June 15, 2022: Today, OBI is thrilled to launch its first global initiative, the Democracy and Belonging Forum, a new network for civic leaders in Europe and the US who are committed to countering pernicious polarization and democratic degradation by bridging across lines of difference while centering the needs and concerns of marginalized groups.
Although OBI has long been centrally concerned with advancing belonging for marginalized groups, we also recognize that strong democratic systems are fundamental to that work. We need functioning democracies in order to make appeals for human rights, implement structural reforms to protect minority groups, and ensure the right to make demands upon institutions. Despite this, democracy is being eroded in states globally, particularly in the US and parts of Europe.
One contributor to this erosion? Pernicious polarization and growing divisions across identity lines—divisions ripe for exploitation by anti-democratic authoritarians. Indeed, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, there is an inverse relationship between polarization in a society and the quality of its democracy. Their study of 52 countries “where democracies reached pernicious levels of polarization,” found that half later saw a downgrading of their democratic rating.
The Forum aims to explore how we might reduce such polarization by bridging across difference while continuing to center the concerns of marginalized peoples—which are all too often cast aside when certain forms of bridging takes place. It will bring together leaders working on social justice with those working on depolarization to identify ways we can collectively advance belonging while strengthening democracy in Europe and the US.
Through in-person and online convenings, original research, story-sharing, funded joint experiments and other activities, we will evolve our understanding of othering, belonging, breaking and bridging as they apply to different regions, and share strategies to counter polarization and democratic erosion.