Making the case for optimism one year after January 6

By Sarah Cross, vice president of free speech & peace

One year ago, something once thought to be unthinkable happened: Violence erupted at our nation’s capital while members of Congress were certifying the results of the 2020 election. Those members of Congress were evacuated, and the Capitol was occupied. Make no mistake — the events that day were an attack on our country’s founding ideals. And twelve months later, it continues to reinforce the critical nature of the work our community’s partners are doing every day to protect equal rights and promote pluralism — making it possible to not only peacefully coexist but also cooperate across our differences.

In light of what we saw on January 6 and other related flashpoints during the last few years, it’s easy to feel pessimistic about America’s ability to address the tensions and polarization gripping our country today. But what dominates the headlines isn’t reflective of most Americans.

People in communities across the country aren’t just hungry for alternatives to the divisiveness pushed by voices on the extremes, they’re already finding ways to collaborate with each other and solve the very real and pressing challenges we face.

Our community partners with organizations who are making that hard work easier. They are scholars, storytellers, educators, faith leaders, and researchers who are equipping people to de-escalate tensions, to restore respect for and trust in one another, and to build more resilient communities.

Their efforts are making a difference.

This is not to downplay very real concerns about distrust and division. The challenges facing our country can feel insurmountable. But we also know that bridging divides across even the deepest differences is possible. And it’s because of the work underway by groups such as Princeton’s Bridging Divides Initiative (BDI), Over Zero, More in Common, Search for Common Ground, and New Pluralists.

  • BDI — supported by funders ranging from Democracy Fund to the Charles Koch Institute —generates real-time data to assess risk of political violence in our communities in order to empower key stakeholders on the ground with clarity, resources, and guidance amid high tension situations.
  • More in Common works to bring us closer together through its American Fabric project, which is designed to uncover the values and narratives that will provide information on where Americans currently are and what they need, remind us of our shared experiences and identities, and empower the exhausted majority.
  • Search for Common Ground’s U.S. capability has garnered support from Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Tides Foundation, and the Department of Homeland Security, among others. It will leverage the organization’s international peacebuilding experience to conduct rapid intervention experimentation; furthermore, by providing Americans with pathways to expressing their views without violence,  will play a key role in the U.S. domestic peacekeeping infrastructure.
  • A cross-ideological collection of funders launched the New Pluralists, a funder collective bringing together philanthropies ranging from Hewlett to Fetzer to Einhorn as well 40 leading organizations in the field of pluralism, all to strengthen and provide resources to leaders working in depolarization, bridge-building, racial healing, civic skill-building, peace and conflict resolution, empathy-building, and more.

These are just a few of hundreds, if not thousands, of leaders working in different sectors who all comprise a growing field of pluralism.

January 6 was a dark day in our country’s history of peaceful transition of power. But it put into sharp focus for leaders across the ideological spectrum the magnitude of this problem and the urgency required to address it. The resulting sustainable infrastructure and cultural movement being built to foster long-term change can ultimately leave our country in an even better position than it was before.

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