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 was written by Chief Network Weaver Julia Roig and 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 was written by Chief Organizer Maria J. Stephan and 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 Pillars of Support Project

Click here for the Pillars of Support Project Page
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.

Click here to learn more about the project and our findings!

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.

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

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.

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

Rethinking “Polarization” as the Problem

On June 6, 2022 Horizons’ Chief Network Weaver Julia Roig, shared the main stage at Rotary’s 2022 Presidential Conference in Houston with Gary Slutkin, the founder of Cure Violence and Azim Khamisa, the founder of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation. The following article has been taken from her remarks as she followed Gary’s overview of their approach to treating violence as a public health epidemic and Azim’s personal journey of forgiveness and healing after tragically losing his son to a gang-initiation murder.

I’m going to take a deep breath.

Which I invite you to do too.

First, I want to acknowledge what an emotional time it is right now, probably for everyone in this room in one way or another. We all know that Rotary is a non-political organization, and yet these issues of violence, loss, and forgiveness are so very hard when we are living through a moment in history where there is so much pain, and division, and seeming paralysis to solve some of these existential challenges we face. How do we confront these dynamics and think about the role Rotary might play in creating stronger, more resilient relationships at all levels where you are working and have influence?

I was invited to speak to you about polarization. So, I wanted to share some insights that have been galvanizing my work at The Horizons Project. After more than 30 years working on peacebuilding globally, I recently launched Horizons to focus on the conflict dynamics and democratic decline in the United States. When I first conceived of The Horizons Project, honestly, we did start with the framing of polarization as the problem that needed to be addressed. And I was focused on what the peacebuilding approach might be to work on depolarization in the US, bringing with me the lessons from many other country contexts. But over the past year and half, our team has revised that framework, and I see the limitations of polarization as our central problem. In fact, might there be a way of considering polarization as healthy, and even needed for society to change? I’ve recognized more and more that there is a distinction between “good polarization” and “toxic polarization.”

So let me explain a bit more.

One metaphor for the polarization we’re experiencing right now – articulated by Quaker activist and peacebuilder George Lakey – is that society is heating up, like a hot forge. I.e., the fire that we put metal into that becomes so malleable, we can hammer it into something beautiful… or not. Conflict. Disruption. This is the heat rising. And that is not necessarily all bad – because it’s a sign that we need change. What comes out of the forge, the sword or the plowshare – that’s up to us, how we organize ourselves.

Sometimes this takes the form of actions that are loud and disruptive – naming where they see injustice for example. There is a saying that “we need to polarize to organize.” You are staking out a side (a “pole” … saying that “this is what we stand for!”) And after a lifetime of being in the peacebuilding business, I know that we are living through a moment in history when we need to stand up for what we believe in. It is not a time to be neutral. I’m not talking about anything that has to do with partisan politics. I appreciate so much how much Rotary guards its non-partisanship.

This concept of good polarization feels uncomfortable because conflict is uncomfortable and messy. We have different opinions about how to move forward together. Different truths and sources of information that we trust. We have different ways of being in the world. Holding those tensions of our diversity and agreeing to keep going together is what will make something beautiful out of that forge. Rising heat is a sign of change. What we’re really up against right now is complacency. For example, complacency that these levels of violence that Gary spoke about, in all their forms, continues to be tolerated; and complacency against the forces who are actively trying to divide us to stay in power.

Toxic polarization on the other hand is when we may tip over into “dehumanizing” those we consider “other.” We see this rhetoric alive and well from many politicians, on social media, perhaps even behind closed doors when we hear our colleagues use derogatory terms to describe an entire group of people (for their political affiliation, religion, or ethnicity.) Toxic polarization looks like zero-sum thinking; when we think in binaries (everything becomes black and white – there’s little tolerance for gray;) when we fall into group think (“us vs them”) or herd mentality; when we become increasingly afraid to speak up within our friend groups, for fear of being ostracized.

The social science behind toxic polarization shows how much of these dynamics are fueled by a deep sense of threat to our identities and our way of life. These threats can be perceived or real. But this level of toxic “othering” can ultimately lead to condoning violence, or allowing violence to continue, against those we see – even subconsciously – as less than human. When we feel that our identity, or our group, is under threat we no longer have the ability to deliberate. We have a harder time engaging in difficult conversations where we are able to discuss nuanced, complex issues, to debate solutions. How can we come together across difference if we consider those “different” from us as actually dangerous to our way of life? We see these dynamics playing out all over the world and they are manipulated and weaponized by those who wish to stay in power at whatever the cost.

So then, I don’t believe now is the time to turn down the heat. I believe we need to be organizing together across difference to stand up loudly for our values. We all want to live in safety. We believe in the dignity of all human life.

Martin Luther King Jr has a famous sermon, called “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious” where he described peace that comes at the expense of justice as a negative peace. Rotarians know a lot of about positive peace because of your long-standing partnership with the Institute of Economics and Peace that gives a wonderful framework for bringing together all the ways Rotarians are investing in helping to keep societies peaceful. But to actively work against negative peace, this means we have to incorporate injustice into that same framework. Calls for bringing down the heat; for unity; finding common ground – it may be quieter; we may be civil to each other. But are we sweeping the hardest issues under the rug to keep that peace? Are we seeing the violence in all its forms, hearing some of the loudest voices who are asking for the violence to stop, looking at the root causes as Azim did when he recognized there was a system that needs changing to prevent more gang violence?

I am personally trying to sit with the discomfort of the heat, the polarizing conflict that is pushing us to change, demanding louder action of us. And yet, we CAN all be more aware of the temptations of dehumanization. While we organize and work for change, how are we always centering each other’s shared humanity and our interdependence, even as we confront these hardest of issues? Because another way of reframing polarization, is that what we really need to work on is our “fragmentation.”

Interestingly, forgiveness experts will note that one of the signs of being unforgiving is that we start avoiding each other. We stop working with people – those who have hurt us, those who have offended us. In fact, when we feel “offended,” which so many of us do right now, (we are constantly outraged), the very normal psychological response is that we look down on those who have caused the offense. We feel morally superior. This is another form of “othering” and is deepening our fragmentation.

Gary mentioned the violence of autocracy as one of the forms that is spreading like a pandemic throughout the world. Toxic polarization and dehumanization, this keeps us feeling threatened and staying fragmented. We are fearful and outraged. These are all tools of autocratic systems that ultimately lead to violence. We see this in Russia, and in many other parts of the world, including alarming trends in the US – where people are manipulated and denied the ability to have meaningful voice in the decisions that affect them, to assemble and organize, and to stop the spread of violence. Toxic polarization is a symptom of an increasingly authoritarian regime, not the cause.

So here we are at a Rotary convention, and you have to go back to your communities and your clubs. What do you do with all of this? Hopefully, get comfortable living with tensions and being in relationship with those who think differently in your communities (maybe even in your clubs and your districts.) Reflect on when you may find yourself feeling offended or outraged and how you want to channel that – not to turn away, not to feel morally superior – but committed to being true to your values in a way that is restorative of relationships and allows for healing together.

Rotarians are so good at acting together and conducting shared activities that build on a common identity as Rotarians. We need to remind each other of our many shared identities – we are all complex, not just one thing. And we need to put a stop to dehumanizing behavior. Gary mentioned behavior change to prevent the spread of violence and the need to establish new norms.

Rotary can be a big part of establishing these new norms, not just in the projects you fund, but also in the way you work together and with others. You set an example by living your values. These new norms won’t really take hold when we convene dialogues that center our identities as different from each other, for example, blue hats and red hats in the US. They do grow when activities center what we share, as mothers, football fans, or gardeners. Whatever helps us connect as human beings, that slows down our thinking, allows us to live with complexity and nuance again – not black and white. Everything Rotary does, whether it’s projects on maternal health, clean water, girls’ education. All of Rotary’s areas of focus are potential peacebuilding efforts when you bring together unlikely bedfellows and combat that fragmentation, to work on problems together. When you recognize and see injustices in a system that needs to change no matter where you’re working, use your collective voices to call for change, centering those values.

I am here today because I believe in Rotary as a force for changing norms. Sitting with tension, feeling the rising heat. Something beautiful can come out of the forge because we are all here, working on the different pieces of peace together.

Thank you.

THE VISTA: June + July 2022

To say June was an intense month in the US would be an understatement. We encourage everyone to keep tuning in to the January 6th hearings, a testament to the rule of law and the importance of accountability that we cannot take for granted, as stated in this powerful op-ed by Pastor Evan Mawarire.

With the barrage of recent Supreme Court decisions sowing deeper divisions and disorientation, there are many resources such as those compiled by Citizen Connect to help us keep talking to each other and organizing for a just, inclusive, and plural democracy. Special thanks to The Fulcrum for highlighting the work of Horizons and for elevating the call for a mass pro-democracy movement. We agree!

Horizons’ Co-Leads published two articles marking our Independence Day describing the importance of individual and collective action to countering authoritarianism, and the healthy tensions between accountability and healing as a nation.  Finally, Scot Nakagawa offered up sage advice on how to keep up our energies to stay in the fight. The Horizons Project hopes the following compilation of insights will also provide you with some inspiration and needed energy:

READING

Beyond Conflict’s Renewing American Democracy: Navigating A Changing Nation is a treasure trove of information on the psychological drivers that are underlying our current social division and how they have been leveraged to erode democratic norms and processes. The authors include recommendations for how citizens and lawmakers can begin to counteract these forces.

The Frameworks Institute released a meaty report: How Is Culture Changing In This Time of Social Upheaval?, offering an in-depth look at mindset shifts taking place; the tacit assumptions that Americans are drawing on to think about social and political issues (for example individualistic vs systemic thinking.) Highlights from the report can be found here.

This article published by The Intercept, “Meltdowns Have Brought Progressive Advocacy Groups to a Standstill at a Critical Moment in World History“, also spurred a strong debate on Twitter about the systemic causes of the internal strife and challenges described in the article.

America Is Growing Apart, Possibly for Good” is a sobering read in The Atlantic that includes a historical perspective from Michael Podhorzer, laying out a detailed case for thinking of the two blocs within the country as fundamentally different nations, uneasily sharing the same geographic space.

WATCHING

This edition of the Braver Angels video podcast includes John Woods Jr. interviewing Manu Meel from BridgeUSA on Gen Z and the “new center.” Manu shares some great wisdom on new theories of change coming from young people for making progress on our most pressing social challenges.

The Future OfThe Verge’s Netflix show about the future of everything is now streaming. Because our relationship to the future and our imagination skills are such an important aspect of successful organizing, this is a show intended to make people feel like an exciting and hopeful future is possible, “if we put our minds to it”.

Check out this series of five videos featuring panel discussions from the Global Democracy Champions Summit co-hosted by Keseb and the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University intended to spur dialogue and action to advance inclusive democracy in the US and globally.

LISTENING TO

The Good Faith Podcast discusses Replacing White Replacement Theory with special guest Chuck Mingo, pastor and founder of Living Undivided. He helps unpack the history behind the insidious “theory” and why he feels its scarcity mindset is in direct contradiction to the “abundance of God revealed in the Bible.” The podcast also explores the connection of current tragedies to broader understandings of immigration, as well as to the nation’s history of racially motivated violence like the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

This episode of the How Do We Fix It Podcast features Elizabeth Doty, Director of the Erb Institute’s Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce at the University of Michigan, discussing constructive ways for businesses to help counter hyper-partisanship in society. We also highly recommend the Erb Institute’s overview of how the private sector can contribute to countering authoritarianism, a key institutional pillar needed to incentivize pro-democratic behavior.

Amanda Carpenter joins The Focus Group with Sarah Longwell Podcast to discuss the January 6th Committee hearings, how they matter for history, and whether they’re contributing to the “Trump voters’ blues.”

On The World Unpacked Podcast by The Carnegie Endowment of Peace, author Moisés Naím discusses his new book The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats are Reinventing Power in the 21st Century, covering the “three P’s” of authoritarian regimes: populism, polarization and post-truth.

INTERESTING TWEETS

Scholar-Activist Helen Neville shares all the resources accompanying a special Juneteenth edition of the Journal of Black Psychology focusing on the “Psychology of Black Activism in the 21st Century”, including a series of podcasts that explore the topics in each article.

Sara Grossman tweeted details about the launch of the new Democracy and Belonging Forum, an initiative from the Othering & Belonging Institute to share efforts between Europe and the US. (Horizons is pleased to support this effort, with Chief Network Weaver, Julia Roig, serving as an Advisor).

Tim Dixon breaks down new polling from More in Common to show that Americans are more concerned about threats from within the country than from abroad. And a related thread from Citizen Data describes their research on Americans’ views on electoral integrity and ways to combat election mistrust.

Professor Neil Lewis Jr. lays out the arguments in his recent article in FiveThirtyEight on various research that demonstrates what actually happens when we teach students critical lessons about American history.

James Savage from the Fund for Global Human Rights shares a thread on the amazing new resource, Narrative Spices: An Invitational Guide for Flavorful Human Rights, created together with JustLabs and based on the experiences of narrative change efforts in Mexico, Hungary, Venezuela, Australia, and Sri Lanka.

Arnaud Bertrand explains the ironic findings of the annual Global Democracy Perceptions Index in a twitter thread that highlights the challenges with defining what “democracy” is.

Nick Robinson, the head of US Programs at ICNL, put out a thread on the impact of the Supreme Court’s recent Bruen decision (gun control case) on assembly rights, democracy, and the insurrection.

FOR FUN

“It’s a summer day. You have a long drive ahead of you. No work to do. Cold beverages in the car. Windows down. You have to put on an album that sounds exactly like summer to you and listen to the whole thing, no skips. What are you playing?” Rachel Syme, staff writer at The New Yorker, posed this question that generated hundreds of great summer listening recommendations. Enjoy!

Authoritarianism: How You Know It When You See It

What is democracy?

Forms of rights-based representative government in which:

  • elected government leadership is constrained by constitutionalism, the rule of law, the separation of powers, the free expression of the people, and the legal protection and moral affirmation of the rights of individuals; and,
  • groups and parties that are not part of electoral majorities cannot easily be disenfranchised or suffer loss of rights of association, voice, and legal protection by the electorally determined leadership.

Source: Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century

What is authoritarianism?

Authoritarianism is a constellation of traits in a political, economic, and/or social system, which often include:

  • The concentration of power in the hands of a small group of people who act in ways that are not constitutionally accountable to the people they are meant to represent and serve.
  • A concerted effort by a network of organizations and institutions (governmental, legal, educational, media, business, military police, religious and cultural institutions, etc.) to legitimize an oppressive system by providing it legal and political support, material resources (i.e. money, communication networks), and human resources (people, skills) to maintain control.
  • A system that is willing to engage in a spectrum of undemocratic practice from corruption and sowing lies and conspiracy theories, to using fear and violence in order to manipulate, divide people, and maintain power.
  • The misuse of the power of the state to advance the personal and/or partisan desires of the head of state or a ruling clique (e.g., persecuting political opponents, subverting honest elections).
  • Often emerges “legally”, by democratically elected leaders who subvert democratic norms and institutions to stay in power.
  • A slow and quiet advance over a period of years where small battles weaken the foundations of democracy, which can culminate in a period of rapid democratic losses and decline.

What is it not?

  • A single individual or a few individuals, their character, or a presumed lack of morals.
  • A partisan policy position that you may find disagreeable.
  • A “red”, “blue”, “left”, or “right” phenomenon – any party or ideology is susceptible.

What are the core attributes of authoritarianism?

  • Rejecting democratic rules of game.
  • Denying the legitimacy of opponents.
  • Tolerating or encouraging political violence.
  • Curtailing the civil liberties of opponents.
  • Breaking down social cohesion to divide and rule a society.

What are the top elements of the authoritarian playbook?

  1. Divide and rule: Foment mistrust and fear; actively scapegoat and pit groups against each other.
  2. Spread lies and conspiracies: Actively promote mis/disinfo; undermine the public’s belief in truth.
  3. Destroy checks and balances and undermine institutions: Quietly use legal or pseudo-legal rationales to gut institutions (bureaucracies, courts, electoral institutions), undermine their independence, and weaken opposition.
  4. Demonize opponents and independent media: Undermine the public’s trust in those actors and institutions that hold the state accountable.
  5. Undermine civil and political rights and criminalize dissent: Actively suppress free speech, the right to assembly and protest and the rights of women and minority groups; restrict NGO activities.
  6. Blame minorities, immigrants, and “outsiders” for a country’s problems: Exploit national humiliation while promising to restore national glory.
  7. Deploy military forces to address public security problems and/or declare national emergencies to seize unconstitutional powers.
  8. Reward loyalists and punish defectors: Make in-group members fearful to voice dissention.
  9. Encourage or condone violence to advance political goals: Dehumanize opposition and/or out-groups to justify violence against them.
  10. Organize mass rallies to keep supporters mobilized against made-up threats: Use fearmongering and hate speech to consolidate in-group identity and solidarity.
  11. Make people feel like they are powerless to change things: Solutions will only come from the top.

What can we do to push back against authoritarianism?

  • Educate publics about how authoritarianism works; demystify its allure; and shine a spotlight on tried-and-true methods of countering hate, violence, and authoritarianism.  
  • Form large, diverse, cross-partisan and cross-ideological pro-democracy fronts or movements with a shared vision; strategy; and clear, concrete demands.
  • Build the capacity of pro-democracy coalitions and movements to manage constructive tensions, center relationships, and prioritize larger collective goals.
  • Train pro-democracy coalitions and movements in nonviolent discipline and violence de-escalation in the face of authoritarian violence.
  • Invest in opportunities for inter- and intra-group dialogue connected to collective action to break down assumptions, develop empathy and understanding, and build trust at the grassroots by working together to combat authoritarian practices.
  • Diversify the range of nonviolent tactics to include methods of concentration (protests, rallies, sit-ins), and methods of dispersion (walkouts, stay-aways, consumer boycott, labor strikes); not doing what authoritarians expect and want.
  • Engage members of key organizational “pillars” like religious institutions, business groups, unions, professional associations, bureaucracies, media institutions, and security forces in pro-democracy mobilization.
  • Provide pathways for individuals within key pillars that morally or materially support the authoritarian system to join the pro-democracy cause.
Maria Stephan explains the authoritarian playbook and V Fixmer-Oraiz describes how the playbook impacts local elected officials.

Practical Tips and Tools for Everyone:

Practical Tips and Tools for Media:

Practical Tips and Tools for Business:

Additional Key Resources: 

Sources: Hannah Arendt, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Erica Chenoweth, Larry Diamond, Rachel Kleinfield, Steven Levitsky, Juan José Linz, Ivan Marovic, Hardy Merriman, Kim Scheppelle, Timothy Snyder, Jason Stanley, Maria Stephan, and Daniel Ziblatt
For easy dissemination you can download this post as a pdf here.

Forgiveness, Accountability, and Societal Healing

The Horizons Project is partnering with Rotary International to explore how to embed concepts and practices of forgiveness, accountability, and societal healing within Rotary clubs and their partners around the world.Forgiveness is often described as a very courageous act that allows the forgiver to take control and make the difficult choice to let go of animosity and ill-will towards a perpetrator without condoning the act of injustice itself. It can be a powerful tool for the individual journey towards transformation and self-healing. Yet, when an injustice or violent act affects more than one person and/or is part of an ongoing system that is perpetrating harm, forgiveness alone can be inadequate to meet the larger need for group, community, and/or societal healing.Some social changemakers take issue with the term and practice of forgiveness due to the lack of accountability needed for the individual forgiveness process to occur. Without accountability, how can the wrongdoer learn from their mistakes so that they don’t cause further pain and suffering? If a larger group of people or system is responsible, how will an individual act of forgiveness serve others in a community or society who may encounter the same injustice? While forgiveness alone can be a powerful, spiritual act, it can sometimes overlook larger, systemic issues and injustices at play that perpetuate ongoing harm or trauma, even after the individual act of forgiveness takes place.

Trauma or harm can take many forms in society—it can come directly from a distressing event, be experienced over time from adversity (including chronic scarcity of essential resources) and/or be passed down through generations within communities where deep empathy and the recounting of direct traumatic experiences is common. Untreated trauma can lead to biological, cognitive and behavioral adaptations that affect social norms and group dynamics. In organizations and community groups, untreated trauma can influence the group’s norms, guiding principles, culture, and ability to make change together. However, when trauma is adequately addressed and treated, it can allow individuals and a larger society to take steps towards healing—to center love, find compassion and restore broken relationships.

The ways of addressing forgiveness, accountability, and trauma are often siloed in practice, with each field developing its own approaches and tools that can make it difficult to integrate for practical application. As a community-rooted organization, whose members “see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change” and seek to “provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace,” Rotarians are well-situated to help make these connections with the appropriate tools and resources.

RESOURCES

Videos

Why It Is So Hard to Forgive, Dr. Jim Dincalci, The Forgiveness Foundation

In this short video, Dr. Dincalci provides an overview of forgiveness, myths about forgiveness, and why it can be beneficial for individual processes for transformation and self-healing. More resources from Dr. Dincalci can be found here.

Kazu Haga on Beloved Community, Kazu Haga, The Horizons Project

Haga discusses the challenge of building the beloved community, especially when it comes to including people who are not easy to love. Listening to their story may allow us to replace harbored resentment and anger—not to condone the action—but to find compassion through understanding.

International Forgiveness Institute Training Videos

The International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) has compiled a library of training videos and podcasts that discuss strategies and approaches individuals may explore on forgiveness. The videos and curriculum are targeted towards education professionals, counselors, psychotherapists, families, and other peacebuilding practitioners.

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

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

Articles

What Other Cultures Can Teach Us About Forgiveness, William Park, BBC Future

“Forgiving someone else can have a positive effect on your life, but exactly how you forgive someone depends on where in the world you are from.”

Reflections on Accountability and Forgiveness: Part 1, Stefanie Krasnow and Rami Nijjar

“This blog [explores] the perspective of those who have been hurt and ways that different perspectives of forgiveness and accountability can help or hinder their healing process.”

Reflections on Accountability and Forgiveness: Part 2, Stefanie Krasnow and Rami Nijjar

“This blog [explores] the role [that] accountability and forgiveness have in creating healing and repair when we are in the role of having done harm.”

The Necessity of Forgiveness – and Accountability: Matthew 18:21-35, Leah D. Schade, EcoPreacher, Patheos

“The parable about the Unforgiving Servant shows us that forgiveness is essential – but so is accountability…And I’d like to imagine that our church can think deeply about what it means to be in relationship with each other, with those who exercise power, and with those who have had their power stripped from them. Because theology does matter.  How we read the Bible does matter. It is literally a matter of life and death. And the church needs to proclaim God’s radical forgiveness and divine mercy, as well as the surety of God’s accountability and justice.”

When Forgiveness Isn’t Enough, Andrea Jongbloed, Relevant Magazine

“Forgiveness involves ceasing to feel resentment towards someone. Reconciliation involves the restoring of a relationship, something that can be difficult to do (and something that can’t or shouldn’t happen in some situations).” In this article, Jongbloed discusses the benefits and hard work of going beyond forgiveness—to reconciliation. She quotes Bishop Desmond Tutu in describing why reconciliation is worthwhile, despite the pain: ‘”Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are,” he says. “It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”’

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

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

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

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

Podcasts

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

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

The Limits of Forgiveness, In this Vox Conversations podcast, philosopher Lucy Allais reflects on human nature, concepts of power, and the limits of forgiveness. From her perspective as a South African living in the US, she discusses the contours of forgiveness as a political tool to move forward as a polarized democracy.

Tools

Resources from The Forgiveness Foundation, The Forgiveness Foundation

Check out these books, trainings, group discussion guides and therapy resources on forgiveness from The Forgiveness Foundation based on Dr. Jim Dincalci’s work. They “utilize a comprehensive approach – incorporating psychological, sociological, educational and other aspects” to help individuals through the forgiveness process.

The Art of Forgiveness, Frederic Luskin, Ph.D.

“One of the most challenging tasks we face in life is how to remain peaceful when something frustrates us. Not getting what we want is one of the main challenges to dealing with illness, abandonment, dishonesty, or any other difficulties that humans experience. Most of us never fully accept that life often does not give us what we want. We often react with outrage or offense when a normal, but difficult, life experience emerges. Most of us will make the situation worse by insisting and complaining that the specific difficulty is wrong instead of focusing our energy on how to best deal with the situation.” This article discusses several stages/approaches for granting forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

#ListenFirst Conversations Complete Guide, #Listen First

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

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

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

THE VISTA: May 2022

As we grapple with the horrific mass violence that occurred this past month – and that continues daily in the United States – one piece that gave us solace and inspiration came from Valarie Kaur, the founder of The Revolutionary Love Project, who offered up this Love Letter to You After Uvalde. At the Horizons Project, we believe in the power of staying connected; in joining together across difference to combat hate and violence; and, to organize for meaningful change. In that spirit, we’re sharing some of the great work and thought-provoking ideas that brought together peacebuilding, democracy, and social justice from recent weeks.

READING

Why Addressing the Historical Legacy of Racial Injustice is Essential for a Healthy Democracy.” Treston Codrington and Matt Leighninger reflect on different processes globally that support civic engagement in addressing historic injustices, and the interplay between truth-seeking and reconciliation.

Women’s Rights and Democracy Are Inextricably Linked.” Jennifer Weiss-Wolf writes about decreases in women’s rights, “not merely the byproducts of a demo­cracy on the decline. Rather they also drive a down­ward spiral [that] can inev­it­ably lead to deeper inequal­ity and wider gaps in parti­cip­a­tion, a truly vicious cycle.”

Culture, Deep Narratives and…. Whac-A-Mole?” by Ruth Taylor. “As campaigners and organizers, communicators, lobbyists and funders, much of our attention is placed on the immediate outcomes which we set out to achieve.” Taylor asks for deeper reflection, ‘what values does my work promote and foreground?’ and ‘what deep narratives about the world, and our role as human beings, does it reinforce or amplify?’

Reducing Pernicious Polarization: A Comparative Historical Analysis of Depolarization.” This working paper by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace examines the conditions under which perniciously polarized countries have successfully depolarized for a sustainable period of time.

The Doom Spiral of Pernicious Polarization.” Yascha Mounk offers another take on the Carnegie report mentioned above; he reflects on how the experience of polarization in the US is comparable (or not) to other countries.

WATCHING

Democracy Set Aflame: Is Polarization Really the Problem?” You won’t want to miss this recording of a recent discussion by two giants in their fields, john a powell and Marshall Ganz, musing on the many intersections of bridging and social movements.

America’s Empathy Deficit: Our Bloody Heirloom and the Invisible Backpack.” It’s graduation season! Enjoy this provocative and inspiring commencement speech by Dr. Jae Williams, an award-winning storyteller and social justice advocate, as he received Northeastern University’s Dean’s Medal for Outstanding Doctoral Work.

An Anti-Immigration Media Machine: Study Tracks White Supremacist Talking Points Online.” Watch this short news clip with Shauna Siggelkow, Hassan Ahmad, and Alicia Menendez discussing a new report by Define American that tracked the impact, tactics, and reach of anti-immigration narratives on YouTube — and tools to fight back.

Exploring Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and Extremism.” In Part 2 of a 5-part series, be/longing: Asian Americans NowDr. Richard Park discusses his mission to serve poor and elderly Asian immigrants, which has become more urgent as hate crimes have surged against the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community.

LISTENING TO

How To Free Our Minds — with Cult Deprogramming Expert Dr. Steven Hassan.” This episode of the podcast Your Undivided Attention offers an interesting discussion on the degree to which we are all under some form of undue influence, especially because of technology and social media, and the extent we are aware of this influence.

The Good Fight Podcast: Daniel Ziblatt.” Yascha Mounk and Daniel Ziblatt have a conversation about the impact of COVID-19 on populism and democracy.

The Limits of Forgiveness.” In this Vox Conversations podcast, philosopher Lucy Allais reflects on human nature, concepts of power, and the limits of forgiveness. From her perspective as a South African living in the US, she discusses the contours of forgiveness as a political tool to move forward as a polarized democracy.

Anne Applebaum on What Liberals Misunderstand About Authoritarianism.” This podcast discussion with Ezra Klein reflects on how “radical loneliness” can lay the groundwork for authoritarianism, the seductive allure of conspiracy theories, and how modern propaganda feeds off a combination of gullibility and cynicism.

INTERESTING TWEETS

Ruth Taylor compiled a meaty Twitter thread of resources and experts for those interested in learning more about narrative change. Trevor Smith then complemented this compilation with additional resources, expertise, and perspectives from people of color.

Debra Caplan breaks down Alfred Crosby’s America’s Forgotten Pandemic about the 1918 Flu; and she applies those lessons to our current lack of memorializing the societal impact of COVID-19.

Ros Atkins recently gave a speech at the Society of Editors in the UK on the future of journalism and posted it as a Twitter thread.

Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan tweeted a summary of the Migration Policy Institute’s new study on public opinions and narratives on refugees around the globe, and what does and does not work.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

The Othering & Belonging Institute curated a playlist by those who attended their recent Culture of Care event.