A Civity Foundation for A House Divided
As we look ahead – coming off of the challenges of 2020 and the turbulent beginning to 2021 – Civity’s vision and Civity’s work are more vital than ever. We are seeing once again how race and class – the deep cracks in the foundation of our democracy – can lead to physical violence as well as partisan division and acrimony. Civity’s vision is for a United States of America in which people of all races and ethnicities, people who are poor as well as those who are middle-class and wealthy, feel a strong sense of inclusion and belonging. Civity’s work is supporting people like you in building the relationships of respect and empathy that are necessary for us to move forward together. This work is hard, and sometimes immediate results are hard to see. But it is necessary in order to effect the paradigm shift we know is possible.
Civity is about creating relationships across difference, relationships that bridge social divides – in particular social divides characterized by deep-seated power differentials between groups.
It has happened frequently, particularly since the 2016 election, that people assume Civity’s focus is the red-blue, Republican-Democrat, political partisan divide. That is the divide that has been splashed in the headlines day after day. And that is the divide spotlighted in the violence at the U.S. Capitol and across the country last week.
But the red-blue partisan divide is not Civity’s focus. The red-blue partisan divide is not characterized by long-standing, deep-seated power differentials: Neither Republicans nor Democrats as such have a long history of being marginalized or oppressed – though specific groups that tend to vote with one party or the other may be.
Civity’s work focuses instead on the social differences beneath the partisan divide – differences that are characterized by power differentials of long standing. As we have seen and are seeing, these power-based differences remain potent and potentially explosive today. These differences and power differentials underlie and fuel the red-blue divide, which has too often come to serve as a proxy – and to a significant degree a disguise – for them.
Race and class are the most powerful of these divides.
Civity’s approach is to name the differences associated with these core divides, “put differences on the table,” and invite people into relationality across these differences.
This relationality recognizes that we are all members of the same larger community,that we all belong here in and to this nation. This relationality is the necessary foundation for our democracy and for its future health and resilience.
Cracks in the Foundation
The current story we are watching play out is not a story of a solid foundation. It is a “house divided” story. Red versus blue. Republican versus Democrat.
But scratch the surface of this story, and, as with President Lincoln’s “house divided” in 1858, you encounter race. You encounter class. Race and class are the cracks in the foundation.
The backdrop for the2020 election and its 2021 aftershocks was a tumultuous year in which racial disparities, systemic racism, and racial injustice splashed across headlines and news reports as a result first of the COVID-19 pandemic and then of the Movement for Black Lives protests that erupted after the police killing of George Floyd.
In the election, race mattered.
The New York Times reported, “About nine of every 10 voters said the protests over police violence were a factor in their voting, with more than three-fourths calling it a major factor…About a fifth of all voters said the protests were the single most important factor in their decision at the ballot box.”
Many voters saw the protests as revealing a system of law enforcement that is racially skewed and voted for change. Other voters saw the protests as threatening and voted for law and order and maintaining the status quo.
Race is a fracture line that runs through and compromises the structural integrity of our house’s foundation.
The backdrop for this year’s election also included a widening gap between the well-off and the economically struggling. In The Economics of Belonging, Financial Times writer Martin Sandbu paints a broad-brush picture of the devastating effects caused by the withdrawal over the past few decades of economic policies that honored workers and protected rural communities and small cities. Sandbu concludes, “It is in these left-behind places that the revolt against the Western liberal order has been strongest…the most down-at-heel regions almost invariably support anti-system parties more strongly than places of prosperity.”
In the election, class also mattered.
In the 2020 election, voters in prosperous counties – mostly in large metropolitan areas – supported Biden, the candidate of the pro-government political party. Voters in economically challenged counties, in contrast – mostly rural and smaller cities – supported Trump, the candidate of the anti-government political party. According to a Brookings report, Biden counties, 509 of almost 3,000 counties in the U.S. overall, account for71% of the nation’s economic activity.
Access to economic prosperity – class – is a fracture line that runs through and compromises the structural integrity of our house’s foundation.
Repairing the Cracks
As a nation, we need to come to terms with and address racism – a system of advantage and disadvantage based on race that still has us firmly in its hold. As a nation, we need to come to terms with and address a bifurcated economy in which some people and places are booming and others are left behind.
The current political division and volatility that we are seeing are what happens when we avoid dealing with the real issues that we face.
Avoiding issues, avoiding conflict, can be hot and loud as well as cold and silent.
The race and class cracks we face today are not new. Race and class have compromised our foundation and divided our house since the beginning of the nation.
Instead of envisioning the foundation of our democracy as having once been solid and now cracked, we need to understand that the foundation is still being laid. To support a house that we can all live in, we need to fortify the foundation so that it holds firm.
In our democracy, the relationships among We the People are what holds the foundation together.
Race and class are fractures in our foundation, and relationships that bridge across racial divides, that bridge across class divides, are what we need for a robust democracy. Race and class are differences we have to put on the table. These are the differences we have to reach across – with respect, with empathy, and with a shared sense of belonging: We are all in this together.
Civity is a culture of deliberately engaging in relationships of respect and empathy with people who are different. Civity is the foundation we are being called to build for the democracy that we are still becoming.