THE VISTA: June 2023

The month of June is a busy one with the celebration of Juneteenth (check out this great reading list.) Also, the kick off of Civic Season – with hundreds of activities between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July – that is a new tradition started by Made by Us, together with museums, historic sites, libraries and archives around the country to help transform the way history is learned and “to remind us of the struggles and hard-won victories in our ongoing journey to form a ‘more perfect union.’” Our friends at Veterans for Political Innovation are also using the Fourth of July as an opportunity to recruit more veterans into their movement. We agree that veterans have an important role to play in upholding our democracy.

And of course, June is Pride month, with beautiful celebrations and visibility for the LGBTQI+ community. This year, Pride has also served as a poignant call for increased solidarity with a community that is increasingly under attack, intimately tied to the attacks on democracy playing out at the state level. You can find out more in this recent TikTok video by the Human Rights Campaign who have declared a state of emergency for the LGBTQI+ community in the United States.

Unfortunately, these trends of increasingly extreme anti-LGBTQI+ laws are global, so our solidarity must also extend across borders. This month, Uganda passed one of the most extreme laws in the world that drastically restricts the rights of LGBTQI+ Ugandans to engage in public life or advocacy. As we know, autocrats around the world are learning from each other, and therefore the pro-democracy response must also be actively sharing and learning across borders.

Hot off the press, Horizons’ Chief Organizer Maria J. Stephan published this article with Just Security focused on the specific ways that far-right authoritarian leaders in the US and globally are sharing lessons and collaborating – and how pro-democracy movement(s) can strategically out-maneuver them. She flags the 22nd Century Initiative’s conference, Forging a People-Powered Democracy where we hope to see many of you from July 6th to the 9th in Minneapolis, MN. Registration is open until the 5th!

At Horizons, we are committed to sharing experiences and lessons from other countries with our US colleagues, helping to connect the dots amongst shared threats and to find inspiration in how we are rising to the shared challenges we face. There are several important innovations captured by the Journal of Democracy from the recent opposition efforts to unseat Erdoğan in Turkey that we highly recommend, even though the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful. And, as Horizons focuses on a pillars approach to combatting authoritarianism, we also want to highlight the role that different sectors have to play in pro-democracy movements. For example, there are some lessons for the private sector in how Israeli businesses joined in the recent fight for an independent judiciary is Israel. And to help make this case, Rachel Kleinfeld recently released a helpful report on the negative impact of populism on the business sector around the world.

At this time of rest and reflection during our summer vacation mode in the United States, we hope you enjoy some of the additional resources we are reading, watching, and listening to:

READING

Mapping An Emerging Ecosystem

by Life Itself

At Horizons we spend a lot of time reflecting on ecosystem-level organizing for social change. If you’re into systems thinking and systems change, you will appreciate this super project overview by Life Itself. “We sense that a new ecosystem, or ecosystem of ecosystems, is emerging. A growing number of people, organizations, and initiatives are taking alternative approaches to social change, which diverge from and go beyond the more established spaces in civil society and the social economy.” They explain the process used for identifying and visualizing the various approaches different organizations and networks are taking to affect large systems-level shifts. They also relate this work to other established and emerging movements.

We Need to Talk about Well-being: Why the Study of Well-being is Crucial for Race Relations and Advancing Prosperity

by Andre M. Perry and Jonathan Rothwell, Brookings

A new study was released by Brookings that analyzes data from Gallup to show that measures of well-being offer a valuable way to chart collective progress towards a diverse thriving society, arguing it’s a more holistic indicator than the traditional measures of education and income attainment. Acknowledging that “the road to a more perfect union is paved in race relations,” the report highlights the country still has a long way to go and points out that high well-being scores correlate with greater individual and community stability, high racial and ethnic diversity, and lower rates of so-called “deaths of despair.”

How to Build Movements with Cyclical Patterns in Mind

by Dave Algoso, Florencia Guerzovich, and Soledad Gattoni, Nonprofit Quarterly

“The world changes too much for anyone who is invested in social change work to imagine that this work is linear and predictable. Opportunities come and go, whether caused by a pandemic or political shifts. This much most social movement leaders and activists intuitively understand. But what can be done with this realization? How might movement groups better prepare for moments of opportunity?” In this super article, the authors reflect on how we can create the changes we want to see by responding to the changes that are outside our control.

WATCHING

Building Collective Leadership at Grassroots and Globally Can Fuel Positive Change

hosted by the Social Change Initiative

“Collective leadership, strategic thinking, and self-care are key tactics to leading change in difficult circumstances and divided societies.” Don’t miss the recording of this inspiring online discussion hosted by the Social Change Initiative featuring Ambika Satkunanathan a human rights lawyer from Sri Lanka; Eric Ward, Executive Vice President with Race Forward in the US; Bernadette McAliskey, a human rights and social justice campaigner from Ireland; and Phumeza Mlungwana, an activist from South Africa. Addressing the big challenges facing those who seek to lead change, Bernadette gave some sage advice: “All I can say is, does the road wind uphill all the way? Yes. Will you meet the best human beings in the world on your way? Yes, you will. And if we stand together for the values of human dignity and equality, if we stand for the principles of democracy and equality, will we get there? Yes, we will.”

Talking about Science in an Age of Misinformation

by Nat Kendall-Taylor, Nobel Prize Summit

At the recent 2023 Nobel Prize Summit, FrameWorks Institute CEO Nat Kendall-Taylor gave a short talk on two cultural mindsets that undermine trust in science and two that can be activated to build trust in science. The public’s trust in science has been on the decline, and Nat explains that to understand this lack of trust and what we can do about it, we need to look not only at what people think, but how people think about science. Also, in case you missed it FrameWorks’ recently released an updated report on their findings on Culture Change in the US incorporating shifts from the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the contentious 2020 midterm elections on Americans’ perspective on the world.

The Hopeful Majority

with Manu Meel and Jeremi Suri

Manu Meel, CEO of BridgeUSA has started a new video podcast, The Hopeful Majority, and in this third episode to celebrate Juneteenth, Manu interviewed distinguished historian Jeremi Suri to reflect on the complexity of American history while seeking to advance a new narrative of patriotism. Manu says, “to me, loving America means admiring and critiquing- both are necessary for America to be the greatest democracy possible.”

LISTENING TO

Patriotism: Pride, Race and Reckoning

Let’s Find Common Ground podcast

In this Memorial Day episode, retired US naval officer and Washington Post columnist Theodore Johnson explores the paradox of patriotism and ponders, “how can we take pride in a nation with a history of injustice and inequality?” He shares a powerful personal story of standing at attention in the stands while his son took a knee during the national anthem at his high school football game. And, he shares his thoughts on how he believes America can have more productive discussions about race.

A Billion Dollar Problem

Justice Ain’t Cheap: A Queer Philanthropy podcast

In this premier episode of the new Justice Ain’t Cheap podcast, host Saida Agostini-Bostic talks with Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ board members Ana Conner (Third Wave Fund) and Paulina Helm-Hernández (Foundation for a Just Society) about the heightened attacks on transgender and gender nonconforming communities and the role philanthropy plays in resourcing social justice movement. Paulina says, “I feel like there’s a conversation that has been created by philanthropy in relationship to movements that’s like, ‘Is this a $50,000 problem? Is this a $100,000 problem?’ And I’m like, ‘This is a billion-dollar problem. This is a huge problem.’”

The Edges in the Middle III: Báyò Akómoláfé and Indy Johar

For The Wild podcast

This is a thought-provoking conversation on A New Theory of Self that delves into how lifeforms are entangled together on the earth, exploring the modern crisis of a singular self that creates space for violence and waste. Báyò is the inaugural Global Senior Fellow at the Othering & Belonging Institute and Indy is the Founding Director of Dark Matter Labs, and their conversation is both inspiring and challenging as they call attention to the aliveness of the world and how we may collectively “move beyond constraining ideas of order, power and control to be able to recognize and take part in relational ecological emergence.”

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

The American Music Landmarks Project (AMLP) connects music fans, music landmark operators and other advocates through unique opportunities to discover, experience and support the places that shaped US popular music history. During this year’s Civic Season, they are focusing on supporting Gen Z to add their voices as present and future stewards of our music history’s architectural legacy through connecting them with virtual and on-site tours, special events and volunteer experiences to meaningfully participate in the ongoing preservation, maintenance and interpretation of music landmarks. “AMLP understands that the presence of youth in transforming our music landmarks from built history to built heritage is essential to further democratizing and diversifying public awareness, appreciation and support for the places that shaped our collective musical past.”

THE VISTA: March 2023

During this last week of March, the U.S. is hosting the Summit for Democracy and Women’s History Month comes to a close. As proclaimed by one of the Summit’s side events: The Status of Women IS the Status of Democracy it is clear that gendered attacks on human rights continue to be directly tied to the trends of democratic decline globally, a tactic studied by many scholars of authoritarianism. The current dehumanization of transgender people in the US is just one of many examples of the dangerous “othering” used to keep citizens divided and fearful. If you have questions about states’ current legislation against gender-affirming health care, please consult these resources at the Human Rights Campaign.

As john a. powell and Sara Grossman of the Othering & Belonging Institute recently wrote about Countering Authoritarianism, “this moment calls for renewed concern about the threat of fragmentation and the ways division is being exploited by anti-democratic actors.” Horizons agrees! And we recently released the first research product from our Narrative Engagement Across Difference (NEAD) Project, a multi-disciplinary literature review of narrative practices that support collaboration across difference in the deeply divided contexts of declining democracies. This short blog in both English and Spanish offers a summary of the findings, stressing the importance of complexifying narratives in both our discourse and our coalitional work. Recognizing the impact of trauma on our movement-building practices was an important aspect of the NEAD inquiry. For example, this article by Prentis Hemphill taken from New Narratives for Health describes a personal journey with trauma and the words we use to describe how the body holds trauma and experiences healing.

The United States is a complex country that requires narrative practices full of nuance and that legitimizes the diversity of lived experience. As New America’s Us@250 is preparing to celebrate the country’s 250th birthday, check out their focus on narrative change – how we think about our national narrative, American identity, and the future of the country. There are several discussions unfolding about changing societal norms and concepts of free speech and how to approach systems change and complexity, with a commitment to “operating with awareness, responding to resonance and engaging creatively.” These are all essential elements of reparative narrative practice.

We hope you enjoy some of the other materials we’ve been reading, watching, and listening to:

READING

6 Reasons Why Movements Sing to the Choir

by Rivera Sun, Waging Nonviolence

We often critique the old adage of movements only “singing to the choir” rather than reaching out beyond the already converted. In this article, Sun uses this beautiful musical metaphor to remind us of when it’s actually needed to sing to our own choir. For example, when some may need to rest their voices or when we need to find new inspiration to sing together again. “Be thoughtful about this aspect of organizing for change. Not only will it make your movement stronger, it can also be a source of inner resilience, inspiration, solidarity and connection. There’s a reason why singing together is more than a metaphor in movements for change. It’s powerful. Tap into it with love.”

The Belonging Barometer: The State of Belonging in America

Over Zero and the Center for Inclusion and Belonging at the American Immigration Council

“Belonging is a fundamental human need, and one that is linked to many of the most complex challenges of our time.” This newly released report makes the case for including belonging as a key aspect of programs and policies in the United States, linking it to indicators of health, democracy, and intergroup dynamics. The report includes recommendations for changemakers of potential interventions and measurement tools; helps to define concepts of belonging; and describes initial findings from survey data on the state of belonging across five life settings – family, friends, workplace, local community, and the nation.

Liberal Professors Can Rescue the G.O.P.

by Jon A. Shields, New York Times Opinion

The pro-democracy agenda must be cross-ideological. This professor from Claremont McKenna College extols the need to provide mentors and serious intellectual foundations for conservative undergraduates so they have positive influences and role models for engaging in political life. Even “liberal professors have the power to help…. They can show their conservative students how to become thoughtful and knowledgeable partisans — by exposing them to rich conservative intellectual traditions…setting up reading groups, helping to vet speakers and creating courses on conservative intellectual thought.”

WATCHING

Is it Still Possible to Change Minds in Politics?

Anand Giridharadas with Maurice Mitchell and Dorian Warren, The Ink

We highly recommend watching this video recording of an important conversation about the possibility and difficulty of persuasion in a time of polarization, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and political violence. The panel reflects on various topics, including the current state of the neo-fascist right and how to build a pro-democracy movement that can seize the moment. They highlight the importance of finding a way to move towards a “powerful posture of joy and victory” to prevent hate-fueled authoritarianism in the country.

Healing Race Season 1

Healing Race, YouTube Channel

Shout out to the Listen First Coalition for sharing this great video series in their recent updates. As the country continues to grapple with our history and systems of racial injustice, discussing race can be difficult but essential. Healing Race is a new video series started by two college friends, Andre, who is black and Todd, who is white, as they delve deep into the topic of race and race relations in the US. The goal of the series is to demonstrate the power of real and unfiltered conversations about race as a step towards working together for change.

The Rise of a Pro-Democracy Coalition

Simon Rosenberg’s YouTube Channel

Check out this recent webinar recording hosted by Markers for Democracy (and many others) featuring Robert Hubbell, Bill Kristol and Simon Rosenberg discussing how people across the political spectrum must come together (and are!) to form a pro-democracy coalition.

LISTENING TO

The Revolution Will Be Hilarious

Getting to Yes, And Podcast

In this episode, American University professor Caty Borum discusses the intersection of social justice and comedy which she explores in her new book, “The Revolution will be Hilarious.” Borum explains how comedy can be used as an important tool in the fight for social justice because comedy brings levity and a sense of humanity to many people and situations, helping to capture the nuance and true nature of so many different lived experiences.

Tucker’s Latest Lies

The Bulwark Podcast

The Horizons team feels that it is important to reckon with the latest controversies that have arisen about the Fox News’ 2020 election coverage and Tucker Carlson’s most recent attempts to rewrite the narrative of January 6th. This podcast episode with two conservatives, host Charlie Sykes and Will Saletan, discuss these issues and more, also covering the inflammatory rhetoric at the recent CPAC meeting and reflections on the state of the Republican party.

Do Generations Matter?

Prospect: Generations Podcast

We love to highlight inter-generational collaboration! The American Prospect has started a new podcast series: Generations which is bringing together younger and older staff to discuss various topics surrounding politics and culture. In this pilot episode, Lee Harris and Paul Starr are featured who both graduated from college during turning points in US history. Lee graduated in 2020 during the pandemic and the George Floyd protests and Paul graduated in 1970 during the Vietnam War and the counterculture era.

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

CQ Roundup with Hayden Joseph, Ana Egge, Pelvis Wrestley and more

by: Christopher Treacy, Country Queer

Music has the power to unite us and to remind us of our common humanity – in all our complexity. Country Queer is a website that focuses on LGBTQ+ voices in country and roots music. These musical roundups include interviews and reviews of new music releases from queer and allied artists, and other news and events such as virtual concerts and fundraisers. For example, this recent benefit concert in Nashville where local singers banded together in support of LGBTQ+ rights.

THE VISTA: February 2023

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

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

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

READING

A Ban Isn’t a Plan

by Anand Giridharadas, The.Ink

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

Blurring the Boundaries

by Brett Davidson, International Resource for Impact and Storytelling

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

If Americans Hate Government, Why Would They Value Democracy?

by Stephen Hill, Democracy SOS

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

WATCHING

Conversation with Julia Roig

Beyond Intractability

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

Dr. Gabor Maté on “The Myth of Normal”

Democracy Now! Productions

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

Why is Everyone So Angry?

Liv Boeree, YouTube Channel

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

LISTENING TO

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

Is This Democracy Podcast

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

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Authoritarianism Around the Globe

Burn the Boats with Ken Harbaugh Podcast

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

Orange Alternative

99% Invisible Podcast

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

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

Think Yourself Better: 10 Rules of Philosophy to Live By

by Julian Baggini, The Guardian

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

How to rise above partisan politics to uphold our democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE VISTA: February 2022

WHAT WE’RE READING, WATCHING & LISTENING TO AT HORIZONS

The Horizons Project continues to reflect deeply as a team and with our partners on the wonderful resources produced by so many inspiring actors within the ecosystem of social change in the US. For example, during the month of February, we had the opportunity to connect with several key partners on developing future narratives within movement campaigns. This spurred us to compile our favorite resources on Narratives, Imagination Skills and Futures Literacy.

Also in February, Chief Organizer Maria Stephan participated in a discussion on the launch of the new book Checklist To End Tyranny with author Peter Ackerman and other colleagues; and Chief Network Weaver, Julia Roig celebrated her chapter on Adaptive Leadership for Peacebuilders at the virtual launch of the new e-book on 21st Century Mediation by the Center for Peace & Conflict Studies in Cambodia.

Here are some other recommendations the Horizons Team would like to share for this month’s VISTA:

READING

Radicalism or pragmatism? A look at another divide in racial justice advocacy

By: Stephen Menendian

This blog discusses the recently released Structural Racism Remedies Project from The Othering & Belonging Institute and describes the tensions between urgency and gradualism. Learn more about this tension and others the Horizons team have also identified in the overall social change ecosystem here.

“One form or mode might be more accurately described as a ‘technocratic’ position…based on a close and careful assessment of the available empirical evidence, and pushes toward a set of policy prescriptions or recommendations that emphasize pragmatism and feasibility. The other approach might be described as a ‘radical’ position. This approach is informed by lived experience, emphasizing ground-truth and community power rather than technocratic expertise, but it is also more explicitly and clearly tied to an expression of values and ideals. One difference between these two modes is the relevant time horizon. The more radical policy stance on each of these issues is defined, in part, by the immediacy of its demands, for example, by ending use of fossil fuels immediately. In contrast, the more pragmatic position tends towards gradualism, for example, transitioning to renewable energy sources within a realistic timeframe.”

Black History Month is about Seeing America Clearly

By: Esau McCaulley, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.

“Black history offers America a chance to see itself both as what we have failed to become and as we wish ourselves to be. It is not to inspire hate for one race or to foment division. America seeing itself clearly is the first step toward owning and then learning from its mistakes. The second step is the long journey to become that which we hope to be: a more perfect — and just — union.”

The Reframing History Report and Toolkit

This resource was recently released as a collaboration between the FrameWorks Institute, National Council on Public History, and Organization of American Historians

“Amid ongoing national controversy, it is more important than ever to be able to clearly explain what history is, how we come to understand the past, and why it matters to society. This report provides historians and others with a new set of evidence-backed recommendations for communicating about history.”

The Corporate Civic Playbook 

By: The Civic Alliance

This playbook provides companies with guidance on helping to strengthen democracy in the U.S. It provides the business case for companies engaging in democracy and provides interesting resources, including scaled levels of engagement and corporate activism.

Reset Narratives Community: The story so far…

This is a beautiful reflection of the learning journey of Ella Saltmarshe and Paddy Loughman as they created the Reset Narratives Community in the UK over the last 18 months and are investing in narrative infrastructure, with a lot of insights on the intersectionality of movement narratives.

Running Headlong Into the Limits of Love

By: Pastor Greg Arthur from the Ideos Institute

This blog discussing issues of empathy and love within the evangelical community in the US:

“Much of the turmoil within the American church, especially in evangelical circles, has come around these issues… Politics, immigration, the realities of a racialized society, the LGBTQ community, how we teach our country’s history, these are topics that continue to reveal and accentuate the divisions within the church. The question many have been asking is what these antagonisms reveal about us as followers of Christ? An equally important question might be how can what is being revealed in these antagonisms become a catalyst to the healing of the church and of a broken world?”

Emergent Strategy

By: adrienne maree brown

“Inspired by Octavia Butler’s explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This is a resolutely materialist “spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.”

WATCHING

Next Normal Introduction Video

Short discussion from Jigsaw Foresight of the 10 Principles for the next normal for our work effectiveness. Favorite insight: “Becoming Indistractable is the skill of the century” By: Nir Eyal

Tackling Extremism: The Greek experience and comparisons with the US

This event from The Social Change Initiative includes great resources on how Greek civil society came together to fight against rising extremism from the far right with insights on lessons learned from US organizers.

LISTENING

The Complex Truth About American Patriotism

This episode of The Argument podcast with Jane Coastan features a discussion with Ben Rhodes (who recently wrote This is No Time For Passive Patriotism in The Atlantic) and Jamelle Bouie. It’s a fascinating debate about whether we can build a new unifying “story” of America, or whether we are too diverse to rally around a “baseline of meaning” and rather need to move forward based on our distinct values.

Forward: Practical Ways to Create Narrative Change 

On this episode of Forward: How Stories Drive Change, Rinku Sen, from Narrative Initiative discusses her organization’s approach to narrative change and gives some great examples of their current work in practice.

INTERESTING TWEETS

THE VISTA: January 2022

WHAT WE’RE READING, WATCHING & LISTENING TO AT HORIZONS 

There are so many wonderful insights and ideas that inspire us at The Horizons Project, helping to make sense of what’s happening, what’s needed, what’s possible and ways of working within a complex system. Once a month we share just a sampling of the breadth of resources, tools, reflections, and diverse perspectives that we hope will offer you some food for thought as well.

READING

Coordinates of Speculative Solidarity

By: Barbara Adams as part of UNHCR’s Project Unsung

“Solidarity has a speculative character and is fundamentally a horizontal activity with its focus on liberation, justice, and the creative processes of world- and future-building—projects that are never complete. The horizon is always present in the landscape, reminding us that there are things beyond what is visible from a particular location. As a coordinate central to perspective and orientation, the horizon is vital to successful navigation. As we move toward the horizon it remains “over there,” showing us that there are limits to what we can know in advance. However, rather than frustrating our efforts, horizons represent possibilities.”

The Relational Work of Systems Change

By: Katherine Milligan, Juanity Zerda and John Kania at the Collective Change Lab

“People who work with collective impact efforts are all actors in the systems they are trying to change, and that change must begin from within. The process starts with examining biases, assumptions, and blind spots; reckoning with privilege and our role in perpetuating inequities; and creating the inner capacity to let go of being in control. But inner change is also a relational and iterative process: The individual shifts the collective, the collective shifts the individual, and on and on it goes. That interplay is what allows us to generate insight, create opportunities, and see the potential for transformation.”

6 Key Practices for Sensemaking

By: David McLean on LinkedIn

This post highlights the work of Harold Jarche and is chock full of tips on how to deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity.

More Common Sense, Less Ideology: Modern Communications Lessons from the Critical Race Theory Debates

By: Nat Kendall-Taylor at Frameworks Institute

“Being smart and right is getting in the way of moving hearts and minds towards positive social change…Speaking to what people are worried about resonates, while rhetorical quips and barbs make it seem like communicators don’t get the point, or worse, that they don’t care. Instead of defending the definition of Critical Race Theory, communicators could have pivoted to discussions about the importance of having an education system that prepares children for the world they will inherit, or of the role of having children realize their potential for the future prosperity of our country.”

After the Tide: Critical Race Theory in 2021

By: Baratunde Thurston on Puck

“So, I want us to stop talking about ‘critical race theory’ and start talking about what it means to love this country. I want us to stop burying our heads when someone shares an unflattering truth and instead embrace the discomfort and recognize it as a sign of growth. I want us to stop talking about ‘freedom’ as if it means denying the truth and instead remember that living a lie is what holds us captive, and the truth is what sets us free. I’m ready to get to the part of the American story where we have processed our pain and used it to forge a stronger nation, where we can heal from our historic traumas and focus our energies on building that ever-elusive multi-racial democracy where everyone feels like they belong. But we cannot heal from injuries we do not acknowledge. We cannot grow from pain we refuse to feel. Let’s know America. Let’s love America. Let’s grow America.”

To Tackle Racial Justice, Organizing Must Change

By: Daniel Martinez HoSang, LeeAnne Hall and Libero Della Piana in The Forge 

This provocative read names how internal conflicts can show up within racial justice movements and offers concrete advice on creating an “organizational culture with more calling-in than calling-out.”

Just Look Up: 10 Strategies to Defeat Authoritarianism

By: Deepak Bhargava and Harry Hanbury

“The gravity of the threat demands a reorientation of energy from organizations and individuals to prioritize the fight to preserve democracy.  Unless it is addressed, there is little prospect of progress on other issues in the years to come. The fate of each progressive issue and constituency is now bound together.  We might even imagine a practice of “tithing for democracy” — finding a way for all of us, whatever our role and work, to devote a significant portion of our time to address the democracy crisis, which has become the paramount issue of our time. We may each make different kinds of contributions, but there’s no way to honorably keep on with business as usual in the face of the current crisis. We’ll explore a wide variety of possible approaches with the understanding that there’s no silver bullet or quick fix for such a deep-rooted problem.”

Strengthening Local Government Against Bigoted and Anti-Democracy Movements

The Western States Center released a new resource for Local Governments on how to counter groups working to undermine democracy and counter bigoted political violence. “Local leaders have the power to confront hate and bigotry. Many have shown bravery and commitment in working to counter these dangerous forces in their communities….we hope these recommendations provide one more tool to support these critical efforts.”

The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer

The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer was recently released with the study results of levels of trust in business, governments, NGOs and media. Across every issue, and by huge margins, people indicated they want more business engagement and accountability in responding to societal problems, especially climate change and rising inequality.

LISTENING

Podcast Undistracted: “This Big Old Lie”

The author of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper TogetherHeather McGhee sits down with host Brittany Packnett Cunningham to explain her research, the “hypnotic racial story” fueling American injustice, and how we can do better.

Podcast Scholars Strategy Network: Reflecting on Two Years of Trauma

Dr. Maurice Stevens, from Ohio State University, reflects on how Americans react and respond to traumatic events both as individuals as groups, and on how we can better connect amidst the current chaos.

Fear and Scapegoating in the Time of Pandemics 

A podcast interview with Yale Professor Nicholas Christakis, director of the Human Nature Lab, on the connection between pandemics and our need to assign blame.

Podcast StoryCorps: One Small Step

In this episode, StoryCorps shares examples of people sitting down and talking about what shapes their beliefs and what shapes us as humans. StoryCorps founder Dave Isay describes what he envisions for this new initiative, One Small Step.

Reading of “Let Them Not Say”

If you like poetry, you’ll enjoy this reading by Krista Tippet of Jane Hirshfield’s poem “Let Them Not Say” which is so powerful and relevant even though she wrote it a couple years ago.

Let them not say:     we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say:     we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say:     they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say:     it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.

Let them not say:     they did nothing.
We did not-enough.

Let them say, as they must say something:

A kerosene beauty.
It burned.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.

WATCHING

Unraveling Biases in the Brain

By: Dr. Emily Falk and Dr. Emile Bruneau at TEDxPenn

“How can we unravel the conflicting biases in our brain to work towards a more just and peaceful world? In this talk, Dr. Emily Falk honors Dr. Emile Bruneau’s work at Penn’s Neuroscience & Conflict lab, describing the opportunity to look closer into our unconscious biases, question them, and face discomfort to make a change in our communities and beyond.”

Dialogue Lab: America 

This documentary by Ideas Institute that brings together twelve Americans from across the ideological spectrum to participate in a dialogue experiment on political polarization. It’s an hour long and “tracks each participant as they voice their political opinions, come face to face with those holding different views, and, perhaps, forge a path to mutual understanding.” You can watch the trailer here, and watch the movie from their website.

Hope-Based Communications for Human Rights Activists

By: Thomas Coombes at TEDxMagdeburg

Coombes reflects on how “social change activists are very good at talking about what they are against, but less good at selling the change they want to see to the wider public.”

INTERESTING TWEETS

How Domestic Civic Movements Could Reshape US Foreign Policy

President Joe Biden’s early reversals of Trump policies have included at least three that were the direct or indirect result of grassroots movements. The administration froze the extraction of oil and gas from federal lands, ended U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and launched an initiative to advance racial equity in the federal government. The youth-led Sunrise Movement, which made climate change a central issue of the 2020 election, is largely responsible for the first victory. Relentless grassroots pressure ended U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s disastrous offensive in Yemen. The Black Lives Matter movement forced national action on systemic racism at all levels.

Broad-based civic movements provide the energy, dynamism, and power-shifting ability necessary to address the world’s interconnected social, political, and economic crises, including climate change, staggering inequality, structural racism, and resurgent authoritarianism linked to white nationalism. Given the inextricable linkages between domestic and foreign policy, the ability of movements to bridge these domains is critical to addressing these challenges.

These kinds of powerful movements operating in the United States have human rights and human dignity at their core and bring together domestic and foreign policy. They are critical to developing and implementing effective solutions at home and abroad. And practical steps can enhance collaboration between domestic movements and the U.S. foreign policy community, building on previous efforts to bridge domestic and foreign policy.

Why Movements Matter 

For centuries, grassroots movements have driven social, political, and economic changes in the United States and globally. From abolishing slavery and ending apartheid, to winning women’s suffrage and worker protections, to resisting dictatorship, movements have achieved impressive successes while contributing to more democratic and inclusive societies. Rooted in communities and driven by volunteers, movements are fluid entities made up of diverse actors including youth groups, faith-based organizations, professional associations, neighborhood committees, trade and labor unions, NGOs, and artist groups. Movements have change-oriented goals and use extra-institutional tactics like vigils, marches, demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, and sit-ins, often in combination with courts and legislative actions, to raise the urgency of issues, disrupt the status quo, and shift incentives and power dynamics.

There has been a dramatic rise across the globe in the number of protests and movements focused on resisting authoritarianism (Hong Kong, Belarus, and Uganda); challenging corruption (Iraq, Lebanon, and Chile); and advancing religious freedoms (India), among other causes. The Black-led protests in the United States following George Floyd’s murder, which the Crowd Counting Consortium called the broadest in U.S. history, forced a national and global reckoning on racism and police brutality. The COVID pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed vulnerable and marginalized communities, exposed structural injustices and spawned protests demanding government accountability. Not all protests have focused on public health – there have been anti-mask protests as well in the U.S. and across world. 

Movements and U.S. Foreign Policy

Movements in the United States focused on issues including climate, labor rights, immigration, anti-poverty, and racial justice link domestic and foreign policy in their analyses, platforms, and coalitions. However, for institutional, budgetary, and other reasons, contact between these movements and the foreign policy community (particularly in the executive branch) has been limited. Exceptions to this include antiwar and labor movements, which have targeted defense and international trade agencies in the U.S. government.

The walls separating domestic movements and foreign policy should be dismantled by policymakers and civil society for three key reasons.

First, the intersectional approach that movements like Black Lives Matter, the Poor People’s Campaign, the Sunrise Movement, and feminist anti-war movements apply to their organizing efforts strengthens the analysis of issues like inequality, racism, and climate change by highlighting the linkages among them. For example, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) policy platform connects systemic racism and police brutality at home to aggressive militarism, police and security force training, and the marketing of violent technologies abroad. The M4BL platform calls for the demilitarization of police forces and offers a plan for reinvesting war-making funds in domestic infrastructure and community well-being.

The Poor People’s Campaign, a faith-based U.S. anti-poverty movement, focuses on the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism, and the war economy, and the false narrative of religious nationalism. Drawing inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the movement connects U.S. militarism abroad to violence and poverty at home. Its 2020 Jubilee platform prioritizes “provid[ing] for the common defense” and lays out a plan for defunding militarism and reinvesting in communities. The movement has facilitated connections between U.S. labor groups, like the Service Employees International Union, and the proposed U.S.-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to push for worker rights and fair trade.

feminist peace initiative established in 2019 by Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, a group of 60 U.S.-based grassroots organizing groups comprised of working and poor people; Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing for peace on the Korean peninsula; and MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, highlights how militarized approaches to security through weapons sales, militarized policing, and mass incarceration have contributed to violence and insecurity domestically and internationally. It calls for a reorientation of foreign policy around an intersectional, movements-focused framework. These movements and others, including the Women’s March and #MeToo, the DREAMers, and the LGBTQ and transgender movements, focus on those most adversely impacted by violence and inequality at home and abroad, including indigenous populations, Black and brown communities, and women.

A growing veterans’ movement, which includes traditional organizations like the Vietnam Veterans of America and newer groups like VoteVetsSecure Families Initiative, and Common Defense, works on both foreign and domestic policy. Common Defense focuses not only on traditional veteran issues but also larger society issues like health care, the minimum wage, and anti-poverty. These groups, which are starting to organize military families for alternatives to war and militarism, could play a significant role in changing the public conversation about national security priorities.

second reason to remove the wall separating domestic movements and foreign policy is that engaging with grassroots movements would democratize U.S. foreign policy. That would bring motivated and mobilized constituencies into the foreign policy arena and make cross-national connections.

While technical expertise is critical to effective policymaking, the concentration of foreign policy expertise and decision-making in a relatively small number of hands inside the Beltway has disconnected foreign policy from mainstream America. The best way to address this disconnect is to diversify the foreign policy and national security communities to make them more reflective of the country, something groups like Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security and the Diversity in National Security Network are doing effectively. An additional and crucial approach is to engage with those movements that represent broad and diverse constituencies across the country.

Democratizing U.S. foreign policy through movement engagement would make it more inclusive of the interests and needs of domestic constituencies. At the same time, such actions would connect foreign policy to the kind of grassroots pressure needed to reduce reliance on military solutions and invest in alternatives. Movements led by youth and women are particularly adept at building diverse alliances and challenging the status quo.

A prime example is the Sunrise movement, a multiracial youth-led environmental movement with over 400 hubs across the United States that was established in 2017 to stop climate change and create a green economy. The movement, with tactics such as sit-ins at congressional offices and acts of civil disobedience, has driven the Green New Deal, which aims to shift American society to 100 percent clean and renewable energy over the next 10 years. Sunrise has combined skillful direct action, backed by extensive training, with successful campaigns to turn out the youth vote for political candidates who endorse the Green New Deal. The result has been a number of prominent electoral victories and a greater public understanding of the urgency of climate action.

Other youth movements have combined mass action with institutional politics to advance key policies. The DREAMers youth movement has built a broad, nationwide coalition to protect the rights of undocumented youth, fundamentally shifting the immigration debate. Dissenters, a youth-led anti-war group led by people of color, has mobilized hundreds of young people through local chapters to oppose war with Iran, linking the uprisings against policy brutality to the struggle against global militarism.

Feminist and women’s-led movements have a long history of resisting war and militarism, including the famously audacious campaign undertaken by Liberian women to end a civil war in 2003 that featured blockades and a sex strike. More recently, women marched across the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea to demand a negotiated peace to end that war. CODEPINK, a women-led grassroots organization in the United States working to end war and militarism, uses similar audacious tactics. The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 by a small group of Black women fed up with systematic police killings and centuries of entrenched racism in the United States.

The resolve of these movements and their ability to mobilize people across divisions and national borders make them a significant foreign policy asset – even if they do not feature prominently in foreign policy discussions. Their organizing prowess could strengthen efforts to increase U.S. foreign assistance in public health, women’s development, indigenous and LGBTQ+ groups, support for violence prevention initiatives, and greater investment in renewables.

Meanwhile, the cross-national nature of feminist, youth, environmental, anti-corruption, and racial justice movements is an added strength. The transnational solidarity around the Black Lives Matter movement, which included a campaign organized by U.S.-based BLM activists targeting the Nigerian government after its violent crackdown on activists protesting police brutality, is a case in point. The global environmental movement that includes the Sunrise movement, and which made Greta Thunberg a household name after her sit-in outside the Swedish parliament, has focused priorities and coordinated global mass actions.

The third reason why building bridges with movements is critical for foreign policy is that it could help close the hypocrisy gap between the values the United States professes overseas and the realities at home. As Travis Adkins and Judd Devermont of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) wrote, the failure to acknowledge and confront the legacy of slavery and racism in the United States has weakened claims to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms abroad. It was difficult for American diplomats to condemn apartheid in South Africa while Jim Crow was deeply entrenched in the United States. Similarly, it is hard for the United States to credibly criticize human rights abuses in places like Myanmar, China, and Russia in light of the systematic state-sanctioned killings of unarmed Black men and women in the US and militarized police responses to protestors.

Movements force honesty and self-improvement at home, which in turn enhances credibility and leverage abroad. The Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s, which exposed profound injustices at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for global influence, ended legally-sanctioned racial discrimination in the United States and bolstered U.S. moral authority abroad. Similarly, the Black Lives Matter movement, which has brought together an unprecedented number of Americans from different generations, genders, races, and ideologies, has forced a conversation about police reform and systemic racism, while inspiring global solidarity actions.

At a time when foreign aid and development are coming under criticism for their role in perpetuating racist and neo-colonial policies and practices, listening to the experiences of individuals fighting to end poverty and advance racial and economic equity in the United States could deepen diplomats’ and foreign aid practitioners’ understanding of those issues. Those focused on human rights and democracy would do well to learn how movements in the United States, led by people of color, are countering anti-democratic policies and practices, the challenges they face, and how they are learning from activists and movements challenging authoritarianism abroad. 

Getting Practical 

Building meaningful relationships between domestic movements and the foreign policy community will take time, patience, prioritization, and commitment. While there are already strong connections between movement leaders and progressive members of Congress, notably through the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which recently introduced the 2021 People’s Agenda, developing links to the executive branch may take more effort. The National Security Council (NSC) and the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC), along with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), could start by acknowledging the powerful role of movements at home and abroad and commit to a listening tour. They might tap the experience and expertise of their younger staff, who are undoubtedly clued into these movements and familiar with their work.

The NSC or the DPC could help coordinate federal government engagement with movements and include both domestic and foreign policy officials. It may be a propitious time for such engagements given National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s depth of experience on domestic policy and DPC leader Susan Rice’s background in foreign affairs.  For example, meetings with the Poor People’s Campaign could include representatives from the State Department and USAID, in addition to the Department of Health and Human Services and other relevant domestic agencies. Meetings with M4BL activists or leaders of the Feminist Peace Initiative could involve a similar mix of State, USAID, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and other agencies as appropriate. The purpose of these meetings would be to build relationships, exchange ideas, surface tensions, and discuss potential alignment around shared priorities.

Trusted intermediaries in civil society, including think tanks, academic institutions, faith-based groups, human rights and peacebuilding networks could host movement-centered roundtables and other convenings whose goal is to build relationships between movement leaders and policymakers and align strategies on shared goals in various issue areas. They could include domestic movement priorities in their outreach and advocacy strategies, something that the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbying group, and Win Without War already do. While think tanks like the Quincy Institute and the Institute for Policy Studies have highlighted movements in U.S. foreign policy, and CSIS hosts a webinar series on Race and Diplomacy, more think tanks, foundations, and the NGO community could follow suit.

In its 2019 report, “Reimagining U.S. Security Spending for the 21st Century and Beyond,” Win Without War recommends four priorities: halting the spread of global authoritarianism, combating the climate crisis, reducing mass inequality, and repudiating militarism. These priorities could inform a series of roundtables or other meetings involving movement leaders and the FP community. The Poor People’s Campaign, whose People’s Agenda emphasizes the close interlinkages between domestic and foreign policy issues, could serve as a key conduit for these convenings. The movement roundtables that formed after the 2016 election, including Fight Back Table, the Social and Economic Justice leaders project, and The Frontline, which unites M4BL, United We Dream, and the Working Families Party, are other key interlocutors.

There are existing models of effective coalition building between foreign and domestic policy groups that could inform this process. One is the partnership that has developed in recent years between foreign policy experts and U.S. officials and civil society for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global plan adopted in 2015 to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030. In Pittsburgh, in an effort led by the mayor, different constituencies and stakeholders including city workers and Carnegie Mellon University have mobilized around the SDG framework and committed to achieving goals set out in the SDGs, notably those related to green jobs.

Another example is the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an alliance between governments and civil society organizations launched in 2011 to strengthen transparent and accountable governance. There are now 78 OGP national members, a growing number of local governments, and thousands of civil society organizations that come together to co-create OGP action plans focused on reinvigorating democracy. U.S. civil groups have prioritized combating corruption, protecting civil rights and electoral integrity, and tackling disinformation in the fourth OGP national plan. The linkage between open governance and racial justice opens new avenues for OGP engagement with domestic movements in the United States.

The Biden-Harris administration could use platforms like the SDGs and OGP, along with other high-level initiatives, to highlight the work of movements and build bridges between the domestic and foreign policy communities. One such opportunity is the Summit for Democracy that the administration has committed to hosting and that Secretary of State Antony Blinken said would likely occur by the end of this year. The summit, which will seek to address democracy challenges at home and internationally, could put movements fighting corruption, authoritarianism, and inequality in the United States and abroad at its center. Prioritizing engagement with activists and movement leaders in the lead-up to, during, and following the summit would signal humility and a recognition of their importance in advancing democracy.

Exchange and fellowship programs could be used to build and strengthen relationships between movements and the foreign policy community. Existing exchange programs that send diplomats and Foreign Service officers to work with state and local government offices could be expanded to include “postings” with social movement organizations. The State Department and USAID could consider hosting “activists-in-residence” to build bridges between domestic movements and offices focused on human rights and democracy overseas. Think tanks, NGOs, and philanthropies could establish fellowships for movement leaders and federal government leaders dedicated to forging these relationships.

Others have recommended creating venues where foreign policy professionals could talk openly with American and overseas audiences about their experiences with racism. Establishing and institutionalizing these fora, and inviting movement leaders to participate in them, would generate honesty while building trust and relationships between the domestic and foreign policy communities. At the same time, there is always a risk that such interactions between movements and policymakers could lead to exploitation of the former by the latter. Movement leaders should establish clear ground rules for policy engagement, guard their political independence, and use their best judgement about whether and how to engage with policymakers.

Anticipating Challenges 

The perspectives, approaches, and tactics used by activists and movements may differ from what government officials are used to. Unlike government bureaucracies and traditional NGOs, grassroots movements are fluid, non-hierarchical, and decentralized by design. For this reason, inclusivity and flexibility on issues of rank are particularly important. Some of the most impressive activists and organizers are local youth leaders who will be at first unknown to most policymakers and NGO leaders.

While movements include policy experts and those skilled in advocacy and negotiation, they also feature activists who have no qualms about engaging in civil disobedience or being arrested for challenging government policies. They would likely be very sensitive to attempts to coopt or water down their goals and strategies. While some activists may not wish to engage with government officials for ideological or other reasons, others will see engagement as core to their inside-outside strategy. Policymakers should avoid “choosing favorites” and prioritize the agendas of movement leaders. They should be aware that U.S. movement leaders, who have experienced many hardships and traumas over the past few years, may have immediate priorities that take precedence over engagement with the foreign policy community.

Public and private funding pose further challenges to bridge-building. Philanthropic funding, for example, is usually divided between domestic and international programming. There are some noteworthy exceptions, including efforts by the Colombe Foundation, Arca Foundation, Compton Foundation, and Ploughshares to bridge these arenas. The campaign to right-size the Pentagon budget, which brought together the National Taxpayers’ Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Win Without War, and the Coalition on Human Needs, is a good example of philanthropic funding that incentivized domestic-international collaboration. The Colombe Foundation has actively connected M4BL with anti-war groups.

Furthermore, the amount of private funding to groups focused on peace and security (about 1 percent of total foundation giving) is miniscule compared to the amount of funding in the social- and environmental-justice ecosystem. This disequilibrium poses a challenge to effective collaboration between groups focused on social justice and those focused on peacebuilding and anti-militarism.

The federal budgeting process creates further barriers. The 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), which created a decade-long budget cap and a firewall between domestic and defense funding and which requires that any increase in domestic spending has to be matched by increases in defense spending, discouraged honest conversations about budget priorities and resulted in an explosion of post-9/11 defense spending. The expiration of the BCA this year creates an opportunity to revisit budget priorities and could prompt collaboration and alignment between domestic and foreign policy groups. Movements will be key to making this happen.

Conclusion 

Movements are natural bridges between domestic and foreign policy. They bring fresh ideas, critical perspectives, and the ability to mobilize diverse coalitions over interrelated issues. Movement participation could democratize U.S. foreign policy while strengthening domestic constituencies for foreign assistance programs and priorities – because they would be seen as improving communities and priorities at home. These partnerships could build momentum for focusing U.S. foreign and national security priorities and budgets on human security.

Tensions and disagreements between movements and the foreign policy community are inevitable and healthy. While intermediary organizations such as universities, NGOs, think tanks, and foundations can help facilitate relationship-building and problem-solving, it may not be possible or even desirable for movements and policymakers to reach unified positions on key issues. Still, their interaction could pave the way to dynamic new coalitions, and create a sense of urgency about the interconnected crises faced jointly by the United States and the world. Ultimately, they could build the power necessary to transform these crises and build a more just and peaceful world.

The Freedom Struggle in Florida

The situation in Florida clearly represents a threat to American democracy

This article by Chief Organizer Maria J. Stephan was first published May 14 on Salon.

Florida has become the epicenter of a struggle between authoritarianism and those committed to freedom and justice for all. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election, actively campaigned for election deniers, embraced divide-and-rule politics, and enacted extreme policies that gut fundamental freedoms enshrined in Florida’s and the US Constitution. These policies, grounded in racial resentment, misogyny, homophobia, and the punishment of opponents using state power, come straight from the global authoritarian playbook and are already spreading from Florida to other state legislatures across the country. Attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms are only likely to accelerate should DeSantis’ clear 2024 presidential ambitions be realized. 

But Floridians are not sitting idly by. 

Daily walkoutssit-ins, marches and teach-ins led by students, teachers, parents, and other civic groups are happening across the state. People are sounding the alarm about the existential threat to US democracy DeSantis represents, while mobilizing around an alternative vision of a Florida for all. Stopping DeSantis’ march to the White House will take a united democratic front of movements, labor organizers, business and faith leaders, veterans’ groups, and exile communities both inside Florida and across state borders. Beyond that, addressing the deeper roots of authoritarianism in America will require an even bigger and bolder movement that makes the triumph of a pluralistic, multi-racial democracy a generational achievement.

Part I: The Authoritarian Playbook

Twenty-first-century authoritarian leaders follow a similar playbook: build power by demonizing the “other,” then use that power to punish any opposition and cut off any ways of threatening their power, typically by undermining elections, capturing democratic institutions, and neutralizing dissent. 

Demonizing and dehumanizing the other is the first step. Would-be autocrats tap into people’s fears related to safety, status, and well-being, and create scapegoats among marginalized communities. They establish these “others” as irredeemable enemies and argue that state power is necessary to suppress their threat. This strategy both mobilizes autocrats’ supporters and suppresses their potential opponents.

After attaining and consolidating power through this divide-and-rule strategy of “othering,” autocrats seek to then ensure that no challenge to them can stand by using state power to punish opponents, undermine civil and political rights, and hollow out accountability institutions like independent courts or free and fair elections. This is often done subtly and legally, using democratic means to gut the very essence of democracy.

Attacking fundamental civil and political rights, such as the freedoms of assembly and speech, is a key part of this strategy. Often justified on grounds of “protecting law and order” and “preserving the peace”, anti-protest laws have been expanding rapidly around the world. Nicaragua’s dictator Daniel Ortega has passed “anti-terrorism” laws to target those who protest his regime, while Cuba’s newest criminal code expands the criteria for prosecution and increases the penalties for violations. Other autocrats have attacked free speech in higher education, a historic bastion of dissent. In Hungary, Victor Orban pushed out Central European University based on anti-Semitic far-right tropes. Similar attacks are occurring in MexicoTurkey, and Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, restricting women’s reproductive rights is commonplace among authoritarian governments. In recent years a number of democratic backsliding countries have reduced or limited access to abortion, including Poland, Hungary, and Brazil.

Often, autocratic leaders will embrace or turn a blind eye to political violence. They will refuse to denounce conspiracy theories (such as the “great replacement theory” that leftists and minorities are out to strip whites of power, that the LGBTQ+ community is responsible for “grooming” or harming children, or that free and fair elections have been rigged) until those theories become mainstream and pave the way to political violence 

Ron DeSantis has embraced all these elements of the authoritarian playbook. The eerie similarity to global autocrats is no coincidence. Like authoritarians around the world, DeSantis and the GOP leadership have been directly inspired by global autocrats, and have developed a particularly special relationship with Hungary’s far-right leader, Viktor Orban.

The impact of this relationship is clear in DeSantis’ particular politics of divide and rule. Nine months after Hungary’s government passed a law cracking down on LGBTQ+ rights, DeSantis followed suit. Orban described his country’s anti-LGBTQ+ law as an effort to prevent gay people from preying on children. Similarly, DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw described Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law (the “Don’t Say Gay” law), as an “anti-grooming bill,” referring to a common slur directed at LGBTQ+ people.

In the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, DeSantis went on an “anti-woke” crusade, focusing on schools and higher education, which included passing the Stop W.O.K.E act to eliminate content related to structural racism, homophobia, misogyny, and classism, from classrooms; eliminating AP African American Studies classes from Florida high schools; and passing new education bills that would grant power to remove majors associated with critical race theory, prohibit public colleges and universities from spending money on programs focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, and make it easier to push out tenured faculty.

DeSantis has also expanded state power to target immigrants and undocumented people. Last September, he denounced liberal policies around immigration and the creation of “sanctuary cities” and arranged flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard for migrants. New legislation makes it a felony to “knowingly transport, conceal, or harbor illegal aliens”, affecting hundreds of thousands or even millions of Floridians.

Following other autocrats, DeSantis recently signed legislation that would ban most abortions after six weeks. This is despite the two-thirds of Floridians who support the right to abortion, as well as the numerous legal and voter initiatives to reaffirm these rights. 

DeSantis has also embraced the second half of the authoritarian playbook. While keeping Floridians distracted by his actions towards demonizing “others,” he has sought to undermine the rights, protections, and institutions that could be used to challenge him. He has cast doubt on free and fair elections, for instance by elevating election deniers and not taking a clear public stand about Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. And he actively seeks to limit the franchise of potential opponents – most prominently through a law that bars returning citizens from voting unless they pay felony conviction fines. The law runs directly counter to a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to most Floridians with past felony convictions, and disproportionately disenfranchises Black Floridians.

He has also aggressively sought to undermine the right to protest. In 2021 he signed into law a bill that enlarges the definition of “riot” and makes committing the crime a felony, which even the United Nations criticized for violating the fundamental human right of peaceful assembly.

DeSantis has aggressively used state power to punish opponents and critics, most prominently through his revocation of the Disney Corporation’s special tax status in Florida, and through signing a bill that punishes tech companies for moderating extremist right-wing rhetoric. The eerie autocratic parallel here is Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega, who recently canceled the legal status of 18 private sector organizations.

DeSantis has singled out government officials with opposing viewpoints with punishment. Last year, DeSantis suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, whom DeSantis accused of prosecuting cases under “woke ideology”. Similarly, prosecutor Monique Worrell is currently under investigation by the DeSantis administration. Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party and a state Senate Democratic leader were controversially arrested during a peaceful protest of the state’s abortion bill. Meanwhile, DeSantis has targeted local school boards, elevating groups like Moms for Liberty to go after opponents and boost pro-DeSantis candidates in school board elections. During the pandemic, he stripped local government agencies, including the state medical board, of the ability to make public health decisions. This bureaucratic capture has allowed DeSantis to further consolidate power.

Part II: The Authoritarian System

DeSantis’ authoritarianism in Florida, and its expansion nationally, is enabled by organizations and institutions that provide him with the resources to sustain his power. Organizational pillars including political parties, state governments, religious institutions, media outlets, corporations, and private donors. If support from these key pillars is withdrawn, or simply diminished, autocrats’ are weakened. This highlights why going on offense and engaging these pillars in pro-democracy movements is so critically important. 

One of DeSantis’ strongest power sources is a GOP state and national party dominated by an authoritarian faction that thrives on conspiracy theories and election denialism, and cozies up to far right and white supremacist groups. Florida contains over twenty anti-government militias, including the heavy presence of Proud Boys, who have mobilized to support “anti woke” school board candidates. In contact with local Proud Boys, QAnon conspiracist and white nationalist General Michael Flynn has made Sarasota his homebase for militia action in support of DeSantis’ attacks on education and LGBTQ+ communities. Most moderate GOP politicians in Florida have either left office, lost primaries, or capitulated to DeSantis’ agenda.

DeSantis’ extremism is enabled by media outlets including Fox News, which provides free media amplification of MAGA authoritarianism, and bilingual outlets like Americano Media, described by its owner as “Fox News in Spanish.” Radio and TV outlets have been bought out by far-right groups that have turned them into vehicles for election and COVID disinformation, authoritarianism, anti-immigrant and anti-Black propaganda. 

Business has also been a key pillar of support for DeSantis. He has received millions of dollars in campaign donations from conservative business leaders Ken GriffinRobert BigelowJeffrey Yass, Bernie Marcus, and Jude and Christopher Reyes. Large corporations, such as Amazon, Walmart, AT&T, and Comcast are directly or indirectly tied to funding DeSantis’ campaign. Smaller businesses fund DeSantis’ campaigns and receive a multifold increase in government contracts from the DeSantis administration. Major think tanks such as the Club for Growththe Manhattan Institutethe Claremont Institute, and Heritage Foundation provide the policy framework for DeSantis’ politics. In sum, these pillars of support supply the financial and intellectual scaffolding for DeSantis to consolidate and expand his power.

Together, these pillars of support have enabled DeSantis to out-organize the Democratic party in recent years, particularly with Latinos. DeSantis won reelection in 2022 by a 19-point margin and was the first Republican gubernatorial candidate in 20 years to win predominantly Hispanic Miami-Dade County. He received 58% of the Latino vote, including 68% of Cuban Americans and 56% of Puerto Ricans. Republican victories across the state gave the GOP a super-majority in both chambers of the state legislature.

Yet these widely touted electoral results mask a deeper weakness in DeSantis’ far-right agenda. Many of DeSantis’ actual policies are deeply unpopular. While DeSantis may currently have high approval ratings, a robust and well-resourced pro-democracy movement to expose his extremism and anti-democratic proclivities and weaken his pillars of support could rapidly turn the tide in Florida against him. 

Part III: The pro-democracy movement 

There is significant pro-democracy organizing across Florida to build upon. Florida students led statewide protests against the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in 2020. They have joined forces with parents, educators, and civic groups like Equality Florida and the ACLU to file a federal lawsuit against DeSantis and the state’s Board of Education. Groups formed after DeSantis’ hostile take-over of New College of Florida, including the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, Families for Strong Public Schools, and the Novo Collegian Alliance, have also been organizing students, teachers and alumni across the state, while organizations like Showing Up for Racial Justice have been organizing white Floridians to push back against DeSantis’ policies.

Several multi-racial organizations, including Florida Rising, have organized “Wake-Up Wednesdays“during the 2023 legislative session to mobilize people in Tallahassee to protest harmful bills and advocate for an alternative vision of Florida for all Floridians. Earlier this month, at the conclusion of the legislative session, members of the Dream Defenders, an activist group set up following Trayvon Martin’s killing in Sanford, FL in 2012, staged a singing-filled sit-in in DeSantis’ Capitol office, with 14 accepting arrest.

In addition to grassroots organizing, engaging key institutional pillars is critical to successful pro-democracy movements. Historically, labor unions and professional associations have been one of the most important of these pillars. They possess robust networks and powerful organizing tactics which can pressure governments, as seen recently in IndiaSouth KoreaIsrael, and France

The success of the Fight for $15 campaign in Florida is a great example of how effective labor organizing, backed by other key pillars, can outmaneuver a heavily resourced opponent. The campaign used a combination of media interviews, digital organizing, phone banking, and direct action, including strikes, to connect with Floridians across the political spectrum, including many small business owners. The campaign appealed to fiscal conservatives by arguing that low wages forced people to rely on food stamps and mobilized many Republicans among the working poor as well.

More recently, teachers’ unions have been at the forefront of resisting DeSantis. Teacher unions have spoken out against DeSantis’ policies and are currently leading a lawsuit against the state education department.

Businesses are a key pillar of support for authoritarian regimes, providing them with important financial, economic, and ideological resources. When businesses withhold that support from autocrats, as we’ve seen in South Africa, the Philippines, and most recently in Israel, this significantly diminishes their power. Key groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers pushed back against Donald Trump and his GOP enablers’ attempt to prevent a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election. 

DeSantis has attacked Disney and other large corporations that he accuses of “woke capitalism.” In response several corporations have signed a petition opposing anti LGBTQ+ legislation, while Disney announced that it will host a LGBTQ workplace summit in Florida with several other Fortune 500 companies. Since DeSantis thrives on the perception that he is an underdog taking the fight to big corporations, targeting Florida businesses that are providing economic and ideological support to DeSantis, and drying up financial support from national-level figures like Ken Griffin and Bernie Marcus, could be particularly effective.

The business community has also pushed back against DeSantis’ anti-immigrant policies. After the governor announced his legislative plan to counter illegal immigration, business leaders issued a joint statement opposing it. The statement highlighted both the human and economic cost of these policies for ordinary Floridians, and condemned DeSantis for sacrificing Florida’s interests for the sake of his presidential ambitions.

A strengthened pro-democracy alliance between business and faith communities in Florida could be particularly potent. Faith communities have been bedrock actors in movements for rights and freedoms in the United States and worldwide. Black churches’ role during the civil rights movement, and more recent pro-democratic organizing by chaplains and religious leaders are cases in point.

DeSantis is a practicing Catholic who has portrayed himself as a faith and family warrior battling the evils of abortion and LGBTQ+ culture. While DeSantis’ anti-abortion and anti-woke policies have been popular with many Catholics and Evangelicals in Florida and around the country, there is evidence that he has gone too far, even with these communities. 

In February 2022, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski harshly criticized DeSantis for comments he made regarding the influx of unaccompanied children at the US-Mexico border. More recently, DeSantis attracted the ire of Florida’s Catholic Church, including the influential Conference of Catholic Bishops, when he voiced support for expanding the death penalty in the state. Other denominations, including Evangelicos for Justice, have joined Catholic leaders in denouncing DeSantis’ embrace of the death penalty.

The small but influential Latino evangelical community has found itself at odds with DeSantis’ anti-immigrant policies. Last February, after DeSantis took punitive action against those sheltering unaccompanied migrant children, more than 200 faith leaders and pastors of Spanish-speaking churches traveled to Tallahassee to protest the governor. Some leaders said they would be willing to engage in civil disobedience against the law if it’s enacted. One of those leaders, Carlos Carbajal, who leads an immigrant evangelical congregation in Miami, said that “allowing politics to interfere in the decision-making of congregations would be a betrayal of the gospel.”

The recent statement by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, together with business and faith leaders condemning DeSantis’ “draconian” immigration measures is a key building block for future organizing. DeSantis’ refusal to denounce neo-Nazis in Florida, prompting outrage from Jewish and Muslim communities, highlights another crack in his edifice of support. The effort by a group of clerics to sue DeSantis over his abortion law, on grounds that it violates religious freedom, highlights the power and potential of cross-faith, cross-denominational organizing in defense of democracy. 

Veterans and military families, which have guarded against autocratic encroachment in numerous countries, are another key pillar for the Florida pro-democracy movement. Military members take a vow to defend against enemies foreign and domestic, and the respect society gives them provides a unique opportunity to speak out against anti-democratic practices. There are nearly 1.5 million veterans in Florida.

DeSantis has used his own military service to propel his political career, and references to that service are core to his political narrative. For this reason, voices of dissent from veterans’ groups and military families are particularly important to challenging his narrative. A well-coordinated campaign by veterans to challenge his authenticity and reveal the ways in which authoritarian creep is antithetical to the values of military service would hold much promise. 

Veterans made some of the earliest criticisms of DeSantis during his first gubernatorial run against Democrat Andrew Gillum. After DeSantis made comments about Gillum that were widely interpreted as racist dog whistles. Members of VoteVets (alongside other organizations) rallied in downtown Tampa. At the rally, Jerry Green, the Florida Outreach Director of VoteVets said: “…this kind of vile racism makes all of us veterans look bad. And Ron DeSantis, when he uses these dehumanizing racial terms to describe a Black man betrays us and what we fought for.” 

DeSantis also passed legislation to reinforce false claims around voting security, especially vote-by-mail ballots. These measures hurt U.S. service members who frequently vote by mail. Several organizations attempted to challenge voter restrictions following the 2018 election. Veterans like Justin Straughan have joined others in criticizing the legislation, noting how important it is for service members to have robust mail-in ballot infrastructure. 

Finally, given the strength of Latino exile communities in Florida, including many that have fled authoritarian regimes, the creative use of Spanish, Creole, and Portuguese-language media to draw attention to DeSantis’ authoritarian policies could significantly advance the pro-democracy movement. Creative and culturally-informed language is critical. For instance, the term “progresista” has a negative connotation for many Hispanic exile communities, who associate the term, along with symbols like clenched fists with socialist dictators like Castro and Chavez. DeSantis and his backers use this to paint the opposition as far-left extremists, furthering their politics of divide and rule.

Gun violence prevention is important to the many Floridians who have escaped violence in their country of origin, as well as non-Hispanic Black and Brown communities who experience the worst forms of gun violence in the US. The fact that 61% Floridians and 71% Hispanic voters oppose permitless carry, which Governor DeSantis recently passed into law, highlights another issue that could galvanize pro-democratic organizing.

There are many existing nodes of pro-freedom, pro-democracy organizing in Florida, as well as support from within key pillars – the key is strengthening coordination between them.

 Part IV: The Way Ahead

The situation in Florida clearly represents a threat to American democracy. The way DeSantis and the Florida legislature are operating is comparable to autocrats worldwide. While the situation is urgent, much can be done to mitigate the effects of DeSantis’ harmful policies in Florida and across the country, while preventing his authoritarian march to the White House.

First, there is a deep need for greater support to frontline organizing, both in terms of funding and technical support, to allow organizers to compete against heavily resourced far-right groups. While most funders have shifted attention to other, more “winnable” battleground states, this is shortsighted. Funding shortfalls should be rectified, particularly as DeSantis prepares to announce his presidential run.

Second, it is critical to build connective tissue between grassroots groups and other key pillars including business, faith organizations, labor unions, professional associations, veterans’ groups, and military families. Forging strategic alliances around a shared interest in defending fundamental freedoms and preventing further democratic backsliding would bolster the collective effort against DeSantis and his enablers. The growing number of dissenting voices amongst members of the business, faith, and veterans’ communities in Florida, combined with highly energetic youth mobilizing and strengthening efforts to prevent gun violence, hold great promise. Given the history of successful ballot initiatives in the state, a referendum focused on protecting abortion access, which proved successful in conservative states like Kansas and Kentucky, could be an effective mobilizing tool in Florida.

Third, the pro-democracy movement must expand beyond progressive communities by demonstrating the attractiveness of a pluralistic, multi-racial democracy and offering a message of a positive future of belonging for all Floridians. Organizing within conservative communities is particularly important to encourage principled and self-interested stands against DeSantis’ authoritarian policies. With conservative funders, including the influential Koch network, vowing to support anti-Trump GOP candidates, they will need to decide whether they find DeSantis’ authoritarian posturing equally disqualifying.

Fourth, significant support should be dedicated to developing and executing creative and compelling narrative strategies that expose DeSantis’ extremism, demonstrate how out of touch he is with Floridians and the American people on issues that matter most, and offer a positive and hopeful alternative vision for the state and the country. Multilingual (English, Spanish, Creole, and Portuguese) radio, TV, billboard, and social media strategies that make the stakes clear to Floridians and the American public, and that center joy and humor, which have historically been particularly effective against autocratic leaders, are key to countering DeSantis’ fear-based divide and rule strategy.

Finally, there is a need for national coordination and cross-state democratic solidarity to direct resources and technical support to those on the front lines. Such efforts should prioritize service to local and state-led organizers who know how to navigate the complex communities in Florida and other states facing the most severe forms of authoritarianism. Meanwhile, given the extent of transnational authoritarian learning, with Florida being a hotbed of far-right collaboration (including related to the January 9th insurrection in Brazil led by disgruntled Bolsonaro supporters, many of whom were camped out in FL), supporting cross-border learning, skills-sharing, and solidarity between pro-democracy actors in Florida and other countries would be a worthwhile investment.