9 Democrats, 9 Republicans Introduce Legislation to Reduce Polarization and Support Community Bridgebuilding

March 1, 2022

On Feb. 25, nine Republicans and nine Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Building Civic Bridges Act – bipartisan legislation to empower communities to tackle sources of division while assisting local civic and community organizations with ongoing efforts to address contentious issues and ultimately, bridge divides.

Office of Rep. Derek Kilmer announcement.

On Feb. 25, nine Republicans and nine Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Building Civic Bridges Act – bipartisan legislation to empower communities to tackle sources of division while assisting local civic and community organizations with ongoing efforts to address contentious issues and ultimately, bridge divides.

According to an NBC News poll conducted in January 2022, 70 percent 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” – up from 45 percent in 2010. The increase in polarization is prompting serious doubts about whether American democracy is under threat. That same NBC News poll showed that 76 percent of Americans — including 7 in 10 Democrats, Republicans, and independents — “believe there is a threat to democracy and majority rule in this country.”

A recent report from the Bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship points out that the U.S. government spends tens of millions of dollars through the National Endowment for Democracy trying to foster social cohesion and support civic bridgebuilding in other countries to strengthen democracy abroad — yet it does none of that work here in the United States.

The Building Civic Bridges Act would establish the federal government as a key partner in the deliberate effort to bridge divides and strengthen American democracy. The legislation would create a new non-partisan pilot program, led by an Office of Civic Bridgebuilding within AmeriCorps, focused on building relationships across lines of difference. 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 bridgebuilding in the United States.

“In our neck of the woods, we’ve seen inspiring efforts to counter increased division. 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. 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. In both cases, we saw inspiring local examples of folks in our region trying to advance civic bridgebuilding. In both cases, when they asked if there were resources available from the federal government to support such work, the answer was ‘Not really. At least, not currently.’ That could change if this bill becomes law,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06). “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 bridgebuilding efforts.”

The pilot program created by the Building Civic Bridges Act will have four core pillars:

·       Administering a grant program to support civic bridgebuilding programs across the nation—funding nonprofits, public institutions, schools, and religious groups, among others—that are striving to heal toxic polarization in the United States through civic bridgebuilding and community reconciliation;

·       Supporting the training of AmeriCorps members in civic bridgebuilding skills and techniques;

·       Supporting research on civic bridgebuilding, civic engagement, and social cohesion; and

·       Activating a public conversation about the importance of civic bridgebuilding by serving a key role as both a convening and coordinating partner to the national civic bridgebuilding movement—providing resources, network, and collaboration opportunities to the field.

A broad coalition of civic, academic, community, and faith leaders and organizations have announced their support for the legislation, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Bridge Alliance, Citizens League, Community Mediation Minnesota, Convergence, Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), FixUS, the Islamic Center of Tacoma, Lead for America, Listen First Project, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), Office of Collaboration and Dispute Resolution at the Minnesota Department of Administration, Partnership for American Democracy, Service Year Alliance, Voices for National Service, YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, YOUnify, Vice Chairman of Service Year Alliance & Former Director of White House Domestic Policy Council John Bridgeland, George Mason University Associate Professor of Policy & Government Justin Gest, former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), Veterans for Political Innovation Founder Todd Connor, National Civic League President Doug Linkhart, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress President Glenn Nye, International Republican Institute Board Member and former U.S. Rep. James T. Kolbe (R-AZ), Minnesota State Reps. JoAnn Ward (D) and Sandy Layman (R).

The legislation is co-led by: Rep. Derek Kilmer, Rep. Andy Barr, Rep. Lucy McBath, Rep. William Timmons, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Tom Reed, Rep. Joe Courtney, Rep. John Katko, Rep. Mondaire Jones, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, Rep. Debbie Dingell, Rep. Fred Upton, Rep Ted Deutch, Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, Rep. Glenn Thompson, Rep. Dean Phillips, and Rep. Don Bacon.

Statements of Support:

“The Building Civic Bridges Act invites us to truly engage with one another as fellow Americans. This is a time to build bridges, not barriers,” said Eboo Patel, Founder & President of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). “By empowering local leaders to expand trust and deepen relationships within our communities, we can focus on that which unites us, rather than the issues that pull us apart. I commend the co-sponsors for the moral imagination behind this bill and welcome the opportunity to ensure that local bridgebuilding efforts flourish in our country.”

“Toxic polarization and partisanship have become top concerns of leaders and citizens across sectors and parties; yet the core solution of bringing Americans together through ‘bridging’ programs has received scant attention,” said David Eisner, CEO of Convergence. “Thank you to Representative Kilmer for focusing Congress and the nation’s attention on the urgent need to lift and support the thousands of emerging bridging organizations and programs. This vision, along with the work it supports, offer urgently needed and hopeful pathways for Americans to come together across our differences in communities across the country to address our common problems.”

“As a community, we need to find a way to be able to speak with one another with respect and retain an understanding that we can disagree and remain partners. The Y is an organization that is best suited to convene crucial conversations that could help begin to bridge the divide that is so pervasive,” said Charlie Davis, CEO of the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties. “Bridge of Hope is a program we are pursuing that fosters dialogues across the divide. We want to provide people the tools to communicate in a way that’s inclusive. Bring people in to conversations where they feel safe and supported. This provides a tremendous step forward for our community. Representative Kilmer’s goals align with ours for a similar effort he’s leading with his peers on Capitol Hill.”

“One of the urgent challenges facing our nation is the rise in hyper-partisanship and the political polarization of so many aspects of our lives—a dynamic that is often manipulated and exploited by violent extremists seeking to disrupt our democratic institutions. We are pleased to support the Building Civic Bridges Act, which offers a creative and forward-thinking approach to bridging partisan divides and strengthening civic engagement in local communities across the country,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director, ADL.

“Recent polling by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics shows that over half of young Americans feel democracy in this country is under threat – and over a third think they may see a civil war within their lifetimes. It should be a wakeup call to all of us,” John Bridgeland, Vice Chairman, Service Year Alliance & Former Director, White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush. “Right now, we must take action to reverse these trends and mend some of the fault lines that have opened in our society. That’s why Congress should pass the Building Civic Bridges Act and help support the civic organizations already working to bridge partisan divides.”

“Polarization is one of the greatest threats to our democracy today. Yet, in communities across America, faith and civic leaders have created a groundswell of momentum to bridge the political, social, and economic divisions between us. American civil society is a silent strength of our democracy,” said Zeenat Rahman, Executive Director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. “I applaud Rep. Kilmer and the co-sponsors of the Building Civic Bridges Act for their work to provide federal support to help bolster these critical efforts.”

“These days it seems nearly impossible to find areas where Americans from both parties can agree. AmeriCorps is that exception. It brings us together as a community and helps us find common ground as a country. So, it is only fitting that an Office of Civic Bridgebuilding should reside within the AmeriCorps agency,” said AnnMaura Connolly, President of Voices for National Service. “We’re grateful to the bipartisan House and Senate leaders who have come together around this legislation with a goal of building relationships across lines of difference through service.”

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Rep. Sara Jacobs


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