarian Autocracy and The American Right

By: Fresh Air

“New Yorker journalist Andrew Marantz says Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s administration has rewritten Hungary’s constitution to consolidate his power. U.S. conservatives are taking note.”

Radical Grievance with Malkia Devich-Cyril

By: The Emergent Strategy Podcast

“Grief is power…and a way to strength and intimacy.” This is a great conversation about our collective embrace of grief that can also aid in our journey to build belonging.

Eboo Patel and the Vision for an Interfaith America

By: Ashoka

Eboo Patel discusses his most recent book, We Need to Build: Field Notes For Diverse Democracy, to inspire and equip changemakers to move beyond critique and begin to build the next pluralist chapter of American life.

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

Reach for the stars! The images released by NASA’s Webb telescope captured everyone’s imaginations this month. Check out this great breakdown from The Washington Post, which provides more background into exactly what each photo portrays.

So much of the news is consumed with what’s going wrong in the world that it can be hard to point to the bright spots and beauty that also exists. Check out the Peace Dots Project, which seeks to do just that in Buffalo, NY.

Presenting Horizons Presents

There are two types of people in the world, those that like podcasts and those that do not. If you’ve checked out any of our VISTAS, then you know that there are some serious podcast fans at Horizons. So we’ve jumped into the mix and for your listening pleasure we give you Horizons Presents.

Our first season is a group of intimate conversations with a group of inspiring women leaders on their own personal approach to sensemaking as a practice of network leadership.

Episode 1: Introduction and Sensemaking with Uma Viswanathan
Episode 2: Sensemaking with Michelle Barsa
Episode 3: Sensemaking with Melanie Greenberg
Episode 4: Sensemaking with Julia Roig and Tabatha Pilgrim Thompson
Episode 5: Sensemaking with Evelyn Thornton
Episode 6: Sensemaking with Nealin Parker

Enjoy!!