“I’m homeless,” wrote conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks recently. “I’m politically homeless.”
Congratulations, David — welcome to the movement of which Mediators Foundation is a vital part.
We have a new way of calling a taxi (it’s called Uber or Lyft), a new way of doing our homework or other research (online), new ways of sharing information (mobile phones), new ways of shopping (Amazon), and new ways of finding a date (such as match.com). So perhaps there are also new ways of finding our way home politically as well—and Mediators Foundation is incubating many of them.
I invite you — as I invite David Brooks and other politically “homeless” Americans — to check out of our current line-up of diverse projects. Our projects will not only interest Republicans like Brooks who feel homeless, but are relevant to the vast majority of Americans. You will see why my colleagues and I have brought our civic energy to Mediators Foundation — a “home” that bridges Left and Right and has room for all of us.
Brooks and others are waking up to the fact that a political party is not a “home.” Today, it is just a room in a “house divided.” Just as many Catholics once believed that a priest (or even the Pope) was their only pathway to God, many of us once believed that a party was our only pathway to politics. If we were not Democrats or Republicans, we were excommunicated from civic life. We were politically homeless.
But more and more Americans today are realizing that there is a new kind of political home. It’s so new that it’s old. It’s called being an “independent,” or a “problem-solver,” or a “bridge-builder” — in other words, people who think for themselves and are willing to work with people different from themselves to make America a better place.
Now if that sounds too optimistic, let me admit that it truly does appear to be a time of endarkenment.
On the surface, in the two years since I completed my book The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide, the movement that I described in its pages appears to be utopian. The partisan divide is not being “bridged;” it’s being widened. Civility has not increased; it has been trashed. The three core principles of the book — learning, relationships, and problem-solving — seem increasingly out of fashion. Instead, it is a time of personal attacks, harassment and stalemate.
On this level of outward appearances, the crisis has only gotten worse, and my book was nothing more than a cry in the wilderness. My own work for the last quarter century, and the work of the dozens of organizations that I describe in my book (many of whom are members of the Bridge Alliance, profiled below), may seem fruitless.
While I firmly believe that, on a deeper level, there has been amazing progress in these past two years, this bleaker narrative is not unfamiliar to me. Compared to what I had hope for our country when I worked on the Bipartisan Congressional Retreats in the late 1990s, the USA is in far worse shape than I would ever have imagined. And the field of which I am a part — whether called civic renewal, or democracy reform, or transpartisan politics—seems to have failed in its mission.
At the request of a team of journalists working for the GroundTruth Project, (http://thegroundtruthproject.org/democracy-inside-job-2/), I reflected on this apparent failure, acknowledged the shortcomings of our work, and described the work that still lies ahead But if we dig a little deeper, we notice a profound shift under the surface. It is an awakening to the fact that our democracy is seriously and systemically ill — and that the remedies need to be serious and systemic as well.
What evidence do I find for this more optimistic observation? Here are five quick glimpses beneath the surface:
On this deeper and catalytic level of sociopolitical change, we are looking forward to the first quarter of 2018 with energy and confidence. Because of the intensifying political dysfunction in America, interest in the work of Mediators Foundation has increased rapidly. Faced with such intense polarization, more and more concerned citizens seem to be drawn to crossing the divide. And many of them are turning to Mediators Foundation with their projects — and their hopes.
Because we appreciate your support for our work, either with your financial resources or your energy and talent, we want to let you have a closer look at what you so kindly helped to make possible. Without you, the progress we describe below would not have come to be. Thanks to generous support from key allies, we have almost succeeded in matching a grant from an anonymous donor: we are only $5000 short of our goal. Like any independent not-for-profit organization these days, our work depends on our donors. So if you, or anyone you know, cares about the kinds of projects that are being housed under our roof, please be in touch!
And in this holy season, let’s remember: No matter how things look on the surface, there is movement underneath. Although these are dark and troubling times, the light is just as real, and far more inspiring. To conclude here is my daughter-in-law Sashi Gerzon-Rose’s favorite Leonard Cohen quote:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: to my colleague John Steiner, for continuing to reach out and build the movement outlined in this letter; to our project leaders, who have built their respective initiatives with determination and vision; to my assistant Eve Penberthy, who brings new energy and talent to our team; to our donors, who have given us the vital financial support we have needed to move forward; and to our families, who give us their encouragement in ways that only they possibly can.
Philanthropy Bridging Divides
Living Room Conversations
On Common Ground
Solarizing Puerto Rico
Wisdom Beyond Borders
Active Peace/Restorative Justice
In mid-November of 2017 a small group of philanthropic leaders gathered at Pocantico, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s conference center, for a confidential conversation about philanthropy’s role during these contentious and divided times.
Many of us have had conversations over the course of this year with friends and colleagues about the declining quality of discourse in our country on matters of great consequence. Society seems divided in so many ways that inhibit reflection, compromise, and the discovery of common ground. Stephen Heintz, RBF’s president, hosted a small and diverse group of leaders in philanthropy, representing left, right, and center to discuss whether, despite our ideological differences and specific philanthropic goals, there might be some ways to work together to try to help heal our society.
The group explored how we can make a difference and if we can find a way to work with diverse philanthropic leaders who share very different views. We discussed a wide variety of possible way philanthropists could help our nation have a better conversation about our differences and our future.
Although we did not have a specific outcome in mind, a number of potential next steps emerged which we intend to explore in the coming months. One of these outcomes involves catalyzing ongoing conversations within philanthropy, and perhaps beyond.
The meeting was co-initiated and organized by Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers’ Fund, Mediators Foundation’s Mark Gerzon and John Steiner, and Chris Gates, former, vice president of the Council on Foundations . At the direct request of those involved, details about who attended and the next steps to which they agreed will remain private.
Contact Mark Gerzon at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This organization – now 83 organizations strong, which started as a gleam in Mark and John’s eyes, has been incubated by Mediators Foundation since its beginning in early 2015. It has grown and flourished and we’re about to end serving as the organization’s 501c3 umbrella as it is increasingly independent. We are proud to have served this field in this way. John continues as a Bridge Alliance board member. For more information go to: http://www.bridgealliance.us/
Contact Debilyn at: email@example.com
We continue to explore avenues for magnifying the voice of citizens and organizations from All Sides, who are working together with civility and respect to resolve the great issues we face. Whether Left,Right, Center or Transpartisan, many Americans are crossing the divides in remarkable, inspiring ways. Under the leadership of John Steiner, Mediators Foundation has become a sponsor of Listen First Charlottesville — http://www.listenfirstproject.org/listen-first-in-charlottesville-event/ — and has taken the lead in organizing a series of Jeffersonian dinners at Monticello the evening before the event. John will also be attending Unrig the System Summit — https://unrigsummit.com/ — in New Orleans, February 2-4, 2018 – where he is convening and hosting a conversation among national, bridge organization leaders to explore catalyzing an AllSides/Bridge/Transpartisan constituency. John is also serving as an advisor to a National Day of Conversation, scheduled for March 2018. In addition, we continue in conversation with Mayor Mike Rawlings of Dallas and now with civic leaders in Atlanta to host Citizen Summit 2019 — a third convention on collaboration. In Salt Lake City on January 19th., 2018, a second Utah Citizen Summit will be held. Mediators Foundation initiated the first one in November, 2016 and worked closely with our Utah colleagues who put it on. http://www.utahcitizensummit.org. During that ceremony, Mark Gerzon and John Steiner received Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Contact John at: firstname.lastname@example.org
From project director Debilyn Molineaux:
Living Room Conversations is having an expansive year. The highlight is Joan Blades’ TEDWomen Talk, “The Power of Partnership” with conservative partner John Gable, founder of AllSides. We’re developing tools—a beautiful, easy-to-use, mobile-friendly website; a directory, a Facebook page and soon, an app–to help people find each other and organize their own conversations. We now have vetted Conversation Guides on over 60 topics.
Video Living Room Conversations are taking off. These are phenomenal—easy to use, surprisingly intimate, really diverse, bringing people together literally from across the nation–all in the comfort of their own homes. Faith community use of Living Room Conversations is growing: in addition to a northern California Episcopal diocese, two
Jewish Community Centers have had us help them organize conversations warmly received and enthusiastically attended. Minnesota organizers have for over a year developed a thriving Living Room Conversations Community in Minneapolis using the Status and Privilege conversation. One of the organizers on staff with a local community college has begun leading that same conversation with 75 faculty and staff of her college at a time, because the college itself has written us right into their official diversity and inclusion plan! The entire Minnesota State College and University System is interested in Living Room Conversations as a result, and exploring formal partnership with us. Our partnership with AllSides bringing Living Room Conversations into middle and high schools–called AllSides for Schools–is now in 46 states.
Contact Debilyn at: email@example.com
On Common Ground aims to assert a new narrative about the value of our public lands: It is a narrative rooted not in facts and figures but in emotion and personal history. It is a narrative that creates a new positive understanding of what these publicly held lands have meant to us across our history, what they mean to us now, and how our relationship to them can help shape our future. This is a multi-year endeavor utilizing the highest quality creative producers and storytellers in the business. By featuring diverse individuals with a common mindset, we reach across the aisle and across the land.
Contact Sarah at: firstname.lastname@example.org
VoterRX™ will leverage a highly successful 90-second NatureRX© video (“The best drug commercial you’ll ever see” – Outside Magazine) that went viral. Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Justin Bogardus, NatureRX© has has over 40 million aggregate views on social media (3+ million on YouTube and many million views on various Facebook posts). VoterRX™ represents the natural evolution for Justin Bogardus and the creative team behind Nature RX in refining this successful spoof RX satire model, tracking its impact and measuring outcomes in voter turnout and civic engagement. In his TEDx talk about NatureRX©(“Does Nature have a marketing problem”), Justin lays out poignantly and humorously how this RX satire approach is uniquely innovative and can adapt to many important and valuable messages by understanding how the human mind works and what kinds of messages actually mobilize action. VoterRX™ is well positioned and timely, considering faith in US democratic processes and voter turnout is consistently at all time low levels in American history. Contact Justin for more info on his unique RX creative
approach and any interest you may have in supporting this viral video campaign for a healthy vibrant democracy.
Contact Justin at: email@example.com
BridgeUSA is a national organization, now on eleven college campuses, started by college students at the University of Colorado and the University of Notre Dame. Mediators Foundation hosted a gathering at CU in 2015 that led to BridgeCU. John sits on their national board. Bridge USA encourages virtuous discourse on college campuses across the country (https://www.bridgeusa.org/).
We believe that good governance starts with constructive political discussion, so our organization works to foster spaces that bring students together through civil discourse about diverse ideas.Ultimately, BridgeUSA intends to break down the barriers that otherwise keep America’s political opposites from meeting and talking with one another. It starts with the students of today: the politicians, professors, business teachers, and active citizens of tomorrow.
In the past year, we have expanded our leadership team to include five new teammates in addition to the two co-founders. We also have fostered relationships with other organizations in the Bridge Alliance to partner on grants, co-host events on campuses, and plan a conference for April 2018. Additionally, we are in the process of breaking off from our fiscal sponsor to become our own independent non-profit organization, running on a model that includes a board of directors in addition to our organization’s team members.
BridgeUSA has active chapters on eleven college campuses with more to start in coming months. We are excited to be mobilizing thousands of students in our events, allowing them to learn about and engage in virtuous discourse.
Contact Courtlyn at: Courtlyn.Carpenter@colorado.edu
An initiative of Golden Triad, and led by Mari Plaza-Munet, Solarizing Puerto Rico is working to help businesses owners from around the world provide long-term solar energy equipment to small business owners, entrepreneurs, and eco-farms in Puerto Rico, so they are once again empowered to stand on their own after the devastating Hurricane Maria. As power is restored, this project also holds the long-term goal of saving small businesses, entrepreneurs, and farms thousands of dollars currently spent on petroleum based electricity bills by replacing it with solar energy.
Contact Mari at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wisdom Beyond Borders is a fund, administered by Mediators Foundation, to support the work of individual wisdom teachers and leaders through honoraria–a kind of private MacArthur Award.
Because these recipients are people whose work is well recognized and understood and in order to simplify their lives, the money is offered freely, with no strings attached and with no expectation of written reports.
Contact John at: email@example.com
For the past year, we have been working closely with a network of practitioners who are experienced in a variety of cutting-edge methods for bridging divides, building community and forging common ground among diverse stakeholders. We are exploring creating a teaching/learning community that would connect with others doing similar work around the country and that would convene seminars and workshops to disseminate the knowledge of our experienced Boulder and perhaps nationally-based faculty with individuals and organizations who would benefit from it.
Contact John at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to the efforts of Josue Romualdo, who serves both as project director and was my former assistant, this project has now developed a strong funding proposal which has been shared with potential donors. We are committed to supporting undocumented residents of Boulder County by connecting them to the support services they need, and this project, when funded, will allow us to play a small but significant role in meeting this need.
After working on this project, Josue was excited to be offered a full-time staff job in Washington, D.C. from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. So we are looking for a project director, preferably bilingual, who can maintain the momentum that Josue built on this timely and vital local project.
Contact Eve at: email@example.com
The Naptime Project is a platform that connects parent “pen pals” from different political backgrounds who can email or text one another periodically to share stories and tips, as well as provides access to an accompanying social media group. The concept is fairly simple: get people who hold very different political and cultural beliefs to talk about topics other than that – at least at first. During the few precious hours parents get to themselves while their babies are napping, they often ask the question, “What’s the most important thing I can do with this time?” The Naptime Project gives them an opportunity to do something fun – and meaningful – while providing a social outlet to combat the isolation new parents often feel.
Contact Cara at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Active Peace Initiative is community-level organizing and training that puts peace into practice using the principles and practices of nonviolence and restorative justice. Its goal is to align the longing for peace and justice with a practical and transformative way to bring it about.
Specifically, The Community Healing Initiative offers a transformational approach to social change using the principles and practices of nonviolence and restorative justice. Two full day trainings in four cities will empower changemakers with the tools needed to address
even the most challenging issues and their root causes. The Initiative fills a leadership vacuum wherein some of the most basic tenets of nonviolent social change are not understood and practiced. It was formed with the understanding that the principles and practices of restorative justice should not just be limited to the justice system. At its root the initiative holds that the most challenging issues, from gun violence to race relations, systemic sexual abuse to environmental concerns, can be addressed while communities are strengthened.
Contact Scottat: email@example.com
The purpose of this project is to show that Democrats and Republicans can work through their political ideologies, put aside the fiery language that plagues news coverage, and work together in finding common ground to develop policy proposals. Through a three-part process of learning, experimenting, and sharing, this project helps build a community of “byepartisans” that can lead the way towards successful collaboration across party divides.
Contact Arohi at: firstname.lastname@example.org