Democracy & Belonging Forum
Today we are thrilled to launch our first-ever transatlantic initiative, the Democracy and Belonging Forum, a space for civic leaders in Europe and the US who are committed to countering pernicious polarization by bridging across lines of difference while centering the needs and concerns of marginalized groups.
Although OBI is centrally concerned with advancing belonging for marginalized groups, we also recognize that strong democratic systems are fundamental to that work. We need functioning democracies to make appeals for human rights, implement structural reforms to protect minority groups, and ensure the right to make demands upon institutions. The Democracy & Belonging Forum will bring together leaders working on social justice with those working on depolarization to identify ways to 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. Stay up to date with this emergent work by following our new Instagram and Twitter, signing up for our bi-weekly e-news, and registering for the first event in our ongoing series (Un)Common Threads: Co-creating Societies of Belonging, which will explore radical belonging and bridging as a way forward for societies in crisis.
Blog from Democracy & Belonging Forum Director Sara Grossman
“I spoke with dozens of civic leaders in Europe and the US and learned what they’re not saying about democracy & belonging.”
As last year wound to a close, many of us working towards belonging looked tentatively at the prospect of a brighter 2022. But we are nearly halfway into 2022 and only more alarming crises have emerged, including Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine and new information about Trump’s plan to reject the results of the 2020 election. The backdrop to these democratic crises, of course, has been continuously rising levels of pernicious polarization, growing mistrust towards institutions, fear and anger towards out-groups, and the normalization of “us vs. them” thinking—divisions historically ripe for exploitation by anti-democratic leaders.
With this context in mind, and tasked with developing OBI’s emerging work to link belonging efforts in Europe and the US, I set myself on a mission over the past five months to speak with social justice leaders in both regions about their work in this challenging moment. My interest: gauging how much, if at all, polarization and democratic degradation have affected their efforts to advance belonging, which generally requires coalition-building across lines of difference and an assumption that civic institutions will (or at least can) be responsive to citizen demands.
Article: Overcoming Toxic Polarization
"Can we move together as a people, as a nation, and as a world? Or will the fragmentation and toxic polarization in our societies consume us, our institutions, and possibly our country?"
This new article published last week in the Minnesota Journal of Law & Inequality, authored by OBI Director john a. powell, explores the nature of the problem of toxic polarization and what we must do about it. It argues that bridging is necessary but that such efforts must be sensitive to structural contexts. Through unique parallels drawn from dynamic film adaptations and pivotal literary works, this article illustrates the power of context to reduce polarization and the power of narrative to shape interpretative meaning.
Video: On Housing Discrimination
Please take a few minutes to watch this powerful video on the history and impacts of housing discrimination in the United States, created by the Visualizing Justice project at UCLA. The video, which cites our research on racial residential segregation, shows how explicit racial discrimination was baked into country's housing policy in the last century and how it continues to be a source of inequality today between Black and white Americans. Watch it here, and check out their other resources on related topics here.
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