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We’re building a student movement to bring the country together. We cannot coexist if we cannot talk to each other – it’s that simple.

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Brings together college students from across the ideological spectrum for constructive dialogue on topics happening across the nation.

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Equips high school students with skills for constructive dialogue on campuses across the nation.

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Everyday, BridgeUSA students are hosting discussions, challenging polarization, and bringing young people together to improve their communities.

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Blog

Understanding Different Perspectives of Some American Holidays

By Left Middle Right In recent years, the conversation regarding certain holidays in America has become increasingly polarized. Although many Americans want to stay steadfast to traditional values and celebrations, there has been a contemporary wave of resistance towards certain notions. Different media coverage around the holidays can also add to our understanding of the meanings behind these celebrations. Historical context, prioritized in some of these news segments and emphasized in certain educational courses, may cloud nostalgia that some feel around this time of year, and cause others to question whether it’s time to update certain holidays or throw them out altogether. The most obvious example of this is Columbus Day. Debate has risen in the last few decades as to whether the holiday should still be celebrated, renamed, or officially replaced by Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While the majority of Americans who chose to celebrate the holiday in its current standing do not try to justify the atrocities that happened because of Christopher Columbus, Americans that demand the day be changed argue that the whole premise of the holiday is rooted in injustice, and therefore should not be recognized. While Columbus Day’ is arguably by far the most polarizing mainstream American holiday, the conversation is shifting to other holidays as well. As we approach the holiday season, it is not uncommon to hear debates about the premise of Thanksgiving, and whether it is right for our nation to celebrate a day that many Native Americans actually mourn. Unlike Columbus Day, Thanksgiving isn’t intended to only celebrate a historical day or figure, but rather re-enforce the values that stem from gratitude as well. If Thanksgiving was only about the aforementioned themes, there certainly would be no discussion left to have as to whether it is appropriate to have this national holiday. This debate about the meaning of Thanksgiving has not been left untouched by media outlets, with some focusing on the abuse Native Americans faced following the arrival of Europeans and others opting out of mentioning it altogether. Separation of what is emphasized about the holiday seems to fall along party lines, and this different coverage is further perpetuated by outlets, in-turn creating more division among their viewers. More conservative-leaning news outlets, such as Fox News and their prominent host Tucker Carlson, have famously said that the people on the left are declaring war on Thanksgiving. In a conversation with one of his guests about teachers asking their students what could have been done differently on Thanksgiving, Carlson stated: “It’s a way to make them (students) hate the country.” Conversely, outlets on the left have used provocative and polarizing language to describe the holiday. In a segment on MSNBC, guest essayist Gyasi Ross stated, “Instead of bringing stuffing and biscuits, those settlers brought genocide and violence. That genocide and violence is still on the menu.” Even if we chose to focus solely on the holiday’s thematic nature, do the traditions that are attached with the day still hold historical implications? The classic Thanksgiving dinner is based on the feast that the pilgrims had after a successful harvest, which many may still feel uncomfortable celebrating. However, a sizable portion of the nation will contest that the dinner is symbolic of both the work ethic of immigrants, and coming together as a country. Given the fact that the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 was shared between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag people, there is points to be made about celebrating the day with considerations to both the ethical and historical implications. In light of the holiday, the best way to approach Thanksgiving is to first understand that the majority of Americans celebrating — regardless of their method — are well-intended. At its core, the holiday is intended to bring people closer to their families and friends, and encourage us to be appreciative of our surroundings. If one family chooses to celebrate through traditional methods, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they lack empathy for Native Americans. And if another family is more critical of the holiday and its history, that doesn’t imply they are any less American. There is room for agreement about the holiday, and it can start with saying that Thanksgiving should be about unity and empathy. Ironically, this should apply to the different viewpoints on the holiday as well.
24
Nov

Why We Should Also Pay Attention to Media Outlets We Disagree With

Why We Should Also Pay Attention to Media Outlets We Disagree With

By BridgeUSA If you’ve been keeping up with the Kyle Rittenhouse case in the last few weeks, the chances are you hold one of two different opinions. You either believe that he is a criminal who should be held accountable on all charges against him, in which case you would be right in the eyes of CNN, MSNBC and the New York Times. Or, you believe Rittenhouse is a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was acting in self-defense, then Fox News, the Daily Wire and New York Post might be your go-to news source. The problem with a story like the Rittenhouse case, and so many others, being taken in by different news outlets is the different narratives they form, and the divide it creates between audiences. In 2018, Pew Research Center reported that 20% of adults in the United States said they got their news most often from news websites (33%) and tv (49%). This was more than social media (20%) and the radio (26%). With such an emphasis on news sites and television, you’d think that the information being produced between both platforms would mirror each other, and that different outlets would run out of ways to share the same stories. In a perfect world, this would be true. News outlets would produce the facts of both sides, and a reader would get a well-rounded understanding of what was happening, with enough information to think critically about it. Unfortunately, that is not how the standard news cycle works, and we are instead left to either settle for one narrative over another, or take the extra time to do our own research.  The type of biased reporting that we see today creates problems when it comes to having discussions on issues, including on topics like COVID-19, immigration surges, or the Black Lives Matter movement —  all of which have been polarized in the last two years with the help of mainstream media. Different story angles and cherry-picked information often creates narratives that mirror preset beliefs of audiences, and in turn creates echo chambers on both sides. Hard as it can be, paying attention to media outlets that we disagree with can be a key factor in having constructive discussions again. A study by InScape in 2018 showed that of CNN’s 9.7 million viewers, only about 35% of them would watch both Fox News and MSNBC. Of Fox’s 1.6 billion viewers that same year, 37% at least briefly tuned in to CNN, but only 23% also checked out MSNBC. Some of the biggest news stories that year involved two government shutdowns, the royal wedding, the Parkland school shooting, and Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation. Think back to all the different news you consumed about these topics during this time. Depending on which news outlets you tuned into, certain coverage of the Kavanaugh hearing would focus on attempts of slander and defamation to slow the nomination process, while other reports would focus on accusations against Kavanaugh and the #MeToo movement simultaneously taking place throughout the country.  What could be easily missed between both types of coverage was basic facts surrounding the hearing, and the overall impact that a confirmation or denial would have. Additionally, conversations about Kavanaugh at the time were heated because of the different perceptions of the nominee. This prevented a constructive exchange of information, and a lack of understanding between people watching on both sides. By only sticking to news sources that reaffirm what we want to hear, and that play into our current beliefs, we hinder the ability to understand where someone else is coming from. We also prevent room for conversation on different topics because we aren’t willing to open our minds to different perspectives.  Because our news cycles are set up to cater to certain audiences, it’s up to us to branch out of these echo chambers and look for information from different sides. Even if you don’t agree with what’s being said, exposing yourself to these ideas can create better discussions and make you a better consumer of news, which is what we need in a polarized society.
11
Nov

The State of Polarization in the United States

The State of Polarization in the United States

By Left-Middle-Right Over the past decade, it has been apparent to anyone remotely observing American society that political polarization has become more rampant by the year. Although polarization can be healthy for a democracy, too much of it divides people to a point where compromise is near impossible and hatred becomes a key characteristic of a population. While America has not reached the fullest levels of polarization, it is certainly not on a positive trajectory. It is important to understand where we stand as a nation on this matter and ways anyone can individually contribute to stopping this wave.  According to the PRRI, 90% of Americans believe that the country is divided over politics and 60% are pessimistic about society being able to overcome issues of polarization. Overtime, Americans have increasingly grown to resent their opposing political party, which can be seen at a surface level when comparing recent election results to elections held 20 years ago. In 1984, Ronald Regan won 97% of the electoral votes, implying that almost all states in the country leaned in one direction. Since 1984, that number has periodically decreased, most noticeably seen in the 2016 and 2020 election where Biden and Trump won only 56% of the country’s electoral votes, respectively.  Now, one could argue that America is not the only country struggling with polarization, and other democracies across the world are facing the same issues. However, political polarization within Americans is growing faster than any other comparable democracy, according to Brown professor Jesse Shapiro and his colleagues. In fact, according to their study, polarization has decreased in the past 40 years within countries such as the UK, Australia, Norway and Sweden.  Although there are a multitude of reasons as to why American polarization is increasing at such a fast rate, there are forces that share more of the blame than others. One factor that is relatively unique to the U.S. is the rise of 24 hour partisan cable news. According to Shapiro’s study, countries that have seen a decrease in polarization have allocated more in public broadcasting than the United States. Although it is easy to blame the internet as another major cause of political polarization across the world, the countries that have seen a decrease in polarization during the rise of the internet disprove this point. According to PNAS, greater internet use is not correlated with faster growth of polarization within different groups of Americans. This statistic isn’t meant to discredit the adverse effects that social media and the internet can have through promoting echo-chambers, but only intended to highlight the fact that polarization is more deeply rooted within our society.   Now that we have established the problem of polarization within America and how we are doing worse off with this issue compared to the rest of the world, it is important to consider different things anyone can do to help solve this issue. While depolarization will come over time, Americans need to act with urgency to prevent this issue and to make sure future generations do not live in such a divided society. The best thing we can do at this point in time is to expose ourselves to media and content that we do not agree with and to empathize with opposing groups before reaching conclusions. Another method is to actively seek people within our community that we disagree with and have a civil conversation with them in order to better understand their perspective and to see if there are any commonalities. Most importantly, we must put in the effort to truly listen and understand before responding in a defensive manner, and always enter these conversations with an open mindset.  If we all begin implementing these practices within our daily lives, our society will surely progress and transform into a space that is more inclusive and united as a whole.