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Over the past ten years, anti-democratic actors like Donald Trump in the US, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Narendra Modi in India have become both real and symbolic threats to democracy globally. At OBI, we view these developments with great concern, as we recognize democracy as a core expression of belonging at the structural level.

Indeed, belonging means that people in any system or container have the right to not only be included in that system, but to make demands on that system and even change the structure of that system itself. Voting in its most basic form grants everyone the opportunity to change the nature of how our system functions—a critical act towards building structures rooted in belonging.

In recognition of the central importance that democratic norms and structures play in our efforts to advance belonging, OBI's Democracy & Belonging Forum aims to connect and resource civic leaders in Europe and the US who are committed to strengthening multiracial democracy by bridging across lines of difference to counter populist authoritarianism while continuing to center the needs and concerns of marginalized groups. Through in-person and online convenings, original research, story-sharing, funded joint experiments, and other activities, Forum members evolve their understanding of the concepts of othering, belonging, breaking and bridging as they apply to different regions, and share practices and strategies to counter polarization and democratic erosion—all while grappling with the reality of power, privilege, and positionality in our diverse social and cultural contexts.

Another main way we contribute to the discourse around democracy in the context of belonging is via our Diversity and Democracy faculty research cluster, comprised of 15 UC Berkeley faculty members from diverse academic disciplines exploring how liberal democratic principles and practices can adapt to an increasingly diverse population. In particular, this cluster explores disputes around the categorization of groups and the allocation of rights and benefits to them and the participation of all individuals and groups in civic and political life. 

In addition to our faculty research, OBI staff working on narrative strategy and civic engagement develop key partnerships with community organizations and grassroots advocates in California and nationally, integrating rigorous research from our Diversity & Democracy faculty cluster with narrative strategy to advance civic participation in underrepresented communities.