Turning towards each other, not against each other: Bridging to counter authoritarianism & advance belonging
While concerns around democracy and political fragmentation and those related to social, racial, and economic justice are often framed as separate challenges, they are in fact deeply intertwined. The issues around which the far right is stoking division (such as gender identity, demographic change, and migration) are part of a larger strategy to shrink who is considered part of the collective “we”—and therefore worthy of resources and support—and to advance anti-democratic ideologies more broadly. And indeed, in this moment of deep collective uncertainty and division, authoritarianism is thriving.
Although the intense fragmentation we are witnessing today is at some level organic, the weaponizing of division, fueled by traditional media and social media corporations that profit from outrage, is an alarming new threat, one to which those working to advance justice and belonging may not be prepared to respond. Too often, groups respond to the exploitation of internal divisions by turning inward towards perceived safety, or “bonding,” and “breaking” with those outside their in-group, rather than bridging outwards to who is in coalition united against a shared threat. This breaking into smaller “we’s” is helping those who seek to dismantle our democratic structures and enact more unequal ones.
In this panel, we will hear from civic and social justice leaders who are doing difficult and sometimes risky work of bridging to counter authoritarianism and othering while still centering the needs and concerns of marginalized groups. How are they dealing with differences in power, resources, and strategic approaches when engaging across lines of difference? Why are they bridging in spite of the risks? And what successes are they finding along the way?