On Bridging

Bridging Stories

Bridging Stories

Now, we turn to a deeper exploration of bridging through research, narratives, examples, and efforts that can be fuel to not only override the compulsion and the dogma that incite us to break, but to create deep transformation toward a society of true belonging. Bridging examples include:

  • Arms trade activists that have linked arms with human rights campaigners to stop the flow of weapons to places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel 
  • Sustainable farming advocates who partner with indigenous communities and environmentalists
  • Anti-corruption forces that cooperate with economic justice advocates pushing for greater regulation of global financial institutions 

Here we explore more bridging stories to bring this concept to life and help us strengthen practices and principles to embody and make real in our society. The following examples are bridging interventions and their long term impacts as studied by researchers and scholars.

Empirically studied applications

The Second Chances Florida Campaign demonstrates how universal human values can unite diverse groups to expand human rights.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), an organization run by returning citizens (people with past felony convictions) and led by Desmond Meade, launched the Second Chances campaign to restore voting rights to Floridians with felony records upon completion of all sentence terms. In Meade’s work leading up to the 2018 election, in which he tirelessly gathered the 800,000 signatures needed to place the Voting Restoration Amendment on the ballot, he recognized Republican support was essential. Florida voted for Trump and has not elected a Democratic governor in nearly 20 years. Meade reached out to Neil Volz, a former Republican lobbyist who also holds a felony conviction. They formed a powerful partnership across their differences—Meade, a Black progressive, and Volz, a white conservative—to amplify the felon voting rights restoration movement. Volz collected signatures at Trump rallies while Meade gathered support from Bernie supporters, leveraging a unifying message to attract people from all walks of life bonded by a universal human desire to receive a second chance at life with the message: “Floridians believe in second chances, we need to make sure the law does too.” The multicultural, multilingual campaign garnered support from the ACLU, Catholic bishops, veterans, NFL stars such as Warrick Dunn, entertainer John Legend, and the evangelical group Christian Coalition of America.7  Amendment 4 passed with 65 percent of votes in favor. On January 8, 2019, an estimated 1.4 million ex-felons in Florida became eligible to vote.

The Vietnam Women’s Union and Dutch environmental groups form a cross-cultural, cross-national alliance, called ResilNam, to combat the climate crisis by planting mangroves and mitigating gender inequality.

Huế, Vietnam is on the frontlines of the global climate crisis: rising sea levels, deadly floods, temperatures so hot that farmers plant rice at night, and rainfall so low that waters are now too brackish for rice and many fish to thrive. In response, Pham Thi Dieu My, director of the Center for Social Research and Development (CSRD), partnered with the Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU) to mobilize her community to take action. In 2017, she co-founded ResilNam, a unique cross-cultural, cross-national partnership between the VWU and two groups from the Netherlands: the Institute for Environmental Studies and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.8

ResilNam strengthens the role of women in disaster risk management and resilience through ecosystem based adaptations (EbA), specifically planting, conserving, and sustainably managing mangroves on the coast of Vietnam. EbA is innately participatory and inclusive because it leverages existing community assets versus implementing top-down measures, thus offering a powerful means of boosting the role of women and other vulnerable groups. ResilNam estimates that 12 coastal communities of approximately 12,000 people will directly benefit from the new mangroves they have planted, with an additional 180,000 people benefiting indirectly in surrounding communities. Since its founding, ResilNam has hosted capacity building workshops for 300 women, established a microcredit program for local households, provided training to host income-generating tours of the mangroves, and more. The project has transformed the women of Huế, says Tran Thi Phuong Tien. “The women are more confident. They have more skills and knowledge,” she said. “They are better equipped to take action before, during and after a flood. They are equal with men.”

The California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative galvanized labor organizers, AAPI communities, and environmental justice organizers to pass legislation that addresses workers’ rights, economic injustice, and environmental issues simultaneously.

The California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative is a joint effort between Asian American Pacific Islander, labor, and environmental justice organizers who mobilized at the intersection of environmental and economic justice. This was motivated in 2005 when Asian Health Services’ (AHS) community healthworkers noted an epidemic of health issues, such as asthma, chronic rashes, and miscarriages that nail salon workers experience. In response, AHS established the Collaborative to advocate, develop policy, conduct research, and build coalitions for a healthier, more sustainable, and more just nail salon industry.

Their efforts led California Governor Gavin Newsom to sign AB 647 into law in 2019, which requires cosmetics manufacturers and importers to post online information on occupational safety and health for a substance or product, a critical step in transparency and access to information for workers exposed to toxic chemicals. The movement has also grown, leading to the formation of womensvoices.org, which organizes women for environmental and economic justice to eliminate toxic chemicals from our environment.

Racial integration during the Korean War led to long term neighborhood-level racial integration and reduced prejudice.

One of the largest, most rapid desegregation events in American history was the racial integration of the US Army during the Korean War (1950-1953). A recent study investigated the impact of this significant episode by matching veterans to social security and cemetery data. The author found that “wartime racial integration between white and Black soldiers caused white veterans to live in more racially diverse neighborhoods, to a degree that in present-day context can be understood as the difference between Central Harlem and the Upper East Side. They also married spouses with less distinctly white names. These results provide evidence that large-scale interracial contact reduces prejudice on a long-term basis.”9

Bridging stories and examples

We now turn to examples of bridging that have not yet been studied or evaluated, but which offer inspiring stories of belonging in practice. Transcending identity-, issue-, and movement-based silos enables cross-movement collaborations to develop agendas that address complex, intersectional issues of mutual concern. This shows us how bridging can be valuable in disrupting social, political, environmental, and economic power imbalances that shape and perpetuate inequities.

Since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020, global protests against police brutality display tremendous solidarity and demonstrate countless bridging actions for unprecedented societal change.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement started in 2013 to highlight the brutality and injustice inflicted on Black communities by the US society and state, particularly through law enforcement. In mere weeks since May 25, 2020, the BLM movement has galvanized breathtaking changes that are sweeping the nation and the world. Here are a few highlights that exemplify bridging in action: 

  • The National Football League (NFL) was once a powerful and bitter rival of BLM, but it has now fully embraced the movement—though even in this moment, such transformation did not come easily. League commissioner Roger Goodell released an ambiguous statement following George Floyd’s murder that angered both the NFL’s players and team owners. Within a week, some of the NFL’s biggest stars wrote a new script for Goodell via their own video statements demanding action from the NFL. Goodell responded with a new video, repeating their statements nearly verbatim: “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people,” Goodell said. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe that Black lives matter.”10 This has already had a notable influence on public opinion: opposition to kneeling during the national anthem has declined by double digits since 2018, when 51% considered this “unacceptable,” to now 39%.11
  • Republican/conservative politicians, like Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, have professed newfound support for BLM. Romney marched alongside protesters in Washington, DC. Former president George W. Bush, along with his wife Laura, released a statement stating they "are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country," and called threats against protestors "a shocking failure." Both Romney and Bush’s actions are noteworthy efforts toward unity and solidarity with protestors in the pursuit to end systemic racism.12
  • BLM receives wide support from Americans: two-thirds of US adults say they support the movement, including majorities of white (60%), Hispanic (77%), and Asian (75%) Americans. The growing diversity within the movement is illustrative and informative for bridging practice, as recent research suggests that public support for BLM from non-Blacks leads co-racial individuals (those of the same race) to view the movement more positively, thus increasing support for the movement overall.13
  • The examples above are just two of countless since late May 2020 that further broaden movement support and symbolize sea change for both individuals and institutions, dislodging entrenched belief systems and ideologies, abandoning norms and rebuking pressure to “stick with the party line” toward unification and solidarity. While they may not represent a sufficient level of change, these are important representations of bridging in this historic moment to abolish longstanding systems of oppression.

Jewish and Arab women defy voter suppression of Arab Bedouins in the Israeli election by helping Bedouin women get to the polls.

The grassroots organization Zazim, a group of “Jewish and Arab citizens working together for democracy and equality,” led an initiative to protect Israeli Bedouin Arab women's right to vote. With anti-Arab sentiment and Arab voter suppression on the rise, Zazim organized a mobilization plan for the fall 2019 Knesset elections to connect Arab Bedouin women in remote villages to polling stations through a complex minibus system. Just three days before the election, the head of Israel’s Central Elections Committee, under guidance from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, suddenly implemented a new rule that prohibited an organization like Zazim from busing voters. To stay above the law, Zazim was forced to cancel its efforts. 

Yet within hours, a rapid response plan spread through social media connections and volunteer email listservs. Despite threats of violence from the extremist right-wing group, Im Tirtzu, hundreds of volunteers sprung to action using Waze and their personal cars instead of mini buses to bring hundreds of Bedouin women from remote villages to their polling stations.14 Voter turnout in Arab communities rose to 60 percent—10 percent higher than the spring elections.

“The Jewish volunteers gave us hope,” said Ghadir Ghadir, a Palestinian feminist activist, “and showed us that the only way to bring change for the better for everyone is for Jews and Arabs, and especially Jewish and Arab women, to work together.”

'How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?’ A Black musician befriends KKK members, helping 200+ people leave the organization.

Although Daryl Davis has played across the globe with world-famous musicians like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, in his free time he meets and befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan. In an age of disconnection, Davis engages in face-to-face interactions, seeking to understand and ameliorate hate, one by one. “When I respect that right and sit down and listen to them, they in turn reciprocate and sit down and listen to me. I'm not trying to convert them. I'm just setting an example and letting them make up their own minds,” Davis said in an interview with Complex.15

His approach is rooted in dialogue and understanding. Davis studied the Klan and demonstrated his knowledge of the organization in conversations with Klan members that began to chip away at their belief systems through conversation that sought to uncover commonalities. “...when two enemies are talking, they're not fighting,” he said. “It's when the talking ceases that the ground becomes fertile for violence. If you spend five minutes with your worst enemy—it doesn't have to be about race, it could be about anything...you will find that you both have something in common. As you build upon those commonalities, you're forming a relationship and as you build about that relationship, you're forming a friendship. That's what would happen. I didn't convert anybody. They saw the light and converted themselves.” To date, Davis is responsible for an estimated 200 members leaving the Klan.

Neighbors form a human chain to protect a Tennessee man from ICE.

In an era of unexpected and frequent ICE raids across the United States, one man in Nashville, Tennessee was barricaded in his vehicle with his son as ICE agents attempted to detain him. Neighbors arrived at the scene to support the man and his son by bringing water, gas, and wet rags so they could remain in their van.16 Neighbors reported their concern and outrage, as some had known the family for over a decade.

Eventually, after nearly four hours, a coalition of diverse neighbors gathered large enough to form a human chain that allowed the father and son to run into their home, creating a literal network of protection to keep them safe. The neighbors once again formed a chain of protection later that evening when the family needed to return to their car. Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), tweeted that she was “in awe of the fierce response in Nashville today by the family, their loving neighbors, committed and trained organizers, and accountable elected officials."

Somali youth and a longtime high school soccer coach work together to integrate refugees in the overwhelmingly white former mill town of Lewiston, Maine.

Within one decade, the small, overwhelmingly white town of Lewiston, Maine swelled with over 7,000 Somali refugees. Anti-immigrant and racist incidents spiked, fueled by the intolerance of longtime residents, ultimately leading the mayor to publicly ask Somalis to stop coming. Mike McGraw, a local high school biology teacher and soccer coach, saw an opportunity: as the Somali youth filled the town’s parks with pick-up soccer games, McGraw believed that their passion for the game could help heal divisive wounds and growing tension by bringing these young players onto Lewiston’s high school soccer team.17

Though the youth and the Somali community at large continued to receive racist messages at first, McGraw held the team together, integrating the players across racial lines. “This is how a team plays. This is how I want you to be on the field and off the field: together,” he told the boys. “Sometimes our communities don’t understand each other, but you can show the adults how it’s supposed to be. By playing together, that’ll send a message that our cultures can get along.” Lewiston ultimately became a powerhouse team, winning the city’s first state championship in soccer. Their thrilling victories drew large crowds and brought the divided town together toward a more unified, inclusive “we.”

“Social Kitchen—the Other Person" is a free food for all program that combats isolation, increases acceptance, and unites people in common humanity through cooking and eating together across Greece.

"Social Kitchen—The Other Person” is a program that began in 2011 when the founder, Athens resident Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, observed the indifference of his fellow citizens to children searching through trash bins for food during Greece’s economic collapse.18 Polychronopoulos distributed prepared sandwiches to the city’s poor. Although at first they were hesitant, when he sat down and joined them to eat, they became more relaxed. This small exchange showed him that alienation can feel worse than even hunger, but common humanity can bring people closer. The idea came to him to cook in the streets for everyone, using donated pots, pans, portable stoves, and food provided by the community, what he calls “live cooking,” “as an act of solidarity and a manifestation of love for all people with the hope to awaken consciousness.”19 The initiative has served more than 11 million meals and 15 similar programs have launched across Greece to fight alienation using food. The kitchens help people find meaning, fight depression and isolation, and learn to accept one another. During the height of the refugee crisis, The Other Human served over 3,000 meals daily.

Farmers, landowners, university students, ministers, and environmentalists find common ground in the fight against a pipeline.20

A growing coalition of diverse Iowans are uniting to fight the proposed Dakota Access pipeline, which would cross 18 counties in the state of Iowa and move up to 570,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields to Patonka, Illinois. Angie Carter, an Iowa State University graduate student who has helped organize the coalition, explains, “we have members who have really diverse perspectives and normally wouldn't be in a room together, but they’re united in their opposition to this project…We have a lot of farmers, private-property folks and some county supervisors who are probably conservative about a lot of issues but are upset about the eminent domain issue," she said. "People are mad about this for a lot of reasons," including reliance on oil, possible environmental damage from the pipeline, land rights and damage to crop and livestock operations.” This unique collection of allies share concerns that span a spectrum of issues. “There are issues that transcend political parties and transcend the left-right continuum...and this is one of them," said Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council.

The Greater Good Science Center's Bridging Differences initiative mixes science and storytelling to help address political and cultural polarization.

The two-year initiative by Greater Good Science Center highlights and disseminates research-based principles for fostering positive intergroup relationships.21 Through articles, videos, podcasts, activities, and exercises, the Center calls attention to common themes, best practices, skills and social conditions that are critical to reducing polarization and promoting more constructive dialogue. Further, the initiative aims to reach the “gatekeepers” on the front lines of efforts to bridge divides between various groups. This includes not only mediators and people leading organizations exclusively devoted to cross-group understanding, but also K-12 educators, local politicians, workplace managers, and leaders of faith-based groups and other community-based organizations.

Weave: The Social Fabric Project of the Aspen Institute aims to repair our social fabric by highlighting stories of people working across America to end isolation and loneliness and weave inclusive communities.22

The Aspen Institute defines weavers as those who make the effort to build connections and make others feel valued, view their community as home and try to make it welcoming, treat neighbors as family regardless of outward differences, and find meaning and joy in caring for others. One example of a weaver is demonstrated by the story of Aisha Butler, a resident of Englewood, Chicago who recalled “almost giving up on” her community. Butler was saddened by fellow residents that tried to leave for another community with different opportunities. She used this as a catalyst to grow a coalition of residents with many different views, but with the common desire to see their community succeed. RAGE, or Residents Association of Greater Englewood, was formed, and together they created the Large Lot program where residents could purchase vacant lots near their homes and turn them into beautiful community spaces. Butler created a space of healing for community members to gather in times of tragedy and in joy and leisure. As a community organizing effort, RAGE encouraged over 300 residents to apply for the first cycle of the Large Lot program. RAGE helped preserve and revitalize spaces for existing residents to enjoy, prevented many spaces from staying empty and decrepit, or from being purchased by an investor or corporation.

StoryCorps: The US’ largest oral history project captures stories that unite us through common humanity and a shared understanding that every story matters.”23

StoryCorps was founded to honor the importance and impact of storytelling and oral history. Its mission to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world” strengthens bonds between people, deepens our appreciation for listening to one another, and reinforces an understanding that “everyone’s story matters.” StoryCorps has collected almost 75,000 interviews with 150,000 participants across the US to become the largest oral history project of its kind. The organization has been committed to bridging since its inception, but shifted its content after the 2016 election to respond to the “incivility” of the presidential race, said StoryCorps CEO Robin Sparkman. In 2018, they launched the One Small Step initiative to help match people with opposing political views to share civil conversations. StoryCorps founder Dave Isay explained that, “the dream of One Small Step is basically to remind people that people who they disagree with politically are actually living, breathing human beings, and just get them together, not to talk about politics, but to see the humanity in someone who they might have forgotten was a human being.”

The Welcome to America Project (WTAP) helps refugees start their new lives in America with critical resources and a compassionate welcome.25

WTAP was borne from tragedy transmuted into love. Terrence Manning was one of many lives lost in the World Trade Center terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Shortly after his death, his sister-in-law Carolyn was inspired by a story in their local paper about a refugee family that fled persecution in Afghanistan and struggled to resettle in America. Carolyn recognized the common humanity in this family seeking universal needs: safety, housing, and a future free of fear for themselves and their children. She and her husband created the Welcome to America Project in Terrence’s memory. WTAP has since helped over 2,000 refugee families through donations, warm welcomes, and meaningful, continued connections. Their intention is to help celebrate refugees and accelerate their self-sufficiency through community support.

  • 7. Steve Bousquet, “Diverse donors fund final push in campaign to win voting rights for Florida felons”, Miami Herald, October 25, 2018.
  • 8. Jessica Wapner, “How Vietnamese Women are Fighting Back against Climate Change,” Quartz, December 1, 2019.
  • 9. Daniel Indacochea, A Farewell to Army Segregation: The Effects of Racial Integration During the Korean War (Toronto, CA: Department of Economics, University of Toronto, 2019), https://indacoch.github.io/indacochea_jmp.pdf.
  • 10. Louisa Thomas, “The NFL’s Change of Tone and the Limits of Merely Listening,” The New Yorker, June 9, 2020
  • 11. Alex Silverman, “Critics of NFL Kneeling Protests Reconsider Their Position as Trump Ratchets Up Twitter Rhetoric,” Morning Consult, June 15, 2020.
  • 12. Culver, Jordan, “Republican Sen. Mitt Romney joins George Floyd protest near White House: 'We need to stand up and say that black lives matter,'” USA Today, June 7, 2020.
  • 13. Maneesh Arora, Christopher Stout and Kelsy Kretschmer, “What helps non-black people support Black Lives Matter? A signal from someone in their own ethnic group,” Washington Post, June 18, 2020.
  • 14. Eetta Prince-Gibson, “Jewish and Arab women unite to defy Bedouin voter suppression in Israeli election,” The World, September 18, 2019.
  • 15. Catie Keck, “Meet the Black Blues Musician Who Befriends KKK Members,” Complex, January 27, 2017.
  • 16. Elisha Fieldstadt, “ICE came for their neighbor, so these Tennesseans formed a human chain to protect him,” NBC News, July 23, 2019.
  • 17. Amy Bass, One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game that Brought a Divided Town Together (New York: Hachette Books, 2018).
  • 18. Dimitris Sideridis, “Greece: Social Kitchen — the Other Person,” Al Jazeera, October 22, 2015.
  • 19. “Social Kitchen’: The Other Human.” Transformative Cities: Atlas of Utopias. https://transformativecities.org/atlas-of-utopias/atlas-64/
  • 20. “Social Kitchen’: The Other Human.” Transformative Cities: Atlas of Utopias. https://transformativecities.org/atlas-of-utopias/atlas-64/
  • 21. The Greater Good Science Center: Bridging Differences. https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/what_we_do/major_initiatives/bridging_differences
  • 22. Weave: The Social Fabric Initiative. The Aspen Institute. https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/weave-the-social-fabric-initiative/
  • 23. StoryCorps. https://storycorps.org/ Tyler Falk, “New StoryCorps initiative looks to bridge widening political divide,” Current, October 9, 2019.
  • 25. The Welcome to America Project. wtap.org