Members Join In Bipartisan Push to Help Communities Address Divisiveness

February 25, 2022 by Dan McCue
<strong>Members Join In Bipartisan Push to Help Communities Address Divisiveness</strong>
(Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona via unsplash)

WASHINGTON — Eighteen House members — nine Republicans and nine Democrats — have come together in an effort to empower local communities to address divisiveness that may be hindering the economy and other goals.

The vehicle they plan to use is the Building Civic Bridges Act, which would create a new, nonpartisan pilot program, led by the Office of Civic Bridgebuilding within AmeriCorps, “focused on building relationships across lines of difference,” according to a joint release from the member sponsors. 

Among other things, the office would be empowered to allocate federal grants on a competitive basis to bolster civic organizations and spaces that are dedicated to the revitalization of civic culture and bridging the issues that divide neighbors and citizens.

“In our neck of the woods, we’ve seen inspiring efforts to counter increased division,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.

“After a series of horrific attacks — including assault, vandalism and arson — against faith-based institutions in our region, we saw an interfaith group rise up to try to foster community understanding and build community cohesion,” he said. 

“In response to conflict at a local YMCA, we saw a group of leaders work to bring in some conflict resolution capacity and work to sponsor community events to build understanding across differences,” he continued. “In both cases, we saw inspiring local examples of folks in our region trying to advance civic bridge building.”

There was only one problem, Kilmer said. When local leaders asked if there were any federal resources to support such work, the only honest answer was: “Not really.”

“Instead of accepting toxic polarization as the new normal, many community, faith and civic leaders are leading efforts to foster dialogue, defuse and address sources of conflict and bridge differences. The bipartisan Building Civic Bridges Act would lend some support to these civic bridge-building efforts,” Kilmer said.

According to an NBC News poll conducted in January 2022, 70% of Americans agree with the statement that “America has become so polarized that it can no longer solve the major issues facing the country — and that those differences will only continue to grow.” That number is up from 45% in 2010. 

That same NBC News poll showed that 76% of Americans — including seven in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents — “believe there is a threat to democracy and majority rule in this country.”

At the same time, a recent report from the bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship points out that the federal government spends tens of millions of dollars through the National Endowment for Democracy trying to foster social cohesion and support civic bridge building in other countries to strengthen democracy abroad — yet it does none of that work here in the United States.

The pilot program created by the Building Civic Bridges Act will have four core pillars, Kilmer and his colleagues said:

  • Administering a grant program to support civic bridge-building programs across the nation, funding nonprofits, public institutions, schools and religious groups that are striving to heal toxic polarization in the United States.
  • Supporting the training of AmeriCorps members in civic bridge-building skills. 
  • Supporting research on civic bridge building, civic engagement and social cohesion.
  • Activating a public conversation about the importance of civic bridge building by serving a key role as both a convening and coordinating partner to the national civic bridge-building movement, providing resources, networks and collaboration opportunities to the field.

“Polarization is undermining progress in our country,” said Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y. “Without diversity, we hinder our domestic and international goals as a nation. That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Building Civic Bridges Act. 

“This bipartisan legislation creates a pilot program within AmeriCorps focused on building relationships across lines of difference. I am hopeful this measure will yield positive results by promoting a greater level of understanding and cooperation in diverse communities across the country,” he said.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., said while it’s inevitable that Americans hold a range of views on political and social issues, “they should be able to debate with one another in a humane and respectful way, trying in good faith to understand why those with opposing views think the way they do.”

“I hope these conversations lead to a growing recognition that, as Americans, there is more that unites us than divides us,” she said.

In addition to Kilmer, Katko and Murphy, the legislation is co-led by Reps. Andy Barr, R-Ky., Lucy McBath, D-Ga., William Timmons, R-S.C., Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Tom Reed, R-N.Y., Joe Courtney, D-Conn., Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Fred Upton, R-Mich., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Jenniffer González-Colón, R-Puerto Rico, Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and Don Bacon, R-Neb.

A broad coalition of civic, academic, community, and faith leaders and organizations have also announced their support for the legislation.

A one-pager of the legislation can be found HERE.

A section-by-section bill summary can be found HERE.

The bill’s text can be found HERE.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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