So how can bridge-builders support one another and the communities with which they engage to show up to the table consistently and fully as we work toward a just, inclusive, pluralistic democracy? What does it mean to model pluralism in a way that centers our common humanity, fairness, and justice? Members of the The Horizons Project and the Othering & Belonging Institute on April 19 got together to discuss these questions as part of the 2023 National Week of Conversation.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Hello. Yes. Thank you everyone for joining us. What a pleasure to be welcoming you. I get to say good morning or good afternoon or good evening to everyone, depending on where you're beaming in from. Thank you so much for joining us for today's webinar that's a part of a larger series of the National Week of conversation that we're celebrating here this week in the United States. It's literally hundreds of organizations in the bridging community that are hosting thousands of events across the country. And so we're so pleased that so many of you are inspired to attend this discussion on how we're going to be bridging towards just, inclusive and pluralistic democracy. So I'm Julia Roig. I'm the Chief Network Weaver at the Horizons Project, and it's my pleasure to welcome all of you on behalf of Horizons and the Othering and Belonging Institute.
As you are all arriving, please do introduce yourself in the chat. We'd love to know who's in the room with us, where you're beaming in from, if you'd like to share your role, your organization, anything else to share. And a very special thank you to Caffee and Yukota for their interpretation services from Interpret, Educate, Serve today. I am obviously joined on the screen by renowned director of the Othering and Belonging Institute, John Powell, and also with his colleague Míriam Juan-Torres González, who's coming to join us today from Spain, serving as the head of research at OBI's Democracy and Belonging Forum. And you'll notice that there are just four of us on the screen because Ashley Johnson from Race Forward unfortunately had something come up and wasn't able to join us today. So we're very sorry to be missing their participation. And yet today's event has really been designed as a conversation.
So we are going to be having some framing remarks from John initially. Then the three of us are going to be reflecting together on a couple of provocations before we turn it over to all of you to please join us, weigh in on the comments section with any questions. Make ample use of the chat, and we'll be gathering up your questions and giving enough time towards the end for us all to be reflecting together on this pretty meaty topic. Because the reason that Horizons was so excited to be co-hosting this discussion is we really do believe it's really healthy for all of us to be naming and wrestling with the very natural tensions that arise when we interact with different theories of change that permeate pro-democracy organizing. All of you joined today for an event that had democracy and all of those wonderful adjectives before it because you obviously care about this topic and some of you may be coming to this work from more of a social justice frame, and those may be centering civil resistance.
We may be seeking to raise the heat, to disrupt complacency, to build a sense of urgency, to stop the very real harms the communities are experiencing because of both historic marginalization or current democratic backsliding. But of course, there are many of you who are also coming to this work because you're strengthening democracy from a perspective of wanting to bring down the heat, to build empathy and understanding across difference. Whether that's from an ideological perspective or based on geography, the urban rural divide we experience in so many parts of the world or bridging across religious, age, gender, racial differences.
For Horizons, we feel that these ways of working can be in right relationship with each other at this moment when we are facing such serious threats to our democracy, both in this country and around the world. So it's not really an either or question of polarizing to organize versus depolarization, but rather how are we going to be continuing to strengthen our connective tissue amongst movements of movements where these diverse roles and perspectives are understood and valued and best leveraged to work more effectively in this moment when we need to be facing this democratic threat both here and like I said, abroad.
We're very glad that Míriam is here with us today to bring in that international perspective, which is so important for our learning, but also as we build democratic solidarity. And so with that, it's my pleasure to turn it over to John to give some framing remarks. And as we are planning for this conversation, if those of you who have not seen the recent nonprofit quarterly article that John wrote with his colleague Sarah Grossman, I highly recommend it with regards to addressing the rise of authoritarianism and what the role is for the bridging community in that. The question I want to raise to John is in this context of rising authoritarianism and the threat that we're experiencing around the world. If you could talk a little bit about the limitations of the polarization framework for our work in the bridge building community.
john a. powell:
Well, thank you Julia, and it's great to be here with you and Míriam, and I appreciate the ASL interpreter and all of you. These are important questions and we oftentimes think of these questions in the context of polarization and that's one way of thinking about it. And there's different kinds of polarization, but oftentimes polarization actually creates an image in our mind. I'm thinking of Lakoff's work, Metaphors We Live By and the image is that they're poles. And the problem in the image of the polarization is that the poles are the problem, the extremes, and the solution therefore, is to move to the middle. Now, sometimes that may be accurate, but a lot of times it's not. That image does not deal with power imbalance. It does not deal with institutions or structures necessarily. So for example, think about a polarized environment of enslaved people and not enslaved people.
So those are the poles, those who believe people should be enslaved and those who believe people should not be enslaved. So where's the middle? Do we have half slavery? And so it hides as much as it reveals. And really what we're dealing with in society, in the United States and around the world is fragmentation. And we're dealing with fragmentation on multiple levels, on a political level and institutional level and also on a personal level. Now, when people talk about affect polarization, that is feelings, how people feel about each other, I think that's more an appropriate term in many cases. But I want to suggest that the struggle for not just racial justice but for gender justice, for people with disabilities, for people who are on the margin is not simply a question of move people to the center. It's not a deflected compromise.
Because sometimes the center is not the right place. Ezra Klein in his book Why We're Polarized, he makes the point that by some accounts, at least political polarization in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century was relatively low. But it's because the elites had made an agreement to keep certain groups, particularly blacks and other people of color out of the politic. And so there wasn't a lot of heat around that, we all agreed, the country agreed, I didn't agree. And you could say in some sense the civil rights movement increased the polarization. But I, for one, would not say, therefore we should avoid the civil rights movement. And this takes us into a broader discussion about bridging.
Bridging is not an opposite to demonstration, it's not an opposite to justice. In fact, I think properly framed, it can actually support those things. I'm reminded of King's admonition about righteous indignation. So it doesn't mean you don't get mad, it doesn't mean you don't demonstrate. And bridging certainly doesn't mean you adopt the position of the person you're trying to bridge with. And there are different kinds of bridges. There are what we call short bridges with people who share similar goals. There are longer bridges. There are bridges where there's a huge power imbalance and there are bridges where there's power equity, if you will. If we think about the work, going back to the 1950s about contact theory, the whole idea was that contact can reduce stereotypes, prejudice, bias, but it was only under certain conditions. Mrs. Linda Trump's work and others cite one of those conditions.
There's some shared goals, there's relative equality, there are other conditions as well. When those conditions are all missing, then contact theory actually doesn't have a positive outcome. We could say similarly with bridging. Bridging is quite important. I don't want to undermine it. And I think we as a country in terms of seeing the fragmentation, which we call polarization and seeing that fragmentation, we think we just got to bridge. We go back to Rodney King's question, "Can't we just all get along?" And what I suggested earlier, of course, the slave master and enslaved people can't get along. They shouldn't get along. They're in a system that actually puts them at odds with each other. But having said that, let's go back to bridging. What is bridging? In one sense, you could think of bridging at its fundamental core is recognizing and acknowledging another person's humanity.
How we do that, there are many different mechanisms. We talk about active listening, we talk about deep canvasing, we talk about empathetic listening. And I would say it's always important to recognize other people's humanity. Doesn't mean you won't fight them. It doesn't mean you won't disagree with them. It doesn't mean you won't challenge them. But if we take those fights, those challenges, those disagreements to the extreme that we no longer see them as human, consciously and unconsciously, we've done a second hurdle, not just to them but also to ourselves. And I may seem fantastical. Why should I recognize someone as human if they don't recognize me as human?
But think about many countries in the world have eliminated their death penalty. And if you go back and look at the history, and most of those countries did this in the last a hundred years, they talk about even when someone does something completely despicable, threatening to our society, threatening to our way of being, we still have to acknowledge that they're human. And we think about the words "Sawubona", the Zulu word, which is interpreted in different ways, but it means, "I see you." Another interpretation is the God in me sees the God in you. The divine in me sees the divine in you or Ubuntu, which is, "I am because you are". So at some fundamental level, even if we engage in these struggles, we have to recognize each other's humanity. And I'll go just one step further. Think of Charles Teller, his work, the politics of recognition.
In some way the fight for justice is a fight to be recognized as human. That's what the fight is. And that we have structures and systems and practices and histories that deny certain people full humanity. So as we struggle with that, it's important to struggle, it's important to engage it, but it's also important to recognize each other's shared humanity. I'll end this opening remarks. I've written an article on this and I say in the article that a lot of times activists frankly, sometimes emphasize the issue of power and saying, "I can't bridge with someone until there's a power equalization." And so in that sense, sometimes we put too many conditions before we bridge. First we end capitalism, then we end sexism, then we end misogyny, then we end race. And at some future point that's forever receding we'll start bridging. I don't think we get to that part without bridging.
Others on the other side sometimes come at and it's like we're all just people. So it doesn't matter that I have tremendous power over you. Doesn't matter that I'm your boss and if you say something I don't like, I can fire you. And I sometimes refer to that movie Knives Out. If you haven't seen the movie, take a look at it. It's a fun movie. But there's a scene in there where this very rich family that's being cared for by this Latinx woman and they start talking about undocumented immigrants and her mother's undocumented and she's dependent on that job and they turn to her at some point and says, "What do you think?" And she can't speak, the power imbalance is much too great. So on one hand, we do have to pay attention to power. On the other hand, we don't want to defer bridging, talking to each other forever.
And I'll just end by again saying if you think about fights or the wars or uprisings, at some point people have to come back to the table and talk to each other. If you think about elections, we go all out to win, to have our issues put on the table. But once we win or lose, but soon we win. What do you do with the people who lost? And what we've lost in this country and many other countries, so we say the losing side don't count. We don't hold them as people, we don't listen to them. We don't talk about their fears. They lost, they're losers. And that kind of fragmentation, that kind of dehumanization is threatening not only to a democracy but to our very planet. So I think we have to find the right rhythm, if you will, between bridging, but also knowing that we actually have certain work to do, substantive work to do, and we have to pay attention to that as well.
Thank you, John. That was perfect framing to kick off this conversation because of course this is the opposite of bridging, as you often say, is breaking. And there are tactics that break down those relationships. And I was always really inspired by some colleagues in Northern Ireland when they were going through the peace building process that once they finally realized that they couldn't wish the other side away was when they as activists who were really taking up arms, this was a violent struggle, some of them found the motivation to come to the peace table. And to have those conversations about the future of that country and to end that conflict. And there is a little bit of recognizing the humanity that I can't wish the other side away.
And so what are the tactics of being able to bring your colleagues along in this struggle? And so I thought maybe we could open up to either both you and Míriam of really the very practical ways that we avoid succumbing to breaking tactics while we're also ensuring that these loud calls for change and justice are heard. And so whether it's the dehumanizing, some people talk about toxic polarization, but what are the guardrails that we put around our organizing or the best practices so that we don't succumb to those breaking strategies? Míriam, do you want to go first?
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Yeah, I think breaking in some respects can be easy. And I think that we need to remember all of the time these are very emotional topics that we're often talking about. And I want to take a step back as well and refer to some of what John was saying. If we describe our societies as fragmented, in fragmented societies in societies that are increasingly segregated as they are now and that's true whether we're speaking about the US but also other places like the UK. Societies where there's also increasing inequalities in many respects and where the impacts of climate change are also going to be different on people. That's where affective polarization is more possible as well. I'm thinking of what does affective polarization lead us to? And it's what John was mentioning of that us versus them and us viewing the other in a dehumanized way, some polarization is useful.
It's inevitable, particularly when we're talking about issues. But on how we view the other is when the polarization is dangerous and that breaking happens when we are flattening people's identities. When we are reducing people to just one particular view, one particular identity, if we just view them through what they think on one particular topic and then that becomes impossible in an alliance that is actually or should be quite natural. I'm thinking this is the kind of landscape where authoritarian populists can thrive and it's the environment in which they can actually also activate people's fears, activate people's emotions, and create this fertile ground for then passing also policies that are quite scary, to be honest. If I think about the guardrails as well, and I think very much about what John was mentioning as well, about the short bridges and the long bridges and there's space for each of them.
And I think that as humans we can be situated or equipped differently to do short or long bridges. But if I think about that, I think that one of the main things actually keeping our north star in mind and not succumbing to the immediacy of the moment. So at the Democracy Belonging Forum, we did an event on Monday with a bridge builder, dear friend of mine, Choloniza Modine, and someone brought to the table as a person of color living in the UK and doing the work, how do you not get exhausted? And he was saying, "I need to constantly keep remembering to keep the vision of the society that I won at the forefront." And I thought that was important because if we don't and we engage in breaking, we are contributing to that particular landscape that's good for authoritarian populists who have a nativist project to advance.
And I think that's important to remember for activists who are maybe thinking about their tactics and their strategies as well and want to adjust and a society of belonging for all. And these are very, very complex issues and I'm sure we'll touch more on as well. But just to bring an example as well, a lot of this conversation around the tensions between whether we bridge or social justice and centering marginalized communities, does this make bridging impossible? Or bridging communities maybe feeling less comfortable in bringing those justice considerations into their work?
A lot of it, and I'm sure Julia has experience with it, reminds me of the peace and justice argument in truth and reconciliation efforts. Should you put emphasis in peace and forget truth after a conflict or should you do the other? And I think through these binaries, these false binaries, we tend to simplify. So I remember when I worked in Columbia and I had the honor of working with victims of the armed conflict and there was a situation where we were talking about collective reparations and perpetrators coming back into society. And if you want a society of belonging, everyone will have to have a role and a place in it.
And we were asking what about perpetrators coming back to the community? And they were like, no, no, no, we don't want that. And then someone said, what about people who have become perpetrators, who were forcibly recruited when they were 16 or 17 or they were minors and created this dichotomy as well, okay, well they're victims, they're also perpetrators. There's a lot of complexity in it. And I think recognizing the complexity is part of what we need to grapple with as well. And I think through this bridging, we are actually deactivating some of the emotional appeal that the far right can have. And also being, bringing the relationship or the relational aspect to how we do our campaigns, how we do our activism, how we do the engagement. At the same time, if bridge builders don't bring the considerations and justice, what's the bridge building for and who is it for? And would that really lead us to the kind of society that we want? I have very strong doubts that that would be the case. So I think it's, rather than thinking of it as a binary, thinking about how they're both inevitably intertwined and then also keeping that vision of what we want in mind.
John, do you mind if I reframe the question a little bit building on what Miriam just said? Because I'm really glad that she brought the truth and justice and reconciliation framework in from Columbia because I think it's actually a good metaphor for our interpersonal work and our intra movement work, because of course, part of the framework of those reconciliation processes at a societal level when we're trying to heal is a commitment to not continue the violence and to not continue the harm. And I think that that's where we're struggling with a little bit. When you were saying, would we ask someone, an enslaved person to bridge with someone who's enslaving them? At least I've heard in some of the communities that we work with that being asked to bridge in a current moment in certain political environments, it feels a little bit like the commitment to stop doing harm or at least the non-action of folks who per or are propping up a political system that's continuing to perpetuate harm, feels like that's an ask of need. And so the breaking metaphor actually feels like what we're doing is perhaps breaking the complacency with the system. Of course, you're saying we can't break the relationships, and yet there's such a tension there because we haven't gotten to the place where there's the commitment to stop the harm in certain areas. I wonder how you address that.
john a. powell:
Well, it's a great question and Miriam I think set it up very well. And I'm going to go back to something she said. She talked about complexity, and I think we're responding to a world that's changing very fast. We're responding to a world with a lot of anxiety and insecurity. And that anxiety and insecurity is often weaponized by the extreme groups, especially extreme right. It says, you should be afraid, you should be afraid of them. They're the reason that you don't have whatever you don't have, jobs, a future. And to lean into that in a simplistic way actually I think hurts all of us. It doesn't advance the movement.
It actually retards the movement. It actually holds it back. I think of people like the Reverend Martin Luther King, I think people like Nelson Mandela and others, they were pragmatists. I mean King, when he was going into a community to protest, he would count the number of prison cells to know how many people could get arrested before they broke the prison.
He was a strategist, but at the same time, he always had an olive branch out to the other side. It wasn't either or. And so part of the thing we do in terms of fear, in terms of this anxiety is we flatten things so people become all one thing. Even Kendi in his book, how to be an anti-Racist, he says people are racist in one situation and not in another.
And what we do in our stories and in our practice sometimes is that they them become all bad. So when there's an opening, I can't see it because I've actually painted this picture that they're all bad now. They're not all good either. So I'm not saying before certain conditions are met. So the wonderful story about Nelson Mandela, which I told many times, so if people have heard it, I apologize. But when he was coming out of prison, he met with the head of South Africa and he suggested having a ceasefire. There was a violent conflict there. And he was head of one side of that conflict, the president of South Africa said, you're right, we should have a peace treaty, but you have to convince the general, the head of the South African army. And they met at Nelson Mandela's house. Nelson Mandela had learned the language of the general before they met. He learned that in Robin Island. He wanted to understand what was going on with the other side.
So when they met at Nelson Mandela's house, Nelson Mandela served the general tea, was completely plummeted the general, he actually came down, came out and sat on the couch next to the general, not at a coffee table across from the general. And when they moved to the negotiation, the negotiation took place in the generalist's language. Now, while Nelson Mandela was doing that, his army had guns, his army was ready to fight, but he was looking for a possibility of bridging. When he went to the rugby game, which was symbolically a white symbol in South Africa, he knew what he was doing. He was making an offer. Now, I'm not Nelson Mandela, most of us are not. But he was dealing with complexity. And that complexity in many ways paid off. I thought about this when I was in college. I was on a cliff and I got in my car and with a friend and we had to turn around, so I had to back up to turn around, and we had to back up and be careful not to go over the cliff.
And we got so engrossed in backing up, it's like six more inches, there's three more inches. We forgot that we were trying to back up and turn around. We actually had enough room to go forward, but we became obsessed with backing up, and we almost literally went off the cliff because we were obsessed with backing up. We didn't realize, okay, we've achieved what we need to achieve, let's move forward. And I feel like many of us do that. We get stuck. We get stuck in the struggle. And so we can't see openings, we can't see possibilities, we can't tell a complex story. And it's one last thing. I talk to a lot of people who are burnt out, who are hurt, who are suffering. And one of the things I remind them both in Europe and the United States, in South Africa, South America, is that you're never completely defined by the struggles you're in.
So yes, I'm an older black man, but I'm more than an older black man. I'm a parent. I'm someone who enjoy walks in nature. I'm someone who's traveled all over the world. I'm also a professor. I mean, we tell these limiting stories. So the other side becomes just that, they're the other side, they're them. And I'll end just by saying, I did a event with Isabel Wilkinson. She wrote the book Caste, and she talks about a guy coming to her house to fix her plumbing. And the sky comes up with all the trappings of a mega person, which is the people who don't know. It's like a Trump supporter who was steeped in racist disposition. And Isabelle Wilkerson is a black woman, and she was living alone. And she said, A guy walks in and he's really, the vibe is just thick with disgust and disdain.
He's not seeing her as a person and he's not really helping her. And she's moving boxes trying to show him where the leak might be. And he's just standing there and she's feeling problematic. Now you might say he's there as a service person, he should be doing his work, but he's not. And so she's looking for a place to bridge. And she said at some point it comes to her mind about his mother and her mother had recently died. And she says to him, "my mother died recently. Is your mom still alive?" And his mom had died as well. And in that this white Trump supporter and this black, brilliant writer, liberal, connected, they connected of the death of their respective moms. And she said, "everything changed after that".
Now you may say she shouldn't have had to do that, and you may be right, but she did it. She could have just let the guy leave and not, and still had to leave. But she connected with him in a way, and she said he even went out to the truck and came back. She became a human being. So I think it's not either or. You don't necessarily lay down your struggle and bridge, but you have to be looking for those opportunities. Amanda Ripley talks about that in her book, high Conflict. And I think too often we have people who are just looking to bridge under any conditions and other people who is like, "no, we're not going to bridge until everything is right", which means we're never going to bridge.
And John this, it's a beautiful story and leads me to my next question, which is really bringing forward where you started your remarks just then, which is just acknowledging how many of us are marinating in a fear response right now that a lot of the breaking and the inability of bridging is because of a feeling of fear. Fear for a lot of different reasons, both justified, and maybe it's just even perception because it's been ginned up by our leaders to be so afraid of whoever we consider other. And so I think that one of the challenges for the bridging community that wants to create spaces that are meaningful bridging spaces, both short bridges and long bridges, is how we create a space where both complexity, the opportunity for finding each other as human beings in all of the different ways that we show up with different identities, but also that addresses those fears that we have. And I'd love to hear Miriam, how you feel like the bridging spaces that are healthy, that are really serving the purpose of stitching together this kind of new social fabric that then of course translates into action, addresses both the fear and then the complexity that John is talking about with all of the identities.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Yeah, I think those are two key aspects that recognition. And I think there's several examples that we can draw on as well. So to think of a few from Europe, for example, I think about from few examples of Europe. I think about, for example, the Ireland abortion campaign. This was a very, very difficult campaign, but I think in many ways illuminates a lot of the bridging strategies, centering justice and a particular goal, and then making sure that it was a coalitional effort in order to obtain the result that they were after. So for those who don't know, Ireland didn't have abortion rights for many, many decades. Well, didn't have them at all. There was a referendum to actually put this to vote. Ireland is society in which the Catholic church traditionally has had a lot of influence. So this was not an easy feat, but it was through bridging efforts through our coalition of a lot of organizations that came together that actually the abortion rights came to pass.
And if you hear the people who are involved in the campaign, you hear a lot of the strategies that we've been talking about, that complexity, but that also recognizing the fears. It was a lot of organizations that came together in the Together For Yes campaign. It was a lot of them deciding to abandon certain positions, or not positions, but actually everyone keeping their positions, but also recognizing the commonalities and the necessity of banding together to achieve that goal. And then going to people and talking to people. And I think I was reading to one, I was reading an interview with one of the leaders of the campaign, and she was saying it wasn't about changing people's minds so much as it was about opening them. And it was maybe not engaging those that were most convinced in this case, but actually engaging those that had doubt, hearing what their questions, their fears were, and then adopting a strategy based on that as well.
So in this case, what they found out, what they found also through research that they did jointly, was that speaking of abortion as care and as healthcare was actually something that appealed to people's emotions that also responded to a lot of the fears that people had. And it was through bridging. It was through this listening. It was through acknowledging the complexity and how this is a topic that's rife with emotion, and that touches on people's deeply held beliefs. And I think that also deactivated the campaigns that the other side was doing, which focused a lot on, didn't really acknowledge the role of the mother, was focusing a lot on healing fixes and so on. So I think that it's a matter of bringing those together constantly all of the time, if that makes sense.
Yeah. John, I wonder if you want to talk a little bit about that and also, what I also pick up from Miriam's example of Ireland was actually almost like a deep canvassing approach of making sure that you're talking to a lot of people, listening to what their concerns are you're in, and that you started out your framing remarks, thinking about deep canvassing as a bridging activity. And a lot of times we think that we need to bring people together to sit at a table and have a conversation across from the table, which of course is, can be really exhausting, emotional work for some folks. And so I'd love to hear you talk even a little bit more about the different ways that bridging happens, but also again, thinking about how we honor the emotional work of some of the folks that perhaps don't feel positioned to do the long bridging.
john a. powell:
Well, a couple of things. And if a person, someone says to me many times, "if someone doesn't want to do bridging, how do you convince them?" I say, "I don't". A person had to come to that on their own. But I think there are many reasons to bridge, and I think there are even more reasons not to break, but it's not in every situation. And I've been in situations, I'll just share one with you. I'm a professor at a university and I've been to many different universities. And years ago I was at a university, I won't name it where the right wing, I will say, but it could have been anyone organized not to hire anyone who was not from their camp. So then no women were being hired and then no people of color were being hired. And the university, they're hiring still, but they're all up the capital of the right wing.
And I basically organized the left and I said, we're not, so we had a veto, we hadn't been exercising that veto. We had to be organized to do that. So we organized and exercised the veto so that there's no hiring period. And the dean came to me and he said, "John, the guy on the other side is a good guy, whatever, I just want to have a dinner where all of us can sit down and talk". He didn't say bridge, but that's what he meant. "So we can move forward". And you know what I said, Julia? I said, "no". I said, "I'm completely convinced..." I've been on a faculty with this person for years. I said, "I'm completely convinced he's a decent person. I don't question his humanity, but I won't do it unless he agrees". I mean, I said, "I'm too busy. I don't get to see the friends already have, so I'm not trying to make new friends."
This is a power issue. And if he's willing to see some of that power so they can hire some people, we can hire some people. The deal is done. And eventually that's what we did. So part of the thing, there's fear, but there's also containers. And what's happening now is our containers are fracturing, and most of our containers are behind our back. We don't pay attention to them until they're not there, whether it's our school, our democracy, our banks. So what's happening is that the containers are fracturing and we don't trust them anymore. And everyone, not just marginalized people in the sense of people who are historically marginalized, but recent surveys shows 70 to 80% of Americans feel like they don't belong. They feel anxious. This is something that's affecting everyone. So part of the thing about bridging is recognizing Bob Marley has a line where he says, every man, when you change it to every person thinks their burden is the heaviest.
So I'm aware of my fears, I'm aware of my anxieties, but I'm not aware of other people. And part of bridging is being willing to listen to other people's fears and anxieties, being willing to listen to their stories, not to accept them, not to adopt them, but just listen. And that's not the same as a policy issue. What's your position on X? And what deep canvassing has been able to do, and frankly they're borrowed from bridging. I've have been involved in some trainings with them, with people like George Gail, and people actions is they go to people's house, knock on the door or call on the phone. And instead of saying, what party you to belong to? Are you registered to vote? What's your position on these issues? And then give them some literature and lead, which was more how traditional canvasing did activating the people who are already on your side.
Instead, they would go and say, "how are you? Is your family dealing with covid? Do you have the mask you need? What are your fears?" And it's take would take longer, but they would actually talk to the person about their life. And part of the thing, going back to something we talked about earlier is that people are situated differently and we have to pay attention to how people are situated. I think of water differently than a farmer does because it's situated differently. It's not because the farmer is inherently different than me. It's that he or she or they are situated different than me, and we don't know that. So, and what they found with deep canvasing is that when you listen to someone deeply listen to them and not listen to them, to change them, not listen to them, to convince them that you're right, but to see them, and this is the contradiction and the irony, the possibility of change goes up over a hundred times.
And that's what deep canvasing is. And that can happen in many different places, but sometimes you do have to, as man directly says, lower the temperature. So I've literally been asked to come to cities where they've been shootings of black people by the police, and then there's tension. And they say, "will you come and talk?" And I said, "not until the shooting stops". So there's sometimes the container is not there. And so when you say, where do we do it? How do we do it? The container's all over the place. I'm here in Berkeley, and I was talking to a restaurateur yesterday and she's talking about something we talked about before, covid, of having tables where people could go and have conversations. You can invite people, it could be scripted, it could be curated, but you invite people just to see each other's humanity. And when that happens, oftentimes really wonderful things happen. Oftentimes those entrenched positions shift and oftentimes the health of the people engage, actually improve. So a lot of times the stress and trauma is also that we don't see possibilities. And so when we're breaking all the time, it's not just hurting. It's not just out there. We're doing something in here. We're doing something to ourselves. So I think we can be more deliberate. I think we should be more deliberate, but I don't think that means that we metaphorically, necessarily stop what we're doing in terms of protests. Like I said, I wouldn't meet in... There were certain conditions. If my boss called me into work and said, "I want to talk about whatever", I probably wouldn't do it. The power differential is too great.
But most of the time, and Putnam writes about this, between communities, the black community and white community, Latino community, the power differential is different, but it's not so great that you can't begin the conversation. And so you may need the exemplars. There's some church groups here who are having belonging circles where they bring people together, willing to listen, and they find huge shifts in terms of what's happening. The shifts is not always with them. Sometimes the shift is with me. I have to be vulnerable in those conversations as well.
And some people say they don't want to be vulnerable and I say, "Okay, then don't do it." But for those of us who really believe that the breaking is toxic, that the fragmentation is toxic, the polarization is... That the containers, if they continue to break or crack, all of the issues we care about, we'll backslide. We won't get to peace, we won't get better schools, better housing. So I think it's not a one-to-one relationship, but we can't actually have a society that works where the social capital and the bridging is so thin as it is in the United States and much of the world today.
Did you want to follow up to that, Miriam?
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Yeah, I'd like to add with two short examples as well because I think John is right in what he's saying, and then I think we also need to consider what are assumptions that we're bringing into the table. And I think that that also relates to the assumptions we are making about whether this is a short breach or a long breach or whether bridging is even possible. And tying it back to the earlier conversation about effective polarization and reducing someone to a particular identity or particular position.
We are all wired psychologically to actually... Our brains through queues, right? So we usually use labels, we categorize people and we make inferences based on that. So I may think this conservative person does this or that far left person does that and does make inferences about whether on a particular topic or even just in our coexistence, talking to them, engaging, bridging will actually be a short or a long bridge. But I think sometimes if we suspend those assumptions or we interrogate them, we can find surprises.
And I'm thinking about a person who I hold in very high esteem who actually works in the Spanish Congress, and this is a case of insider/outsider game as well, but she's someone who works on the most left wing party. She is one of the Romani community. And the Roma community is probably the most dehumanized community in Europe. It's really appalling to look at everything, all of the data in terms of the injustices against this community. And she and other Roma members of Congress decided that as part of the new legislature, their goal was to actually include anti-gypsyism as a hate crime in the criminal code of Spain. And so they set about to do this.
And I think that they could have come or started from the position that this would be a very long bridge to engage with the right wing. They were coming from the left, the right wing with the far right, with all electors, but they decided to actually not do so and present anti-gypsyism as a hate crime and present it as an aggravating factor for those who know criminal law as something that concerns everyone. So they started an insider process of having conversations with all of them, with members of all of the parties, of strategizing how to do it, and then coordinated with society as well. This resulted in something that didn't have a lot of visibility in the media because that was also something that they opted for. Maybe not put it at the center, because in a polar rights context, anything that you put on the media or social media maybe can become a little bit toxic. And Spain is quite polarized, but they decided to build bridges internally.
This legislation came to pass, it came to pass with the support of all groups, all parties, and Spain is a multi-party system with a lot of parties in Congress. So they managed to pass this legislation with the support of the conservatives, the far left, center left, center right, all parties, and even the far right abstained. So the far right did not vote against which given the circumstances and how nativist it is, it's quite challenging. But I think that's an incredible example of bridging strategically, but also coming from a different position and not attaching that much value to the labels.
The other example I wanted to provide as well is, and this is recognizing people's humanity and that they cannot be reduced to a particular label or we cannot assume everything about someone based on a particular identity that they hold, right? I've done a lot of research over the past few years on public opinion on climate, and I've had the chance to engage with high level leaders, in this case in Spain, as well, and in the UK, that work on climate issues. And one of the people that I encountered was a high level spokesperson, conservative for climate. We might have some assumptions, but it was very interesting because this was someone who's very concerned about a just and fair transition, about communities that are being left behind.
And he came to me after we had a meeting with other conservatives and he was like, "I want to let you know that I'm someone who believes in bridge building. We are in a very polarized environment. It's really frustrating and I don't know how to get out of it. We don't know how to get out of it. But also it's really hard because I have some views on some things that I tried to put out in the media, but it's impossible to cut across. And all of these things are projected." And there are things that I might not have agreed on. But it was very interesting to see this position as well and that moment of suspending projections that allowed for other conversations and that could create a space where other policies are passed, where all of other considerations are taken into account, where bridging and justice will go hand in hand. Because we can also find scenarios where they don't and then tensions simmer, even if particular outcomes are achieved.
So I thought I'd bring this piece into the conversation as well because I think we need to challenge the assumptions that we ourselves hold about what a person of a particular view on one topic or of particular ideology is. But at the same time also recognizing that oftentimes if bridge building doesn't incorporate that justice side of it, it's probably just going to regurgitate a lot of the tensions or perpetuate a lot of the tensions that also exist in our societies.
Thank you. I love that both of you are bringing in such concrete examples of lived experience and people who are struggling with this and opportunities and good case studies of the complexity of people finding that common ground and being able to move forward.
And so I would love to bring in the rest of you all, please. I have been looking at the comments section and we have a very concrete question. So think of your questions, put them in the comments and we'd love to hear from you. And so we have one very specific question. When you were saying that we don't necessarily want to change people's minds, we want to open their minds, and again, the beginning of this question is around excessive fear that just produces the feelings of having an enemy and being very destructive of our relationships.
How can we help people have an experience that opens their minds? Are there certain techniques, are there certain practices that you would recommend? Fear is reasonable, actually, that we have a reason to be fearful right now, and yet at the same time we're asking people to be in a place... Not everyone, like John was saying, not everybody's got to be in that position, but how do we support people to open their minds in this moment?
john a. powell:
Well, I'll start. So I think it's always important we ask that question when we think about these things, it's a question in part of how do we open the mind, not just their mind, but our own mind. I think Miriam was talking about us going to our conversations with our own assumptions. So it's the nature of the mind to be organized around fear. It's not, "It's the nature of bad people, but us good people, we don't have fear." We're all dealing with this anxiety and fear, and we think ours make sense and theirs, of course do not. And we actually don't know what theirs is by and large.
And what I suggested earlier, I mean there are some techniques from mindfulness to empathetic listening, to putting people in a situation where they have an experience of doing something together. Then maybe off-topic, we have been bringing together Democrats and Republicans to have dinner high up in the government. And those dinners have been--and this is Sarah Stevens' work, Care Lab--it's been phenomenal. And those first dinners, the first one I went to, and I'm one of the faculty for this effort, I was getting calls, frankly a lot from Republicans, saying, "We're not really racist." They were coming with the fear that I was going to attack them. And some real things have happened out of that. I don't want to say too much.
Fear is the oldest emotion, but we also tend to be afraid of things we don't know and things we can't control, which is like most of life, certainly the future. No one knows the future and no one can control it, although we can engage in it. So part of it is can we do things together? There are all these examples. Sports teams. I think of the situation in Florida where they did felony re-enfranchisement. Desmond, him and Neil, Desmond and Neil. One's black, one's white, one's conservatives, one liberal, but they went out to community and they talked to people across the political spectrum. And all the pundits said, "You can't change the constitution in Florida. It's a red state." And people associate this issue with black people. There's a lot of anti-black racism. And it turned out not only they changed it, they got more votes than any other issue in Florida. And people said to Desmond, "What's your strategy?" And he said, "Love is my strategy." And opening up people's mind, opening up people's heart.
Because what people had done is returning citizens were seen as flat. They were not people. And so you can lock them away, throw away the key, and if they came out, keep them away from you. Don't let them vote. They still are the infinite other. And you can only hold that position by keeping those people's stories and lives and conditions away from you. And what Desmond and Neil was able to do is to bring that to life for people in a very conservative state. And there're just thousands of examples of doing that.
And part of it is we have to do it, and part of it's we're going to learn. We're going to make some mistakes. Part of it's having generosity of letting people make mistakes. "What did you mean by that?" I don't know. Okay, so I'm drawing on all the bias in societies. But again, it doesn't mean as Kendi suggests, it doesn't mean I'm a racist and beyond repair. Unfortunately, we don't have a structure in society that does that very well. We live in segregated communities. We go to segregated schools, we go to segregated churches. And so when we try to do something in opposition to that, it feels very awkward and very labor-intensive. We have to change that.
And then leadership matters. The stories that people inhabit matters in terms of narratives. And unfortunately, many of the elites have decided that it's better to keep people in fear, to keep your base active and keep the middle exhausted. Politically, in the short term, that makes sense. In the long term, it's such a terrible way of doing things. And that's strategic, that's not happenstance. People know what they're doing, that they're activating fear because fear actually produce certain action.
And the last thing I'll say, Julie, is don't start off by telling people that their fear is bad or it's illusory. I did some work with the World Health Organization after COVID when they're trying to get the vaccine out to the black community. And early on they said, "We go to the black community and they'd say, 'We know about Tuskegee, we know about you experimenting on black people. We know about you're sterilizing black women. We don't trust you.'" And they'd say, "But that was then, this is now." And of course, that went over like a lead balloon.
And I went out to some of those communities and helped some. And the first thing was just to listen. I'm not trying to talk people out of their fear. It's like, yes, your fear makes sense. I'd be afraid too. And seeing people as they are, not as you want them to be, acknowledging people, "I see that you're in pain and I understand that. I don't know if I could do what you're doing." And then once people told the story, many people are then open to other stories, open to different possibilities.
I came back from India with a very weird disease. They thought it was going to kill me. This was years ago. And when I came back here, I went from doctor to doctor and they couldn't find out what it was, and most of them turned it back on me. It's like, maybe I'm imagining it, maybe I'm a hypochondriac. It's like my fear, my experience was being discounted. I went into a doctor's office and she looked in her books after I described to her my symptoms, and then she closed her book. She said, "I don't see it in here." And then she said, "That must be really hard to have a symptom, a set of symptoms, and we can't tell you what the cause is. I'm sorry. I apologize." And I just started crying. After that I started healing. It was the first doctor of many who saw me and didn't try to talk me out of what I was experiencing and tell me that I was crazy.
Yeah, what a powerful story. And the flip side of not being believed or your fear of not being acknowledged as a way of an entry point to a conversation, another challenge that we have that my colleague Asidre is raising is for whatever reason, that might be political, it might be manipulation, it might be misinformation, that just people are not willing to engage in that conversation and they just cut it off and they say, "No, no, we're not going to talk about that. Don't feel the need to talk about it." Or we perhaps have a completely different set of facts because we've been marinating in a different world, a different information ecosystem.
And so I wonder how we engage with bridging when it's not about acknowledging fear. It's not about listening and hearing to someone. Because we could listen to someone share their conspiracy theories with us or try and say, "I really want to talk about X, I want to talk about a history of slavery in our country." And we know that that's a conversation that's being completely cut off, for example. So I'm wondering how do we engage and bridge, try and bridge when actually the invitation, which is different because of course you were saying, how do we convince people to bridge? But then how do we bridge when somebody doesn't... Like the conversation is just off the table and we know we need to create the containers somehow. Is it just we just shouldn't try? That was kind of a multipart question, Miriam.
Yeah, john, go ahead
john a. powell:
90 second, and turn over to Miriam. The good news is, most Americans, and I don't know if this is true in Europe, Miriam, but most Americans want to actually be in conversation. So we hear about the ones... I mean, if you look at the people who are just not willing to bridge, not willing to talk, it's actually a minority. Now, some majority wants to, but they don't do it because we don't create a forum for that to happen. But they want to do it. And they want to do it, and frankly, especially people who aren't in this space all the time, they want to do it in a relatively okay space. It doesn't have to be completely safe, but they don't want to be attacked for every mistake they make, for every phrase they use that's wrong.
And of course, I say to this, if I see a person on the street and they pull out their pictures and start showing me pictures of their grandchildren, after a few minutes, I'll probably lose interest, to be candid. But if they say, "Let me see your grandchildren," and we're showing each other our grandchildren, that conversation can go on all day. So it's not just, I'm telling my story, I'm also listening from you, your story. We're going back and forth. It really is a collective co-created process.
And so, we haven't been very good at that, right? It's like I want people to hear my story, but I'm not really interested in your story. Or I say, "My story is true and your story is false." And so there are ways of actually helping people get to not just stories, but also feelings, also fears, also concerns. And oftentimes, I think you have to get to the issue, but I wouldn't start there. The issue has so much stuff, so many assumptions already in place.
So first of all... One last story. My dad passed a couple of years ago. He was a deeply devoted Christian minister. I went home several years ago and he was very exercised about the issue of abortion. And we were on opposite sides, and we decided to have a conversation about it. And the conversation lasted all night. And it wasn't a debate. It wasn't my convincing him that he was wrong or him convincing me that I was wrong. It was actually seeing each other. And the next morning, my mom came downstairs and she said, "What did you and your dad talk about last night? He woke up just beaming this morning."
And for the next two years I refused to participate in public debate. I felt like the structure of it was wrong. You were already setting up as a winner and losers. You're performing, you're not really listening, you're not examining things together, you're not seeing the other person. So there are ways that we can do this, and now there's a lot of literature on this, do it better. And it won't solve all problems. It's not that, as they say, it probably won't cure bad breath, but there are a lot of things it can do and will do. We're leaving a lot of things on the table refusing to bridge.
Yeah. Miriam, before you answer, because I do want to hear your response, I want to bring in a couple of the other comments so that you can maybe kind of have a multipart response to that question, because somebody brought up the issue of kind of champions for bridging. So that's a leadership issue. Like John was saying, we need leaders that are showing that this is needed, that this is possible, helping to create the conditions, but then also acknowledging when there are power differentials. So that maybe part of the reason... This is a narrative power. From our narrative research we say, who gets to define what gets to be talked about and what doesn't get to be talked about in a narrative landscape is a form of narrative power. And so maybe you could talk a little bit about both this question of wanting to be able to talk about something and not being able to, but also maybe issues of championing and the power differential.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Yeah, I think it's interesting, the image we have about bridging, right? And it's about let's go have a conversation on a topic we disagree on. And it is my belief that we actually cannot force anyone to have a conversation. Neither should we try. We shouldn't coerce anyone into speaking about anything that they don't [inaudible 01:09:11]. We can interrogate however why that might be, not necessarily with them, maybe with them, but maybe not. But then think about bridging as not something that happens as a one-off. So I encounter this person on the street and I force them to have this conversation on this topic they don't want to chat about. Or I'm constantly lock our heads with a neighbor, a family member, institutions and so on. There needs to be a particular container as we were talking about, but also relationships of trust and good intentions that are built. And I think that's a key part of it as well. And then maybe there's some entry points as well and we can recognize where people are coming from and why they might not want to have this conversation.
I want to bring in to these also another of the comments that I'm seeing here, which is like how does bridging work when non-rural progress elites talk about opening minds as though conservative rural folk are not open, empathetic, but stereotyped as close-minded and parochial. And I think this is an incredibly important point to make as well. Because I think that those are narratives that are, and I would love to hear from you, Julia, as well from the narrative perspective side as well, because those are narratives that are perpetuated that make us break, that make us stereotype. And that oftentimes are not true. And in a sense, like the opening mind, as John was saying as well, is not something that we do to others. We all need to keep those open minds and we need to recognize that oftentimes people won't change their views but might be open to hearing other options.
And I've been very lucky that I've worked as a researcher for many years now and I've been able to moderate a lot of focus groups with people that don't have progressive views, people who have progressive views of a whole spectrum. And oftentimes as well with people of the exhausted majority, as we were mentioning, more in common that I've worked with for many years as well, coined the exhausted majority term people in the UK as well, people in Spain. And it's an interesting process because it's oftentimes in a focus group, you don't change people's minds. You don't challenge, you just ask questions and listen. And sometimes you get through to conversations that wouldn't happen otherwise. And a few months ago I moderated one on LGBTQ rights and non-binary rights and rights of the trans community in Spain. And it was not with a progressive group, it was not with a right wing group either.
It was kind of centrist. And it was a very interesting journey because we started talking about our LGBT rights and everyone was very on board and they were like, I don't understand why you... Like the language that you're using of them. What do you mean by their rights? They're us. And it was interesting 'cause they were using these terms, there's not an us and them, there's like, they're just people like us. What do you mean? And then trans rights came into the picture and they were using... A lot of civil side organizations were watching as well, and they were using the language of transsexual. The civil side organizations were like, "They shouldn't use this word. They shouldn't." And I understand the problematic, but the place they came from, they saw them as a them, it's true, but they were like, no, but people have rights and no violence.
But you could see they had so many questions and then we got to non-binary and they were like, "I just don't understand, what does this mean?" And so many questions, but they were asking a lot of questions and they wanted to do right, and they wouldn't have had this conversation with other people that if they had seen that others were probably thinking differently. Everyone was kind of confused. But this space of trust was created and they entered a conversation through a journey that actually led to asking a lot of questions and fostering a lot of understanding. But I think that creating these containers can be quite beautiful as well because you see where people are coming from, and it's interrogating. And they came out with a lot of questions as well. We didn't get stuck on the language or we didn't get stuck on some of those issues.
But I think approaching these efforts, through that lens of I'm superior, I know more is also incredibly problematic. But in the same way, assuming that because someone is in a rural community is progressive or non-progressing or so on, is also flattening. I think we need to see the complexity of the multitude of identities that people hold. And I don't want to be utopian, I am scared as well. We are seeing an incredible surge of the far right across Europe, across the US, what's happening in India is incredibly appalling. Brazilian politics look really, really awful. But I think that in this situation that we're in, I'm not sure breaking will get us to a better point. But Julia, I would also love to hear from your perspective as well and from the narrative side too.
Yeah. And for those of you who don't know, the reason Miriam is putting me on the spot a little bit is because the Horizon's project just recently finished a bit of a research project on narrative engagement across difference and aspects of the use of narrative, both in collaborative spaces and also in our communications work. The complexity of narratives that you were just talking about, but I was talking about narrative power in a way of who defines within the zeitgeist what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. And then how we address that is by just acknowledging that it's happening. And I think that's the legitimacy and the kind of fear that John was saying as a tactic, as a practice of just listening to someone say, I feel that there is a power imbalance here. This is my lived experience of what's happening.
And of course, the more stories we have of lived experience, the more complex the narrative stream becomes. And you kind of claim legitimacy because someone is listening to you of course, because that's a way of then changing the container and changing the system. And that's actually where I would love to go. Tabitha, let me know, if I'm missing any other questions because what I would love to make sure that we talk about in this last 14 minutes that we have is to acknowledge that we bridge to build understanding and to model pluralism in how we do our work, the world that we want to see in the future. We're going to live that world now by the way that we engage with our fellow citizens. And yet the beauty of social movements is exactly because we are moving together. There is an action that is implied so that the bridging that we're doing, the understanding the way that we're doing our work hopefully leads up to an ask of changing unjust systems, and ask a demand.
So your example of not wanting to go to that dinner at the university, John, that was a pressure campaign that you put on that you said, "I'm not going to the dinner, I'm going to keep vetoing these new hires until we have a different conversation and I am going to..." So the pressure tactic at that point, you were not dehumanizing anyone, but you put into place a strategy that changed to the system. And I think that what I am hungry for, I guess from Horizon's perspective, is that there's such a constituency for bridging. There is. There's a lot of people who want to have these conversations. I absolutely agree with you.
And then how is this translated into the movements that we need that are demanding change through pressure tactics, not in a way that's going to dehumanizing anyone, but that is actually going to acknowledge that there are systems of power that need to be addressed. I won't say dismantled or anything more combative with those words, but I think that it's the union of efforts of bridging belonging, complexifying and the pressure tactics. So I would love to hear your response to that because I love that example. I wanted to hear more.
john a. powell:
So yeah, I think again, complex questions and issues. So we're appropriately work in a society and a world where there's a lot of tensions, a lot of injustices, a lot of exclusion, a lot of us versus them. And I guess what I'm struggling with is that justice. What does justice mean? What did justice mean to my dad when we had that discussion about abortion? When I say justice and I believe I was right, and he believed he was right. He not only believed he was right, he felt like then he had a sacred text called the Bible that buttresses his position. So saying we're moving to justice begs the question, what is justice? We have different views of what justice is. And I think what happened, not just with my dad, with other people, said once we fully began to embrace each other, it became important for us to try to figure out a way of moving forward without denying the other, without just beating the other. And I feel like that's what happens too often in our efforts is that, and two things. One, sometimes we other in order to belong.
I'm going to repeat that sometimes we other, in order to belong, we attack somebody in order to gain currency in our group. We mock people not to engage them, but to show to other people that we are the real deal. That's very destructive. And so the hardest case is the hardest case in some ways, I won't try to grapple with that, but I'm saying 95% are not the hardest case. A lot of breaking is happening in society today is happening, well, in short bridges between groups that are saying they're on the same side, groups that are saying they have the same goal, groups that are saying that they know each other and they're still breaking. I think we've gotten addicted to breaking in many instances and we don't know how to stop. Also I think this are unknowns that if we really care about each other, really care about each other. I mean, again, in my estimation in the United States came what's the most effective social justice movement person in the 20th century, and his key concept was love. If it wasn't for King, we wouldn't have the Voting Rights Act.
It wasn't for King, we wouldn't have Fair Housing Act. It wasn't for King, we wouldn't have unemployment. The major civil rights issues of the sixties, which is for most of the civil rights bills passed was the pressure point. The power point came from King, but he did it in a way that was always... The container in a sense was love. I think what we do all, we don't have a container. All holes in the snow holes fire. And for the right wing extremists, they have no container. They can kill someone, they can blow up something, they don't count. So I think we have to stay grounded. And I think it's more than just a technique. We have to stay grounded that everybody counts, that everyone has human dignity, that everyone belongs and then engage. And how will that turn out? I don't know. But I think it would be much, much, much better than the alternative.
Yes. Yes. Miriam, I'm going to let you give some final thoughts before we start with the closing. And I guess I want to respond to John's provocation of what is justice by perhaps being more specific about where I feel that the actions are needed. Because I super agree with you, everything you just said, I agree with you. And I think that maybe what we're talking about is the distinction between healthy democracies that are a level playing field where we can have policy discussions and we can grapple with concepts of justice as a beloved community. But because the rules of the game are fair and what we're experiencing with the rise of authoritarianism and why the movements in this moment are so important for the bridging community to use all of their beloved energy to ensure that we continue to have a place where we can continue to discuss with each other, our differences of opinion in a system that is fair and works for all, and that everybody's voices count. And more and more and more as authoritarian consolidation is taking place, we don't have that place.
And so I agree with you that we do have different concepts of justice and I think perhaps a better formulation of the question is how do we protect democracy, which is essentially having a level playing field for us to be able to engage in these conversations. Because there's a lot of comments in the chat about the spaces that we create when we have dehumanization taking place, for example, or when there are power differentials and a democratic system is supposed to provide for those spaces. So we're going to build it on a community level, we're going to build it on an individual level. We're going to live it as examples, and yet we have to eventually create systems and fight back to the systems that are not allowing for those to happen. So in any case, those are the tensions. Like you said, the tensions are the tensions. So Miriam, do you have any last kind of thoughts? And John, I'll let you finish us out.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Well, Julia, I feel like you've just opened up a whole other conversation.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
So it's hard to know where to begin. But I think just to end maybe with some comments on the democracy bit of it as well. I try to think of metaphors and I think of democracy as kind of the water in which we're swimming and we can have... A perfect democracy would be perfectly clean waters that allow all of the fishes that of the ecosystem in the water to live well, swim, belong in the water. We live in democracies that have many flaws. The waters are dirty, literally, metaphorically. But we are still lacking in a lot of places. There are still at least procedural aspects. We have some sense of the rule of law, although I think that's not necessarily the case in places like Hungary anymore. And definitely the US poses a lot of challenges. There's also times in which the water is completely polluted or absence, and that's authoritarian governments.
In those spaces, advancing justice, advancing the rights of marginalized communities becomes much, much harder, if not impossible. So I think that in a lot of respects, we need to think about democracy is both the substantive aspect of it, but also the process and how we make sure that both aspects are part of the equation not reduced just to one or them. Starting a little bit here because so many things to say, but I'll leave it here because I want to hear from John and Julia as well. But I think that thinking about it is the context in which we are operating and how we take care of it so that we can actually make the water cleaner in maybe some way in which we can think about that. And then bridging is a way of improving the quality of our democracy if our water would be a way to think about it. But also obviously as been mentioned, recognizing the power differentials, the struggle, so dehumanization that takes place and much more.
john a. powell:
So Julie, I appreciate what you set out and as Miriam said, it really deserves 90 minutes on its own.
john a. powell:
No, no, I'm curious. I think the reason I raised that is that there's not a singular expression of the mark of justice that we agree on, even among ourselves, let alone among people that we disagree with. And to me, I think we do have to have guardrails. I think we do have the cap containers, and for me, not surprisingly to people who know me, is I start from the premise that every human being belongs, every human being deserves dignity, full stop, everyone. And a system that doesn't accord, that is not doing its job and democracy is potentially a system and done right that could do that. Our structure of democracy isn't very problematic with money we have influences, with power gets influenced with structures of electoral college, where gerrymandered all these things, even we haven't gotten it to race and gender and identities.
We have all these structures that means that essentially don't dignify people. And then we say certain people don't belong, they never belong and they never will belong. So to me, that's a rotten system and it doesn't just hurt Black people or trans people or the elderly, it hurts everyone. It hurts the world. Now I may get some pushback. I welcome that, but that's where I start. That's where my guardrails are, is that everyone belongs. And then we all are on a learning journey that even though I feel strongly about that, I'm willing to listen to an alternative position. I'm willing to listen to a different story, I'm willing to bridge.
Well, that is a beautiful place to end. John and Miriam, thank you so much. And thanks to all of you. We didn't get to every single question in the chat and the comment, although I appreciate so much bringing up these difficult issues because I would probably end on another point just seconding what John said about everyone belongs and everyone deserves to be listened to and everyone has a place in this democracy movement. And we are going to come at it from so many different perspectives. People are going to be working on gerrymandering, other people are going to be looking at ranked choice voting. Other people are going to create spaces for dialogue on just listening and empathy. Other people are going to be marching in the streets. And I think more and more as we see ourselves as a system, as a movement, as working for this future that we want to see from multiple entry points to not be precious about our theory of change and how we think about it.
This is a way of using these techniques of belonging and bridging so that we can be in a movement of movements together to build this future that we want. So thank you so much. This has been great. I knew that if we just got together and had a conversation, it would be a good conversation. And I think I was right. So I just want to say a huge appreciation for a meandering, challenging conversation. Thank you all for joining us. Please sign up for Othering and Belonging Democracy Forum. There's a lot of great conversations, events that are happening constantly. They've got a listserv. We send out a lot of stuff on this. There's trainings, there's additional webinars. So if you want to learn more about how this works in practice, I really engage or invite you to engage with OBI and we look forward to many more conversations. Thank you so much, very much. It was wonderful.
john a. powell:
Thank you. And I thank Horizon.
All right, everyone, have a wonderful afternoon and take advantage of all of those National Week of Conversation events that are unfolding.