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“In our rapidly polarizing nation, the work of BridgeUSA is more vital each year. That’s why I support BridgeUSA financially, and that’s why Heterodox Academy gave Bridge its Outstanding Student Group Award for 2018.“
– Jonathan Haidt, Author & Professor, NYU
“When political transformations happen, students almost always lead the way. The student founders and leaders of BridgeUSA are leading a positive political transformation in America. BridgeUSA’s campus leaders have the energy, dedication, and skill to end this cycle of hate and help us reclaim our democracy.“
– Bill Shireman, CEO, Future 500
“BridgeUSA…which already has chapters on over 25 campuses, is one of the leading student organizations dedicated to facilitating constructive political discussion.“
– Fortune Magazine
“Dialogue may not be the endpoint at this critical juncture in American democracy, but it presents an important alternative model to the better-publicized forms of on-campus political speech.“
– Washington Post on BridgeUSA
What We Can Learn About Leadership and Addressing Dissent Today From MLK Jr.
Jessica Carpenter In 2022, we are living through one of the most polarizing times in modern American history. With the COVID-19 pandemic at the center of many debates, followed by topics of education, voting, climate change, and human rights, getting the public anywhere close to agreeing on something seems impossible. This division is further reflected on a community level through our relationships, classrooms and workplaces. Today, the only guidance for how to address these differences is what we see displayed by our leaders. The outline, so far, has been villainization, blaming, and divisive rhetoric, which has only exacerbated the problem. Born in a century characterized by influential figures, voices and changemakers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could be called one of the greatest leaders in American history. His contributions to American society emboldened millions in the call for equality and welcomed long overdue societal change that we are still perfecting today. Despite many odds, MLK Jr. led one of the most successful movements for racial justice in American history. He did this through promotion of empathy, prospect and constructive engagement. Dr. King’s wave of peaceful protests and powerful words during the Civil Rights Movement drafted an outline for future leaders, offering examples for rallying people behind shared values and creating unity. Although his teachings remain static in history, we find that they are still applicable today. “Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” In the face of current dissent, violence and exclusion have once again become the default response. In return, the public has been led to believe that it is through these means we must choose which conversations, which political party, which issues and solutions prevail. As long as the current approach remains unchallenged, what solutions are found in its wake will be tarnished by a foundation of baleful motivations. Remedying this starts with constructive engagement. Change today should come from constructive disagreement over division, and empathy over exclusion. MLK Jr. was battling centuries of racism and intolerance when he led the March on Washington. But, without his dedication to engaging those who disagreed with him, the civil rights movement wouldn’t have been as successful as it was. And it is through similar means that we will achieve a sound foundation to create change. “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” A common misconception for addressing disagreements today is to change minds and force agreement. We see this in Congress when bipartisan consensus is replaced with partisan majorities after a common solution hasn’t been found. What our current leaders should understand is that motivating those around us doesn’t start with everyone being in full agreement, but instead with having a shared goal. Many debates today are rung through partisan divides, and result in inaction from both sides because we believe we’re working toward different goals. In fact, the reality is much different when you actually sit down for a conversation. According to The Atlantic, Americans aren’t as extreme as they believe each other to be, and may even be able to agree on a number of the same problems. Instead of forcing consensus, we should take this opportunity of nuance to mold a better path to address disagreement. “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.” Now one of his most recited quotes, this message of working together is one of the most unfathomable. Between President Joe Biden’s speeches shunning Republican lawmakers on voting reform, and turning vaccinated against unvaccinated on COVID-19, to cheers of “Let’s Go Brandon” echoed by lawmakers and public figures, to political commentators using polarizing rhetoric to stir audiences every night, animosity toward those who think differently than us has reached a new high. Over the last few years, we have forgotten that America was built on diversity of opinion and background. It was once the backbone of our greatest advancements in technology, social and economic justice, and democracy. MLK Jr. recognized this sentiment, and utilized it at the core of his movement. As influential figures in this new age of polarization, our leaders should be following that example, and working to bring people back together. “Let’s build bridges, not walls.” The final lesson that we can borrow from history is that of building bridges. Many organizations today are working to recreate these bridges through having constructive dialogue in their communities. BridgeUSA is one of these organizations leading positive change on college campuses around the nation. Through their work, thousands of students have had discussions across the aisle and learned to utilize empathy and constructive engagement to address dissent and become better leaders on campus. Until this same initiative is echoed by our political leaders, we will continue to fall behind in addressing pressing issues impacting our country. Incorporating the intent to work across the aisle and incorporate ideas from different perspectives ultimately creates better solutions all around and is more reflective of what our country needs. Seldom are these solutions found through obstructing those in opposition. The Civil Rights Movement challenged the public to reflect on their views and break barriers that kept society divided. MLK Jr. welcomed opposition in his endeavors, and strived for improvement through that. His practices of empathy, prospect and constructive engagement inspired change on a massive front, and created a movement carried by individuals who shared these ideals and were driven by their shared goal for a better future. These teachings may lend a hand in shaping the next steps for our country today, and can serve as a guide for leadership and disagreement in our time of division.
A Reflection of American Democracy
A Reflection of American Democracy
By Manu Meel There is a deep tension between what I know to be true of the United States and her people and what we have become accustomed to in the last 20 years. I am a son of immigrants beyond grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to live in the greatest country the world has ever known. Simply put, I would not be who I am today without the United States of America. Yet, at the age of 23, my lived history of the United States includes the worst attack on the American homeland since Pearl Harbor, two of the longest and costliest wars in American history, a recession only second to the Great Depression, the largest mobilization of racial justice protests since the 60s, and a pandemic that has cost 800,000+ American lives. And on January 6th 2021, I witnessed the most brazen attack on our democracy. While my spirit brims with a deep sense of patriotism, optimism, and love for our American story, reality forces me to consider cynicism and skepticism. I was deeply saddened by the events of January 6th, but I was not surprised. We as Americans pride ourselves on being an introspective bunch. So, let’s be honest with ourselves: most young people my age know a 20-year history battered by failures, not a democracy defined by boundless progress. On January 6th, people chose division over empathy, violence over deliberation, and politics over democracy. On that day, Americans justified their assault on the symbol of the most ambitious democratic experiment in the history of humanity with patriotism, civil disobedience, and allegiance to one man. But these choices were not just confined to January 6th. Every day, we as Americans are choosing to be our own worst enemy. We give in to our impulse for tribal conflict. We choose to live in a world of absolutes. And we prioritize sensational rhetoric over nuanced disagreement. Now, let me be clear: those who attacked the Capitol on January 6th were Donald Trump supporters and they should be held responsible. But we would be foolish to assume that the events of that day exist in a vacuum. We as a country must reckon with the fact that if we continue on our path of absolutism, polarization, and social media driven politics, January 6th will not be the last, but one of many dates that will live in infamy. And Donald Trump will not be the last, but the first of many leaders on both the Left and the Right who will exploit popular anger for electoral gains. As a young person, all I ask of those in charge is to be honest. Be honest with yourselves. Be honest with the American people. And most importantly, be honest with the spirit of the Constitution and our Founding. Our Founders built a deliberative democracy because they rejected absolute truths and prided themselves on intellectual humility. They believed in equality, liberty, and opportunity as north stars. And they recognized that our American story rests on a passion for reasoned and vigorous, yet constructive disagreement. We do not need to rediscover how we right the ship; our Founding has all the answers. If we as a people truly want to overcome the setback that our democracy suffered on January 6th, we must be intellectually humble, willing to listen beyond our own beliefs, and restore our appetite for being disagreeable. If our citizenry reflects empathy, humility, and constructive disagreement, not even the most brazen of politicians will be able to tear us apart. Ultimately, the fundamental unit of our democracy is people- us. We decide who is elected. We decide which laws are passed. And we decide what type of information on social media to read. The next time we complain about the state of our union, we better be ready to criticize our own actions because we are at fault for where we are as a democracy. While the reality of my short-lived history sometimes challenges my strong faith in the American story, I choose not to succumb to the cynicism of the moment. I actively make that choice because the American story has always been defined by a boldness in spirit that has overcome the longest of odds. I do not have the evidence to explain away the skeptics. Nor am I certain which policy prescriptions are needed to strengthen our democracy. But I am certain that if we give in now, we are ceding ground to those who want to divide.
Understanding Different Perspectives of Some American Holidays
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.