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

*This article was written by Research Assistant Adam Fefer.

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

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

I. Catholics’ Right Turn and Persistent Divisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Beyond USCCB and January 6th

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

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

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

IV. The Future of Pro-Democracy Catholic Politics

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

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

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

Discussion Questions 

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

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Can Multiracial Democracy Survive?

*This article was written by Chief Organizer Maria J. Stephan and was first published on Sojourners.

Racial justice and pro-democracy advocates share a common agenda.

DEMOCRACIES OFTEN DIE by a thousand small cuts. The slide from a robust, if unfinished, democracy to an authoritarian government is incremental and uses inherent weaknesses in a country’s institution and culture. In the U.S., racism has been a core weakness debilitating progress toward a vibrant inclusive democracy, exploited by autocrats to maintain power no matter the cost to human dignity and freedom.

Since 2015, the U.S. democracy score has slid from 92 to 83, according to Freedom House’s global index, lower than any democracy in Western Europe. At a point when pro-democracy and anti-racism movements need to be strongest in the U.S., we find them at odds.

I work in many pro-democracy coalitions committed to political and ideological pluralism where it is challenging to identify the role of white supremacy and Christian nationalism in undermining democratic norms. Conservatives see these as “leftist” issues and moderates fear dividing an already fragile coalition. I also work with political progressives who often see police brutality and mass incarceration as aberrations in a functioning democracy rather than direct attacks on democracy itself, as political scientists Vesla M. Weaver and Gwen Prowse have laid out in their analysis of racial authoritarianism and as Black intellectuals and activists have understood for decades.

Authoritarianism is a system that concentrates wealth and power in a relatively small group of unaccountable people. Authoritarian systems are made up of authoritarian leaders and their institutional enablers, including members of political parties, media outlets, businesses, and religious institutions who provide autocrats with critical sources of social, political, economic, and financial power. Authoritarian systems engage in a range of anti-democratic behaviors to consolidate or expand power, such as weaponizing disinformation, gutting institutional checks on power, subverting free and fair elections, undermining civil liberties, and condoning political violence.

Notwithstanding our country’s powerful founding ideals of liberty and justice for all, both our main political parties are rooted in white supremacy, the historical, cultural, ideological, and institutional practices that benefit white people and disadvantage people of color. Since our country’s founding, there has been a struggle over who is allowed to participate fully as a citizen, particularly through the right to vote. It took the U.S. civil rights movement — the greatest pro-democracy struggle in our history — and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to establish a legal foundation for inclusive democracy. Only in 1965 did the U.S. achieve full adult suffrage.

But with every advance has come backlash. In the U.S. this has included expanding the state repressive apparatus via policing, mass incarceration, and prison labor, followed by a “war on drugs” aimed at Black and brown communities. The election of our first Black president advanced a multiracial democracy on many fronts, but also activated authoritarian forces ready to exploit America’s racism.

Ex-president Donald Trump became the political vehicle for that vengeance and used the Republican Party to advance an authoritarian agenda. The MAGA faction has now captured the GOP to such an extent that the party, which in earlier eras fought to end slavery, has now abandoned democracy all together. An endemic American authoritarian faction that was once anchored in the Democratic Party in the early 20th century is now dominant in the Republican Party in the 21st century. In both cases the parties built their authoritarian rise around racism.

If racial authoritarianism is a politically ascendant trait in the U.S., what does this mean for the pro-democracy movement?

First, don’t silo strategy on racism away from strategy on democracy and authoritarianism. See them instead as two sides of the same coin. If we are countering polarization and its corrosive effects on U.S. democracy, how does that work address racism as the most virulent form of toxic polarization? If we are working to build resilient institutional democratic norms, are we grappling squarely with how the Electoral College, a relic from the period of slavery, is an impediment to multiracial democracy? Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt confront these structural questions in their new book, Tyranny of the Minority.

Second, talk honestly about how racism and white supremacy prevent the U.S. from developing as a democracy and see these conversations as strengthening citizenship. We must grapple with why, as Rev. Otis Moss III puts it, “Black conceptions of democracy are radically different from those that have participated and are privileged in the democracy.” Racial grievances have been used as a pretext to undermine democratic norms and principles, whether during the fall of Reconstruction, the enactment of Jim Crow, or the Jan. 6 coup attempt.

Third, invest in and amplify practices that simultaneously address racism and strengthen democracy. We need joint strategy-setting across a broad-based democracy movement that incorporates racial justice into political education, organizing and advocacy efforts, and in community dialogue. For example, labor unions significantly reduce racial wage gaps and racial wealth gaps between Black and white workers. Because of this, unions play a critical role in pushing back against authoritarian practices and strengthening an inclusive democracy.

Churches and religious institutions — particularly Black churches — have been pillars of support for democratic norms in the United States. Now, too many white evangelicals and Catholics are supporting the rise of authoritarianism and, in some cases, providing cover for political violence in the U.S. And those Christian leaders who stand against rising authoritarianism, such as former leader of the Southern Baptist Convention Russell Moore, are forced to step down because of threats from within their own community when they condemn white Christian nationalism.

However, as we witnessed in 2020, other faith organizations played a key role in upholding basic principles of democracy by countering misinformation, protecting the sacred right to vote, and deterring political violence. These roles will be critically important amid contentious national elections in 2024. Faith leaders can draw on moral authority and organizational power to highlight the urgency of this moment, support free and fair elections, insist on pro-democratic behaviors in politicians, and hold individuals accountable for political violence and other anti-democratic behaviors. Beyond the elections, faith organizations can speak prophetically about the awesome challenge and opportunity of building a multiracial democracy in the United States, grounded in mutual flourishing, and backing that vision with concrete action. In states that have become laboratories of democratic backsliding, faith leaders and communities can employ tactics such as public statements, symbolic protests, protective accompaniment of vulnerable community members, and (where necessary) acts of nonviolent noncooperation to apply principled pressure on those actively working against democracy. Churches can lead and support local and state-based efforts to advance truth, racial justice, and racial healing while grounding these efforts in a transformative pro-democracy movement. In this way, faith-based efforts to combat racism and strengthen democracy would instill hope and rejuvenate religious imagination for drawing us closer to the Beloved Community.

This article, Can Multiracial Democracy Survive?, was originally published in Sojourners magazine, April 2024. Reprinted with permission.

THE VISTA: July 2023

The summer lull is in full swing in the US as July comes to a close, while we grapple with rising temperatures and guard our energies for the 2024 electoral cycle. We’re all going to need that energy, as we are faced with polls that describe the rising acceptance of political violence, and that “gut-level hatred” is consuming our political lives. Horizons is committed to continuing to work with those who are actively trying to prevent violence and acts of hate being fueled by a clear political agenda. And we find inspiration and hope from the myriad organizing efforts throughout the country.  

The global nature of the authoritarian threat continues to animate our work. Check out, Chief Organizer Maria Stephan’s article in Ha’aretz about pro-democracy protests in Israel and the relationship between Israeli democracy and Palestinian self-determination. Also, registration is now open for the next Othering & Belonging Conference, taking place in Berlin in October. Please join Horizons and others as we reflect on global strategies for countering the far-right and bolstering democracy. 

As you go into August, we hope you find a space for deep rest, and reflect on the role that conflict transformation and listening skills play in all our relational organizing. There are several resources to help, such as this summer survival kit of conflict hacks from Amanda Ripley; and, this summer reading list and overview of the listening arts. If you haven’t checked out our friend Brett Davidson’s writings on how deep narrative work also requires deep listening, don’t miss his recent missive on the meanings of listening.  

It’s an exciting month for Horizons as we welcome a new member of the team, Jarvis Williams who just joined us as Director for Applied Research. Read more about Jarvis and hear directly from him why he agrees with the power of listening for transforming relations and building deep partnerships. Welcome Jarvis!  We also have openings for Research Assistants to work with Jarvis and the team, as we partner with the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University on research related to the pillars of support for authoritarianism and democracy. Please help us forward the announcement to any students you know who may be interested.  

We hope you enjoy the additional resources we’ve been reading, watching and listening to this month: 

READING 

Doing the Work While Doing The Work 

by Samhita Mukhopadhyay, The Nation 

“How can social justice organizations prioritize mental health issues while finding ways for their staff and members to stay in solidarity with each other? As we work to undo the legacies of racism and oppression, we are often facing a history of unresolved trauma—our own, and the histories of those we work with… Incorporating trauma-informed perspectives and general mental health awareness has sprouted up in many different places in an effort to counter narratives that we should ignore or override these feelings… But connecting the dots between social justice work and trauma history doesn’t automatically confer the necessary tools to deal with it.” This article is full of wisdom and resources from many leaders showing that prioritizing mental health while also finding ways to remain in solidarity with each other are not necessarily in opposition. 

Is Tennessee a Democracy? 

by Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic 

Anne Applebaum explores the current context in Tennessee from her perspective of reporting on the decade-long democratic decline and rise of one-party rule in Poland and Hungary. “…the cascade of tiny legal and procedural changes designed to create an unlevel playing field, the ruling party’s inexplicable sense of grievance, the displaced moderates with nowhere to go—this [does] seem familiar from other places. So [is] the sense that institutional politics has become performative, somehow separated from real life…Today, Tennessee is a model of one-party rule… Nor will the situation be easy to change, because gerrymandering is something of a blood sport in the state… [And] Getting people to vote is not so easy, either, because Tennessee has some of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws.”  

Why We Shouldn’t Give Up on Organized Religion 

by Tish Harrison Warren, New York Times Opinion 

Check out this interview with Eboo Patel, an American Muslim and founder and president of Interfaith America, a nonprofit that aims to promote cooperation across religious differences. Patel discusses his latest book, “We Need to Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracyand speaks about religious identity, diversity and institutions in America.  

More than Red and Blue: Political Parties and American Democracy 

The American Political Science Association (APSA) & Protect Democracy 

APSA and Protect Democracy partnered to support the APSA Presidential Task Force on Political Parties to synthesize decades of research on political parties and what they do in democracies. Key insights include: (1) the current campaign environment, from campaign finance regulations to changes in media, have made it harder for political parties to fulfill their roles; (2) American political parties are easy to join, opening them to new voices and interests but also leaving them vulnerable to capture by those with authoritarian objectives; (3) Racial realignment between the major parties has been growing for decades, changing the way the parties see the political landscape and their incentives for action; and (4) political parties are vital to modern democracy and reform efforts should take their essential roles seriously. 

WATCHING: 

Can We Transform Our Politics? 

Utah Governor Spencer Cox, Braver Angels Convention 

Governor Cox is well known for the public service announcement with his rival candidate, Democratic candidate Chris Peterson during the 2020 race for governor. Research has shown that watching the “One Nation” ad reduced viewers support for undemocratic practices, such as forgoing democratic principles for partisan gain or using violence against members of another party. Check out Governor Cox’s keynote address at the recent Braver Angels Convention in Gettysburg.  

Why Did “Woke” Go from Black to Bad? 

The Legal Defense Fund 

To some, the word “woke” is now a derisive stand-in for diversity, inclusion, empathy and Blackness. When legislators pass a law to “stop woke” in light of the word’s true history as well as its commonly understood meaning, what are they really saying? Check out this recent article by Keecee DeVenny on American Redefined, How Language is Weaponized. “Make no mistake, the linking of discussions of systemic oppression, race, gender expression, and sexual orientation with “anti-American” sentiments is intentional. It’s an attempt to redefine and reclassify who gets to call themselves American, regardless of their relationship to the country.” 

The Resurgence of the ‘Oldest Hatred’: The Effort to Combat Antisemitism 

Aspen Ideas Festival 

“Antisemitic incidents are on the rise in the United States, leaving Jewish communities feeling vulnerable — a sentiment both new and sadly familiar. Among the responses is the first ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, released by the White House, advocating a whole-of-society approach because all of us are affected by hate and it takes all of us to fight it.” Moderated by Katie Couric, this Aspen Ideas Festival panel features Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Eric Ward from Race Forward and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall from Harvard’s Belfer Center. 

LISTENING TO:  

Advancing Just, Multiracial Democracy with john a. powell 

Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast 

“On this episode, Julie Nelson, Senior Vice President of Programs at Race Forward and john a. powell, Director, Othering and Belonging Institute, come together in a conversation inspired by the recent essay they co-authored, “Advancing Just, Multiracial Democracy.”  They explore the role local municipalities can play in not only defending against “democratic backsliding,” but also in expanding the very nature of democracy, which is critical with the global rise of authoritarianism and nationalism. Julie and john’s work rests on the idea that local governments are uniquely situated to turn grim situations built on “othering” into a global movement grounded in racial justice and belonging.”  

Are ESG Investors Actually Helping the Environment? 

Freakonomics Podcast 

Economist Kelly Shue argues that ESG investing gives more money to firms that are already green while depriving polluting firms of financing that they need to get greener. But she offers a solution, which is to take an engagement strategy with corporations and build power from the inside for change. As the debate about ESG continues to rage, we found this a nuanced conversation in line with our approach to the business pillar within a pro-democracy movement that requires both strategic engagement and pressure tactics. 

Making Reparations a Reality: Blazing a Trail to Racial Repair with Trevor Smith 

Let’s Hear It Podcast! 

Check out this thought-provoking episode with Trevor Smith, the Director of Narrative Change at Liberation Ventures. Trevor is a writer, researcher, and editor of the newsletter – Reparations Daily (ish). During the interview Trevor discusses the growing movement calling for reparations as a catalyst for true racial repair. He invites reflection on how we can all work toward a new narrative of reparations, and how we can create a democracy that is inclusive, empathetic, and centered on principles of justice. 

FOR FUN 

This is Real! Premiere Performance at the 22CI Conference: Forging a People Powered Democracy 

The 22CI conference came to a close earlier this month with a joyful performance of a brand new song crafted during one of the sessions, “Developing a Collective Poetic Voice to Address Authoritarianism Thru Songwriting,” under the direction of Jane Sapp, a musician and cultural worker at Let’s Make a Better World and Cindy Cohen, Emerita of Brandeis University and former Director of the Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts. Special thanks to the members of the “This is Real Ensemble” – Destiny Williams, Jeralyn Cave, Penny Rosenwasser, and Molly O’Connor. You guys rocked it.  

Welcome to Jarvis Williams, New Director of Applied Research at The Horizons Project!

Enjoy this short interview between our Chief Network Weaver Julia Roig and our new Director of Applied Research Jarvis Williams as he describes his excitement and motivation about joining the Horizons’ team.

Julia: Hi everyone, Julia Roig, the Chief Network Weaver at the Horizons Project, celebrating on this hot summer day, that we have a new team member who has joined us at Horizons, Jarvis Williams.

We just wanted to have a chance for you to be able to say hi to everybody because of course, since we’re so into working within a broad ecosystem of a lot of different partners, we wanted to give you a chance to tell us something about yourself.

Jarvis: Well, first of all, thank you. It’s so exciting to be with the team. I enjoyed the interview process, I think I told a friend of mine I held you captive for several hours when we were supposed to be talking for a short amount of time, but it’s just great conversations.

But I think that probably explains part of who I am. I really enjoy trying to be in community with people.

I think three things that would probably define who I am now is that I’m highly sensitive to the power of relationships to change people’s lives and that’s important to me.

It started growing up in a small community in Mississippi and watching my father be in relationship with patients, watching people in the church be in relationship. So I care about that and my work culture matters to the extent that I’m in relationship with great people.

I guess the other two things that really matter to me that I guess define who I am is that I have attempted to try to be attendant to what people believe.

Why their beliefs matter to them, not simply just to change their beliefs, but to appreciate how they have come to see the world the way they do.

And then I’ve really committed myself to trying to be a part of helping us to get better information about what we believe so we can actually act better. And that’s where scholarship and academia comes into play, trying to learn about the world we live in, in a reliable way.

Julia: Yeah, that’s great. And, you know, I failed to even describe the fact that you’re taking on the role of the Director of Applied Research.

So I’m really glad that you mentioned the power of, academic rigor and your experience with research. And so I’m really curious for you to share what you’re the most excited about with regards to this job, and the Horizons mission and what you’re going to be doing in this role?

Jarvis: Oh, absolutely. I think for me, the wording that really just fascinated me was this idea of connective tissue. What do we need to know to help us connect better? Or what beliefs do we have that may be prohibiting us from connecting? And so I know that to confront the moment I think we find ourselves in with all kinds of threats, we don’t have to just connect, but we have to have a certain depth to those connections. And in order to explain some of that, it requires… interrogation to those deep beliefs that complicate how we act. And so in Horizons Project, religion, the role of Christianity in democracy, I think it’s a deep conversation that we need to think about.

The challenge of race, I think those are deep conversations. There are moments where you have to try to have a polite conversation to move on, but to build great relationships, there needs to be great understanding. And sometimes it takes a kind of depth of understanding to get there.

And then this mystery we call democracy. What beliefs are essential to be able to hold on to what we have and what beliefs have complicated it? So Horizons gives me an opportunity to, think about not just, what we know about those beliefs, but how people are actually living out those beliefs currently, and to be in relationship with them and to push and to probe and to learn and I think I’m excited about being in a space where we’re not trying to pretend we don’t disagree, but we are curious how we can believe better about each other.

Julia: Yeah, that’s beautifully put, and folks are going to very quickly realize, why you were the right choice to join our team and all this “connective tissue-ing” that we’re trying to do.

So Jarvis, just to end, you are going to interact with a lot of different folks, it’s the joy of this work of being ecosystem organizers.

So for those partners or those collaborators who are going to have the opportunity to work with you, what would be something that you’d want them to know about you as you’re getting started?

Jarvis: Yeah, I think two things for me. One, I will absolutely listen to them. I will care to hear and to see the world through their eyes. And I think that is connected to the other thing, that they will absolutely be respected. And for me, if you know that you will be heard and that you will be treated with respect, I think that’s what I would want to offer.

And in the words of John Lewis, whatever good trouble we get into, we’ll be fine. As long as we respect each other and listen.

Julia: Well, wise words to end on. And you know, Jarvis, we really are just thrilled on behalf of Maria and Tabitha and Nilanka and the whole team, just we want to give you a big warm welcome .

We’ll look forward to a lot of good trouble coming next.

Well, I so appreciate it. And I’m so happy to be a part of this team.

Julia: Thanks Jarvis.

THE VISTA: May 2023

During the month of May, many important resources have been released on both the rise of authoritarianism and on global polarization. Horizons appreciates the opportunity to learn from across regional contexts and supports deep understanding of how the authoritarian playbook is used to fuel divisions and toxic othering. In “America Needs a Cross-National Approach to Counter Authoritarianism” Yordanos Eyoel provides an overview of the newly released report, “Defending and Strengthening Diverse Democracies” that offers lessons from Brazil, India, South Africa, and the United States. The Institute For Integrated Transitions also published as a part of their global polarization program: First Principles: The Need for Greater Consensus on the Fundamentals of Polarisation. Aditi Juneja makes The Case for Expanding the Landscape of Democracy Work; and People’s Action Institute highlights the need for an organizing revival, in their recent report: The Antidote to Authoritarianism.

Horizons Chief Organizer, Maria Stephan, published a comprehensive piece this month on how the global authoritarian playbook is being executed in Florida and lessons for the pro-democracy movement. A special thanks to all the front-line movement leaders in Florida who contributed to this analysis and who continue such important organizing work under such difficult circumstances.

As we kick off the summer in the US with LGBTQI+ Pride month in June, we recommend the new resources provided by Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy & Protections on Protecting Pride Events from Armed Extremist Activity. Our hope is that we continue to care for each other and find new ways of being and doing across our many difference.

Enjoy some of the other resources that the Horizons’ team has been reading, watching and listening to:

READING

Why Voters Who Value Democracy Participate in Democratic Backsliding

by Alia Braley and Gabriel Lenz, Nature Human Behavior

“Around the world, citizens are voting away the democracies they claim to cherish.” This article summarizes research that shows this behaviour is driven in part by the belief that our opponents will undermine democracy first. The study finds that US partisans are willing to subvert democratic norms to the extent that they believe opposing partisans are willing to do the same. When partisans were exposed to the fact that their opponents are more committed to democratic norms than they thought – they became more committed to upholding democratic norms themselves and less willing to vote for candidates who break these norms. “These findings suggest that aspiring autocrats may instigate democratic backsliding by accusing their opponents of subverting democracy and that we can foster democratic stability by informing partisans about the other side’s commitment to democracy.”

How King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ parallels the Tennessee Three

by Kristen Thomason, Baptist News Global

One of the Tennessee Three, Rep. Justin Jones tweeted: “There comes a time when you have to do something out of the ordinary. We occupied the House floor today after repeatedly being silenced from talking about the crisis of mass shootings. We could not go about business as usual as thousands were protesting outside demanding action.” This article connects this action to the reasoning of Martin Luther King Jr. 60 years ago as explained in his famous letter from a Birmingham Jail that sometimes actions out of the ordinary are necessary. “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Being Human > Being Right

by Thomas Coombes

“Does your approach to social justice depend on showing people that they are wrong (and, therefore, that you are right)?” Our friend The Hope Guy has written a wonderful summary of the insights from four recent books to challenge this all-too-common approach to “being right” and lays out three helpful steps: (1) Recognize when our certainty makes us bad communicators; (2) To change minds, listen; and (3) Make the conversation (not its subject) the story.

WATCHING

The Growing Threat of Christian Nationalism

“What is Christian nationalism and how does it threaten our democracy? Investigative reporter Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, Eric K. Ward, executive vice president at Race Forward, and Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons,communications director at  Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) and a member of BJC’s Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign discuss the rise of Christian nationalism, its intersection with antisemitism, racism, and extremism, and why we should be paying attention.” (This is the second program in a four-part series on Exploring Hate.)

A Brief but Spectacular Take on Finding Hope in a Difficult World

PBS Newshour

Simran Jeet Singh is executive director for the Aspen Institute’s Religion and Society Program and author of “The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life.” Singh shares his Brief But Spectacular take on how by focusing on the positive aspects of our multi-religious, racial and ethnic world, society can disrupt bias and build empathy.

The Abortion Talks

This documentary film by Josh Sabey and Sarah Perkins follows the crimes and trial of John Salvi—and the story of six women, all of them leaders in the pro-life and pro-choice movements, who sought to ensure that it would never happen again. To coincide with the film’s impact campaign, Picture Motion has launched a Screening Tour, providing access to the film and an accompanying Discussion & Action Guide at a sliding fee scale. If you are interested in hosting a film screening, you can contact Picture Motion here.

Imagination Infrastructure

ICYMI, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently released all the video recordings from their convening “A Time Between Worlds” where a series of inspiring speakers from around the world discussed aspects of imagination infrastructure. Olivia Oldham summarizes various concepts of imagination as a way “of seeing, sensing, thinking, dreaming” that creates the conditions for material interventions in, and political sensibilities of the worldImagination is thus a transformative practice, which has the capacity to cultivate and foster alternatives to social, political, cultural and economic conditions; it is a prerequisite for changing the world for the better.”

LISTENING TO

“Polarization” Is Not the Problem. It Obscures the Problem – with Shannon McGregor

Is this Democracy Podcast

In this interview McGregor discusses her recent article, A Review and Provocation: On Polarization and Platforms and reflects on: “Why do scholars, politicians, journalists, and pundits cling to the idea of “polarization”? [Her] answer lies in the fact that the empirical, normative, and historical inadequacy is not a bug, but a feature of the polarization narrative – it is precisely the fact that is obscures rather than illuminates the actual problem that makes it attractive. The “polarization” concept is useful if you want to lament major problems in American politics, but either don’t see or simply can’t bring yourself to address the fact that the major threat to American democracy is a radicalizing Right, is the threat of rightwing authoritarian minority rule. In this way the concept even provides a rhetoric of rapprochement since it does not require agreement as to what is actually ailing America, only that “polarization” is to the detriment of all.”

A Slow Civil War? Jeff Sharlet

Future Hindsight Podcast

Jeff Sharlet discusses his latest book, The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, reflecting on the democratic decline in the US, and the role of myths and martyrdom within fascist narratives. “On the Far Right, everything is heightened―love into adulation, fear into vengeance, anger into white-hot rage. Here, in the undertow, our forty-fifth president, a vessel of conspiratorial fears and fantasies, continues to rise to sainthood, and the insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, killed on January 6 at the Capitol, is beatified as a martyr of white womanhood. Framing this dangerous vision, Sharlet remembers and celebrates the courage of those who sing a different song of community, and of an America long dreamt of and yet to be fully born, dedicated to justice and freedom for all.”

Hungary: Learning useful lessons from your enemies

Strength & Solidarity Podcast

“The election in 2010, of Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban and his Fidesz party triggered a lurch to the right and authoritarian rule. It brought legal restriction, bureaucratic harassment and public vilification to the country’s civil society and human rights community. Official hostility made it difficult for [non-profits] to survive and made individual rights workers’ lives hell. It would not have been surprising if the net outcome of such targeting were a weakened human rights movement and a profound loss of confidence. And yet, says Stefánia Kapronczay, co-director of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, that is not what has happened. Instead, finding themselves blocked from their former work of advocacy and litigation, human rights workers pivoted to a model of grass roots activism that puts citizens’ needs and their values about rights and justice at the heart of movement-building. It is work they had not been doing enough of, she argues, and it is making the constituency for human rights stronger.”

How the News Media Shortchanges Nonviolent Resistance

War Stories Peace Stories Podcast

“The right to peaceful protest is considered fundamental in democracies around the world.  Nonviolent protest movements, like the Gandhian movement for independence in India or The Civil Rights Movement in the United States, are celebrated in history books. Yet if you go looking for coverage of nonviolent protest in the news media, most of the time you’ll come up short. In this interview, Horizons’ Chief Organizer, Maria J. Stephan widens the lens on nonviolent resistance and offers tips for how journalists could apply that lens to tell more complete and captivating stories.

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

Astronaut shares the profound ‘big lie’ he realized after seeing the Earth from space

by Tod Perry Upworthy

“Sixty-one years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to make it into space and probably the first to experience what scientists now call the “overview effect.” This change occurs when people see the world from far above and notice that it’s a place where borders are invisible, where racial, religious and economic strife are nowhere to be seen.…In a compelling interview with Big Think, astronaut, author and humanitarian Ron Garan explains how if more of us developed this planetary perspective we could fix much of what ails humanity and the planet.”

THE VISTA: April 2023

During the month of April, we are reminded of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who said, “they can cut all the flowers, but they can’t stop the spring…” Horizons continues to be inspired by the persistence of so many pro-democracy organizers and the breadth of resources to draw upon. You won’t want to miss the recent Atlantic Council report on Fostering a Fourth Democratic Wave: A Playbook for Countering the Authoritarian Threat.

Diversity of perspectives and approaches is our strength in building pluralistic movement(s) for democracy. Check out the many organizations that participated in this year’s National Week of Conversation in the US. We would especially recommend the conversations that delved into the tensions between dialogic and social justice-oriented approaches. For example, you can re-watch this great webinar that highlighted important research findings from the report: “Building Bridges in the Context of Inequality.” Horizons also co-hosted an event that week with the renowned director of the Othering & Belonging Institute, john a. powell, where we grappled with the challenges of Bridging Towards a Just, Inclusive, Pluralistic Democracy that you can rewatch here.

Philanthropy has an important role to play in supporting healthy pluralism in our democracy movement(s) and this rich article details some frameworks for systems change coalitions that create “paths for everyone” to participate. However, there are pitfalls when calls for pluralism appear devoid of needed power analyses, as expressed in this recent critique by Vu Le at NonProfitAF: Philanthropy’s Equivalent of “All Lives Matter.”

Collaborating across difference isn’t easy. We have to be able to have hard conversations that may cause discomfort. (ICYMI, you can re-watch Horizons’ recent public event with researchers and activists exploring narrative practices that support collaboration across difference.) Horizons appreciates so much the many insights and hard truths shared by our partners and many others.

Here’s some of what we’ve been reading, watching, and listening to:

READING

How NOT to Dismantle White Supremacy

Sendolo DiaminahScot NakagawaSean Thomas-BreitfeldRinku Senand Lori Villarosa, The Forge

This is an important reflection on the concept of “white supremacy” as applied to organizational practices like using metrics, setting deadlines, or employing the written word.

The Forge brought together five longtime racial justice leaders to discuss why Tema Okun’s article on “White Supremacy Culture” still resonates, the problems with relying on it to criticize organizational practices, and the path forward for racial justice work.

Civil Unraveling in the Deep South

by Baratunde Thurston, Puck

This is a richly nuanced read that weaves in historic memory with the present political dynamics taking place in the Tennessee legislature; building on neuroscience and best practices of bridging across difference. “My hope is that we can find and celebrate other ways of being together. That we know what an insurrection is and isn’t. That we are brave enough to be clear about our failings and our history. And that we can create momentum around a new story of what living together, with all our differences, can look and feel like. Elected officials shouldn’t have to hold protests inside a legislative body for the will of the people to be heard, and elected officials shouldn’t believe that disparaging someone for doing so will earn them anything beyond scorn. But for that to be true, we have to keep trying to create spaces to hear each other and be heard.”

Christian Nationalists Have Provoked a Pluralistic Resistance

by Ruth Braunstein, Religious News Services

This article describes the many organizations and networks working to resist the rise in Christian nationalism, (i.e., “the idea that being Christian is core to the American identity”) that is so intricately tied to white supremacy and authoritarianism in the US. For example, the Poor People’s Campaign challenges a Christian nationalist idea of “scarcity set against a mythologized past of plenty, but only for those who “belong.” Activists… draw up a narrative in which patriotic citizens work together toward a more perfect, inclusive and abundant future that lives up to the country’s founding ideals.”

WATCHING

Bridging Divides: The Principles of Political Identity

Lauren W. Reliford, Mormon Women for Ethical Governance (MWEG) 2023 Conference

You can watch all of the MWEG 2023 Conference sessions on-line with many inspiring talks, with a diversity of women’s perspectives on strengthening democracy. We highly recommend this session with the political director at Sojourners on the impact of our calcified political identities.

The Broke Project: Building Narrative Power

Shanelle Matthews, Trina Stout, Annie Neimand, Michael Huang, Frank2023 Conference

Frank is a community for movement builders and change makers who use communications to drive positive social, institutional, and behavioral change hosted by the Center for Public Interest Communications. They recently released the recordings from their 10th annual gathering. All the sessions offer great insights, but we’d recommend this one session on the Broke Project that gives an overview of in-depth social science research and narrative tools to better understand poverty and effective storytelling for economic justice.

Four Tools for Nervous System Regulation

Emilie Leyes on Tik Tok

If you’re still on TikTok, Horizons enjoys creators like Emilie who share useful tools for overall mental health and responding to feelings of overwhelm (that are so common to those working for social change.) ICYMI, our friends at Think Peace also released the reflections of a recently-convened community of practice – those working at the nexus of social change (including peacebuilding/social justice/transitional justice/reconciliation) and wellbeing (including mental health, bio-psychosocial support, neuroscience and behavioral sciences as well as somatics, embodiment, and holistic approaches to healing).

LISTENING TO

How Does an Ecosystem Act?

Wisdom Practice with Krista Tippett, The OnBeing Project

This is a short, but insightful reflection on an important topic for Horizons: “how to activate connective tissue, and communal momentum, and shared learning, and cross-pollination, and accompaniment, which we obviously need if all of [us are] to meet what is before us in this century….How can those of us committed to orienting in this way start to function like the ecosystem the world needs us to be?”

The Way Back

Throughline Podcast

As we grapple with how societies can heal from past harm and trauma in order to move forward together, this podcast delves into the role of public apologies. “Our society is saturated in apologies. They’re scripted, they’re public, and they often feel less than sincere… It’s not even always clear who they’re for. So, what purpose do these apologies serve? Because real apologies are not just PR stunts. Not just a way to move on. At their best, they’re about acknowledgement and accountability, healing and repair.”

America Needs bell hooks

Lion’s Roar

Lion’s Roar has compiled a great selection of bell hooks’ writings and recorded conversations as a voice for love and justice – particularly for “students in Florida and elsewhere for whom her truth is apparently dangerous. Because we must all celebrate a great voice like bell’s when it is silenced — and needed more than ever. [One] of the Black thinkers targeted in attacks on the straw man of “critical race theory.” Yet far from a threat, the writings of bell hooks are exactly what America needs — honest analysis of injustices past and present, and love and compassion as their answer.”

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

World Book Day is an annual celebration of the written word hosted by UNESCO each April 23, with this year’s theme focusing on indigenous languages, recognizing a less rigid concept of “book” to also acknowledge various forms of literature, including oral traditions. You may enjoy this fun list published by Atlas Obscura of their favorite stories about stories. They share tales of bookmakers, booksellers, book collectors, book thieves, and more. Also, as a part of the celebration, you can download one book from around the world for free from Amazon Kindle before April 30.

THE PILLARS PROJECT: Veterans and Military Families

*By former Director of Applied Research Jonathan Pinckney.

Why should veterans and military families care about authoritarianism?

American democracy is in a moment of crisis. Long-standing authoritarian trends and practices by a dedicated segment of our political class are undermining shared agreement on the rules of the political game, curbing constitutional rights and freedoms, excluding minority groups from political representation, and using disinformation and violence to suppress opposition. A growing segment of anti-democratic extremists have taken one of our political parties hostage, sidelining principled and patriotic pro-democracy leaders, in an attempt to advance a white Christian nationalist agenda.

Veterans are uniquely positioned to help stem this authoritarian threat. Upon entering their military service, veterans swore an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. They chose to put their country above all else, and for that, they are venerated in their communities as true patriots and model citizens. Veterans have been on the frontlines of the fight against authoritarianism in the U.S. and around the world throughout our nation’s history. From the beaches of Normandy to the Korean Peninsula to the shore of Kuwait, committed servicemen and women risked their lives to defend freedom and democracy. Today, however, the authoritarian threat is found much closer to home.

Former top military commanders, including Gen. James MattisLt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and Gen. Mark Milleyamong others, have modeled how both veterans and current servicemen and women can uphold their oath and code of ethics by standing against strongman tactics. Yet, as the January 6 insurrection revealed, some of the same characteristics that inspired veterans to serve—including a strong sense of patriotism, duty, and volunteerism for a purpose bigger than themselves—can also drive them down paths of violent extremism and manipulation by dishonorable, undemocratic actors.

Authoritarians seek to leverage Americans’ respect for veterans and current servicemen and women by using them as political pawns and targeting them and their families with anti-democratic misinformation and disinformation. More troublingly, White supremacist and other anti-government violent extremist groups explicitly seek out veterans for recruitment, hoping to use their discipline, skills, and credibility while taking advantage of their struggle to find purpose and community after leaving the military.

Getting veterans and military families directly involved in the struggle for democracy is a potent way to draw on the strong sense of civic duty and the skills and discipline that veterans and those who support them have developed during their military service. It can also provide a powerful avenue for preventing recruitment into violent extremist groups and help assuage the difficulties of the transition to civilian life. Many American veterans who have gotten involved in pro-democracy struggles see their activism both as a direct continuation of the commitments they made through their oath of allegiance, and as a core community through which they are able to find collective purpose in civilian life.

Veterans and military families have a long history on the forefronts of activism to advance American democracy. Today, many organizations are mobilizing veterans and military families for greater civic engagement. Leveling up those engagement efforts and joining forces with the larger pro-democracy ecosystem can be a powerful force for protecting, healing, and revitalizing American democracy.

How can Veterans and Military Families Support Democracy?

  • Veterans can use their discipline, training, and high levels of community cohesion to be powerful mobilizers for democracy, participating in and often leading community organizations and social movements to protect the right to vote and advance the rights of all Americans to fully participate in our democratic process. During the civil rights movement, Black WWII and Korean War veterans like Medgar Evers and Hosea Williams drew on the skills and confidence they gained during their military service to lead key civil rights organizations and often lead the way in the riskiest forms of activism.
  • Veterans and military families are in a particularly influential position to build bridges across partisan and identity-based divides. Toxic partisan polarization has extended across almost every major social identity in American life, from geography to hometown to race and ethnicity. Yet veterans and military families span the political spectrum. This makes non-partisan veterans groups one particularly important forum for conversation to break down toxic polarization, build networks across divides, and counter the misinformation and disinformation that authoritarian actors use to undermine American democracy.
  • In moments of democratic crisis, veterans can be important influencers to active-duty military, police, and other security forces, drawing on their connections and shared experience to call on people in these institutions to stand up for democracy and not follow illegal or unconstitutional orders. For instance, during the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, former air force chief General Volodymyr Antonets built an extensive network of contacts among mid-ranking Ukrainian officers that helped ensure that the Ukrainian military was not used to violently suppress peaceful pro-democracy protesters.

The Horizons Project’s Work

The Horizons Project recognizes the importance of veterans as a force for democracy and is engaging with diverse veteran service and military family organizations to help establish a common framework to understand and combat the authoritarian threat. We also seek to link these organizations more strategically with the pro-democracy civil society ecosystem. We are reaching out to or partnering with organizations such as We the VeteransDivided We FallVeterans for Political InnovationCommon DefenseArmed Services Arts PartnershipMilitary Veterans in JournalismThe Mission ContinuesVeterans for American IdealsSecure Families Initiative, and National Military Family Association, among others.

  • Research and Analysis: As part of its larger pillars of support project, Horizons is examining how veterans have helped protect democracy both in the US and other countries during democratic backsliding, and the most effective ways for veterans to leverage their unique position to do so. We will work with veteran and military family groups to share the results of this research and explore practical tools and ideas for how veteran service and military family organizations can mobilize their respective constituencies to pro-actively protect democracy from the current authoritarian threat. Horizons will produce short, action-focused publications and, together with partners, hold a series of salons on Veterans and Democracy.
  • Relationship-Building: Research shows that protecting and restoring American democracy will require united effort across a wide range of sectors. Horizons is building connective tissue among veteran and military family groups, as well as other key nodes in the pro-democracy ecosystem to strategize how efforts to protect democracy can be most effectively coordinated at the state level and nationally. We will organize both formal events and informal conversations between veteran service and military family organizations, grassroots organizers, and others in the pro-democracy space to help build the foundations for united action to protect democracy as we move towards the 2024 election and beyond.

THE PILLARS PROJECT: The Faith Community

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

Why should faith communities care about authoritarianism?

A flourishing democracy is one of the strongest protections for the free exercise of religion. From the persecution of Christians and ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims in mainland China to the suppression of the Baha’i faith in Iran to the targeting of religious minorities in the backsliding democracy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India, the pattern from around the world is clear: when democracy breaks down, people of faith suffer.

The connections between faith and freedom are even more important at a time when some American politicians are appropriating religion to advocate for an exclusive “Christian nationalism” that uses government to impose their ideology on others. The examples of dozens of countries that have put the supremacy of one religion at the center of their politics shows the devastating consequences of this approach: heightened deadly conflictincreased political corruption as political leaders adopt the mantle of religion to pursue their personal agendas, and often a decline in the vibrancy of religious life. Indeed, the close affiliation of a political ideology with certain brands of Christianity is the primary reason for the stunning growth over the last three decades in Americans abandoning identification with religion.

Yet the answer to the appropriation of religion by an authoritarian faction in the United States is not to depoliticize religion. Indeed, history shows that when people of faith withdraw from the social issues of the day their withdrawal reinforces existing systems of injustice.

Instead, faith communities have a critical role to play in revitalizing our democracy and countering toxic polarization. Communities of faith have always been a bedrock of American democracy. Following one’s conscience in defiance of established state churches motivated the pilgrims and many of the other early immigrants to North America. Faith was at the center of almost all the great American social movements; from the Abolitionist movement against slavery in the 1800s to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. As the great writer of Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville put it: “in America the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom…[are] intimately united.”

So what does this role look like for faith communities in America today? The specifics will look different depending on faith communities’ positioning in the rich tapestry of American religious life. But the history of religious engagement in struggles for democracy in America and around the world suggests a few common effective strategies.

How can Faith Communities Support Democracy?

  • Communities of faith often come with unique positions of moral influence that make them powerful persuaders for democracy. Such acts of persuasion are most effective when they are clearly linked to faith community’s spiritual mandates, and when they directly address the spiritual and moral claims of those undermining democracy. For instance, in Malawi in the 1990s a pastoral letter by Catholic bishops condemning restrictions on political freedoms was pivotal in leading to the restoration of democracy. The letter linked human rights and freedom to the Catholic Church’s spiritual mission and undermined the moral authority that dictatorial president Hastings Banda claimed as a church elder. Religious women like Quaker Minister Lucretia Mott leveraged their faith and gender as powerful advocates for the abolition of slavery in the 1800s. More recently, after the January 6th attack on the Capitol, numerous faith leaders, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, issued statements calling on their members to “honor democratic institutions and processes.”
  • Persuasion is important but may have a limited impact unless it’s backed up by courageous acts of noncooperation, where religious leaders, institutions, or communities refuse to continue normal patterns of behavior in response to egregious violations of democratic principles or human rights. There is a long and storied tradition of non-cooperation and civil disobedience across many faith traditions, from the earliest history of Christianity to modern debates on civil disobedience in Islam. For example, during the People Power movement in the Philippines, courageous Catholic nuns who knelt before tanks while praying the rosary were crucial in preventing a violent crackdown and ensuring the movement’s success.
  • Faith communities can engage in bridgebuilding and mediation, drawing on their positions of respect in the communities where they live and work to connect parties across difference. Democratic breakdown is fueled by hyper-partisan polarization. Faith communities provide one of the strongest and most resilient forums for overcoming that polarization. Effective engagement typically looks more like shared effort towards common goals, rather than dialogue for dialogue’s sake, and requires outreach beyond sympathetic audiences. In Liberia, Muslim and Christian women ended their country’s civil war by forming the “Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace” that brought women together across long-standing divides and pressured their government and rebel groups to do the same.
  • Faith communities are often one of the best-placed organizations for providing material support for pro-democracy mobilization. Community organizing networks rely on the physical infrastructure, interpersonal networks, and practical resources that churches, temples, mosques, and other religious institutions provide. This approach was most famously and effectively used in the American civil rights movement, when Black churches formed the backbone for almost every major civil rights campaign. Similarly, evangelical churches in East Germany in the 1980s provided one of the few free spaces for organizing against the country’s Communist dictatorship, playing a pivotal role in the nonviolent resistance campaign that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Faith communities often provide great symbolic power to unify across difference, build momentum to push for change, and remain resilient in the face of challenges. From the freedom songs of the civil rights movement to the Muslims and Christians joined in prayer during the Arab Spring in Egypt to the courageous activists of the Polish Solidarity movement against Communism celebrating Mass on the frontlines of their campaign for freedom, religious faith is one of the most powerful animating forces in the struggle for justice and democracy.

The Horizons Project’s Work

The Horizons Project recognizes the importance of the faith community as a force for democracy and is engaging with diverse faith leaders and coalitions to establish a common framework to understand and combat the authoritarian threat; and strategically link faith-based organizations with the pro-democracy civil society ecosystem. We are reaching out to or partnering with organizations such as the One America Movementthe Kairos Centerthe Poor People’s Campaign, the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, the Ignatian Solidarity NetworkNETWORKSojournersFaith in Public LifeFriends Committee on National LegislationMormon Women for Ethical GovernancePax Christi, and the National Council of Churches.

  • Research and Analysis: As part of its larger pillars of support project, Horizons is examining how faith communities have protected democracy both in the US and other countries during democratic backsliding, and the most effective ways for faith communities to do so. We will be working with faith communities to share the results of this research, providing practical tools and ideas to help shift priorities and collective action to pro-actively protect democracy from the current authoritarian threat. Horizons will be producing short, action-focused publications and, together with partners, hold one or more salons on Faith and Democracy.
  • Relationship-Building: Research shows that protecting and restoring American democracy will require united effort across a wide range of sectors. Horizons is building connective tissue between faith communities and other key nodes in the pro-democracy ecosystem to strategize how efforts at protecting democracy can be most effectively coordinated both at the state level and nationally. We plan to organize both formal events and informal conversations between faith leaders, grassroots organizers, and others in the pro-democracy space to help build the foundations for united action to protect democracy as we move towards the 2024 election and beyond.

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.”

THE VISTA: January 2023

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

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

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

READING

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

by Eric K. Ward, Western States Center

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

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

by Caleb Christen in The Fulcrum

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

Critical Race Theory Professors Cancel Courses or Modify Their Teaching

by Daniel Golden in ProPublica & The Atlantic

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

Get Religious Fundamentalism Out of the Classroom

By Jill Filipovic in Slate and Her Newsletter

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

WATCHING

What if the January 6, 2021 Insurrection Had Succeeded?

Rising Up With Sonali

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

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

The Young Turks

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

From January 6 to Ephesians 6

American Enterprise Institute

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

White Supremacy and American Christianity

NETWORK Video Series

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

LISTENING TO

Straight White American Jesus

Podcast Series

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

Ending Toxic Polarization Starts with You

Making Peace Visible Podcast

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

Uniting America with John Wood Jr.

New Videocast Series

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

INTERESTING TWEETS

FOR FUN

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

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