from john a. powell, Director
Tomorrow we close out 2017, a year of extreme intensity with many events we should take note of. Although much was profoundly troubling, not all was negative. There were many heartening developments that showed a level of commitment and engagement to progress that can give us both energy and guidance for 2018 and beyond in these challenging times.
The year was opened and closed with powerful expressions of female-led activity. In January the massive momentum of the Women’s March provided a needed antidote to the previous day’s inauguration of a president who ran a campaign centered on xenophobic, sexist, and bigoted rhetoric. The last few months of 2017 saw the outpouring of #MeToo, a movement initially created by Tarana Burke which experienced a resurgence as a collective call to expose the reality and vastness of sexual harassment and sexual assault, revealing the limits of our legal system to surface and redress these incidents. And just a few weeks ago we witnessed how grassroots, hyperlocal organizing and voter turnout led by Black women resulted in a stunning capture of a Democratic Senate seat in the deep-red, politically repressive state of Alabama that flirted with electing a racist pedophile.
These women-of-color-led efforts are not only uplifting, they provide a roadmap to what politics deeply connected with people can actually mean. In Alabama, many pundits and experts insisted the Black community would not show up in an off-year election and counseled to focus on other voters instead. These arguments were often stated in terms that suggested reaching out to the Black community would turn off white voters and may be seen as identity politics.
Yet even as our president aligned himself with white separatists and religious nationalists such as Roy Moore and Steve Bannon, the picture on the ground was one of deep commitment and activity. We saw efforts spearheaded by the very populations targeted by Trump’s policies: the Dreamers risking their own well-being to not only fight against a repeal of DACA, but who are demanding a more fully inclusive immigration platform for all undocumented; the momentum by a huge and diverse coalition of people who turned out in force to call for a rejection of the Muslim travel bans; the fight against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act commanded by people with disabilities; and the Native-led activism that resulted in the successful divestment of several cities from multinational banks providing resources to fund massive fossil fuel projects.
These are just a few of the examples where communities who have the most at stake are garnering victories that propel all of us towards a more inclusive and sustainable future.
Yet we know that we also enter 2018 with deeply concerning realities. The right wing that has captured the instruments of the federal government has just passed a tax bill that is one of the most detrimental and immoral bills in our history. It is another example of the right's continued restructuring of our governmental systems to institutionalize suffering for the vast majority of Americans. We are witnessing their continued aggressive nationalized voter suppression strategy and accusations of voter fraud, efforts which are really to further disenfranchise people of color and marginalized communities. Meanwhile, the lack of political will from our elected officials to pull us back from sliding into an plutocratic oligarchy defined by excessive corporate overreach should be of deep concern to us all. All of this is taking place as alarming levels of inequality continue to widen. These challenges greatly weaken our democratic norms.
The policy arena is not the only place where the right is attempting to impose their agenda—they also want to distort our common understanding of some of our most core American tenets. From Charlottesville, Virginia, to our own campus of Berkeley, the far-right aimed to manipulate how we think about free speech and freedom of expression. The nation saw them gather and make demands for white nationalism (and the expulsion of Jews and others), framing that as a freedom equivalent to communities' advocating for justice and protection from hate. And even as our president initially refused to distance himself from white supremacists, he intensified his focused attack on the press and journalists.
At the Haas Institute we directly engaged with these challenges on many different fronts. I was part of a number of public dialogues related to free speech, and our staff created a new free speech resource guide to help not only counter misinformation and propaganda by the right, but to provide new portals of understanding about how we think about, protect, and legislate concerns regarding freedom of expression and protection of our community members.
We continued to connect the dots in many other ways that correlate various systems of exclusion. We began the year by challenging the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, mid-year we published a comprehensive report on the underpinnings of global forced migration, and we end the year with the release of our second annual Inclusiveness Index that provides a measurement of how countries around the world, and US states, treat their most marginalized populations. The Index differs from others in that it shines a light on what policies are most pressing those who live at society’s margins, rather than a snapshot of general well-being across the country.
Rather than resting on hasty or generalized assumptions on the causes that underpinned the 2016 presidential election results—many of which follow entrenched beliefs about voter habits—we engaged in a deeper and more fine-tuned analysis of what really happened, and what really didn’t happen. This granular examination allows us to not only identify causes, but will give us strategies and tactics to guide us in upcoming efforts. Huge growth in our Government Alliance on Race and Equity has expanded our notion of what is possible in local and regional government. In California, we issued a report on the administration of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit in relation to segregation, and worked with partners to develop a set of opportunity maps that have been adopted by the state to inform future administration of this program. We created a database of anti-Muslim legislation and produced a revealing report on the rise of Islamophobia in the United States.
The above is not a comprehensive list of our accomplishments in 2017, but throughout all our work we had a common goal to continue to assert that the elites are not real populists and to expose how they use a fear of the "Other” to gain power and further line the pockets of the rich. We do this by centering our framework of Othering & Belonging, a concept we continued to make widely accessible through organizing a dynamic 3-day gathering of almost 1300 attendees at our bi-annual Othering & Belonging conference, through scholarship in our multimedia journal, and through partnering with movement leaders on a cohesive, progressive narrative for California and the nation.
In just a few months we will host a major event on the 50th Anniversary of the landmark Kerner Commission report. This national conference will focus on the current state of race and segregation in the US, with an eye towards defining a policy agenda and building a movement to support it. We have a number of other major efforts underway that we look forward to sharing with you as the next year unfolds.
As we close out 2017, we are acutely aware that it is not only essential to excavate and understand the processes of Othering, but we must spend equal energy illuminating possibilities for belonging. Bridging across difference is a crucial response to help mitigate the extreme political polarization of our society. We will be spending much effort this upcoming year disseminating information and tools on bridging and how leadership and narrative plays a crucial role in helping us create the conditions in which we can embrace our connection and shared humanity.
At this time last year I shared with colleagues the first draft of a document we later published as A New Social Compact. We crafted this as a living document—an inclusive contract for our society—that would provide a space for people to state their commitment to that which they consider not up for grabs, no matter what their political persuasion: Democracy. Human dignity. Equality. Care for the earth. These are values that represent our best aspirations and as such they are non-negotiable.
As we transition into 2018 we issue a renewed call for those who believe in inclusion to sign onto this collaborative compact to illustrate our shared commitment to continue our efforts to move America towards a more inclusive future. We call on all people to embrace and bridge both our commonality and our differences and to act from a place of shared values, collective hearts, and committed minds. We issue a call for all of us not to just hope, but to engage, to care, and to organize. We call on this for the benefit of all people and for the planet itself.
On behalf of our staff and faculty, I send you warm regards for an engaging 2018,
john a. powell
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