It’s been a year of worry for millions of Americans – from COVID-19 to the state of our democracy. Whether you are bullish or bearish on the capacity of our institutions to withstand today’s authoritarianism and political violence, there’s one thing many people can agree on: we are just too polarized. Polls and studies alike show polarization escalating to never-before-seen heights in the United States, with dire consequences. Folks with different political beliefs are more likely to see the others as, well, “other” — to socially isolate from them, to watch different news channels from them, to separate from them on social media. The consequence is disappearing space for the common enterprise that’s essential to democracy: that we can agree to disagree, that we can debate together and maybe — gasp — even change each other’s minds, that we can compromise for the sake of a common goal.
Nowhere were these trends more evident than in the recent elections, where too many Americans seemed to be living literally in two different worlds, and barely speaking to each other over the canyon between us.
On November 19, less than two weeks after the election, along with Millions, the Fetzer Institute, and Vanderbilt University, we convened a national Virtual Depolarization Summit, where over 300 leaders and activists came together to discuss the problem and what to do about it. The summit continued work begun under the Communities Overcoming Extremism coalition, a bipartisan coalition, headquartered at the Anti-Defamation League, with support from partners including the Charles Koch Institute, New America, the Ford Foundation, and the Fetzer Institute, that sought to identify and promote community-based learnings for addressing the rise in extremism today. We produced a final report that highlighted the usefulness of a framework requiring proactive, forward-leaning policy before, during, and after extremist events, with a focus on both “hard” actions (like investigation and prosecution of political violence and better security plans for protest events) and “soft” actions (like reaching out to marginalized populations to prevent them from being radicalized or victimized).
Following on that work, the Depolarization Summit was a spectacular and inspiring experience. We heard from experts in government at the federal, state, and local levels; the nonprofit sector; and the academy on the problem of polarization and proven methods that employ bridging and conflict resolution to better connect polarized communities. We distributed a resource packet afterward with useful materials, ranging from the Bridging Divides Institute at Princeton University to Over Zero’s manual for mayors to Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection’s toolkit for how localities can most peacefully and successfully handle today’s frequent protest events.
While we are all concerned about today’s historic polarization, we also know that democracy is dynamic and can be responsive and empowering. As dark as today’s politics feels, the saying from Martin Luther King, Jr. remains as true as ever — that it’s never darker than before the dawn. I left the Summit inspired and excited for the work to come, from individuals, organizations, and alliances just being created, to build bridges, create new visions, and turn away from a democracy founded on division to one where new connections are actively forged to achieve a better future for us all.
Former Mayor, Charlottesville, VA
Founder and Chair, Communities Overcoming Extremism
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Do you want to help?
As we near the end of 2020, we recognize that many of our supporters are looking for ways to become more involved with Millions of Conversations. We appreciate all that you have done to help us grow as an organization, and we look forward to continuing this growth, together. In addition to donating to Millions and engaging with our content on social media, we are hoping to expand our Conversationalist Series in 2021. Do you have an idea for a conversation? Check out our YouTube channel to watch some of the conversations we hosted this year. If you have an idea that you’re excited to share, please complete the form below. We have also included our donation page and our Mutual Aid Hub. We are thankful for any and all contributions here at Millions of Conversations, whether it’s your time, ideas, or a donation.
Watch our final episode of EADJ
This month, we wrapped up our fall series of the Engine for Art, Democracy & Justice, Love Transmutation. Take a minute and watch our final episode with a friend or family member. We look forward to seeing you again in Spring 2021!
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