March 15, 2024

Kilmer Introduces Legislation to Reduce Polarization and Support Community Bridgebuilding

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-06) and Andy Barr (KY-06) introduced the Building Civic Bridges Act (BCBA), bipartisan legislation to support communities in addressing sources of division by aiding local civic and community organizations. These efforts aim to confront contentious issues and, ultimately, bridge divides.

A January 2022 NBC News poll revealed that 70% of Americans believe the country’s deep divisions prevent it from addressing major issues, a significant increase from 45% in 2010. This growing polarization raises concerns about the stability of American democracy. The poll also found that 76% of Americans, cutting across party lines, see democracy and majority rule in the U.S. as being at risk.

The Bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship has highlighted a discrepancy in the U.S. government’s approach to fostering social cohesion. While the National Endowment for Democracy invests millions overseas in civic bridgebuilding to strengthen democracy, similar efforts are absent in the U.S.

To address this gap, the BCBA aims to position the federal government as a central player in efforts to unify the nation and reinforce the foundations of American democracy. The BCBA would introduce a non-partisan pilot program under a new Office of Civic Bridgebuilding within AmeriCorps, dedicated to fostering connections across diverse groups. This office would have the authority to distribute federal grants competitively to support civic organizations and initiatives that promote civic engagement and bridgebuilding within the U.S.

“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,” said Rep. Kilmer. “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. 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.”

“Our nation was founded on civic engagement and rigorous debate to achieve the ultimate good,” said Rep. Barr. “I am proud to join my friend, Rep. Derek Kilmer in introducing this legislation to provide resources to revitalize our civic culture and bring our country together.”

The pilot program created by the BCBA would include four pillars:

  1. 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;
  2. Supporting the training of AmeriCorps members in civic bridgebuilding skills and techniques;
  3. Supporting research on civic bridgebuilding, civic engagement, and social cohesion; and
  4. 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.

“Through the division and bigotry of past years, one truth about the American people has remained: our diversity is our strength. It has never been more important to see the humanity in one another and seek to foster meaningful community across our nation,” said Rep. Lucy McBath. “No matter one’s race, religion, sexuality, education, or zip code, we all stand to be made stronger by supporting each other. I am proud to support this legislation once again and I urge my fellow Americans of every color and creed to continue to build relationships and push back against the forces that seek to tear down and divide us.”

“I’m proud to join Congressman Derek Kilmer and Congressman Andy Barr as a cosponsor of the Building Civic Bridges Act,” said Rep. Jenniffer González Colón. “This bipartisan legislation will establish a grant program focused on building relationships across lines of difference, offer associated training for AmeriCorps members, support research efforts, and facilitate public discourse. With this initiative, we will support community-led endeavors aimed at mitigating the underlying factors contributing to polarization and division, all while bolstering civic engagement and enhancing our collective capacity to tackle the most critical challenges facing our nation.”

“The strength of our communities is dependent on our ability to work together even when we don’t see eye to eye on every issue,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal. “And with polarization in our nation deepening divisions, we need to ensure the federal government is an active partner in building bridges of understanding that can strengthen that foundation of common purpose, community, and democracy. I’m proud to join members of the House from both sides of the aisle who are committed to bridging those divides to introduce this nonpartisan and community-minded legislation.”

The BCBA is supported by America’s Service Commissions, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), American Council on Education, American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley, Association of American Universities (AAU), Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), Bates Technical College, Business for America, Business Roundtable, Campus Compact, Catholic Charities USA, Civility First, CoGenerate, Community 2.0, Constructive Dialogue Institute, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Divided We Fall, Fix Democracy First, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Future Caucus (formerly Millennial Action Project), Generation Citizen, Habitat for Humanity, Interfaith America, Lead for America, Listen First Project, More Perfect, Mormon Women for Ethical Government, Move for America, Multi-Faith Neighbors Network (MFNN) and Glocal Net, National Association of Counties (NACo), National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), National League of Cities, Nonprofit Association of Washington, Peace through Action USA, PEN America, Resolutionaries, Service Year Alliance, State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO), Tacoma Urban League, Tania Israel, Team Democracy, Third Way, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, University of Washington - Tacoma, Urban Rural Action, Voices for National Service, With Honor, YMCA of Pierce-Kitsap County, YMCA of the USA, YouthBuild, YVote/Next Generation Politics.

“America’s leading research universities play a key role in fostering civil discourse, and our members work every day with local, state, and federal partners to encourage civic bridgebuilding,” said Barbara Snyder, President of AAU. “AAU is proud to support the Building Civic Bridges Act as a simple, smart, evidence-based way of fighting polarization and encouraging meaningful dialogue.”

“In a recent Gartner survey, U.S. business executives ranked escalating political polarization as their second most important emerging risk. Toxic division among Americans isn’t only a threat to our social fabric and system of government; it’s also a barrier to our economic competitiveness,” said Sarah Bonk, founder of Business for America. “The business community is proud to back the bipartisan Building Civic Bridges Act, which is a pragmatic investment in proven solutions to help foster dialogue, bridge differences, and heal divides in our communities.”

“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 America. “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.”

“A poll by 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. These findings should be a wakeup call to all of us,” said John Bridgeland, CEO of More Perfect and former Director, White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush. “We can take action to help 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, co-sponsored by the bipartisan team of Representatives Derek Kilmer and Andy Barr and help support the civic organizations working to bridge partisan divides.”

“As an organization seeking to ensure safety, cultivate belonging, and create peace between people and within communities through volunteering and national service, Peace Through Action USA welcomes the Building Civic Bridges Act. Once enacted, the legislation would stimulate activities that foster respect between diverse communities, support social cohesion, and forge a sense of common civic purpose,” said Bob Reeg, CEO of Peace through Action USA. “We thank Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Andy Barr (R-KY), and other co-sponsors of the Building Civic Bridges Act for their civic leadership. We urge prompt passage of the legislation.”

“Our nation was founded on the freedom to dialogue, debate, and freely exchange ideas: integral to a thriving democracy,” said Kara Jarzynski, Executive Director, and Dennis Cohen, Founder and CEO of Resolutionaries. “Therefore, building bridges and talking across lines of difference are vital, patriotic acts. Without it, our nation falters, with dire consequences to our economy, dynamic threats to our national security, tragic tears to our communities, our schools, and our places of worship. With it, however, we are made strong. The Building Civic Bridges Act is much needed legislation. It is a key component of a wave of local and national programs responding to the need and desire of Americans to reduce the polarity and divisiveness in our country. Together, we can stop fighting over our problems, and start working together to solve them. Person-to-person, American-to-fellow American, the BCBA is a powerful step toward revitalizing the civic fabric of our great nation.”

“Across the country, communities are struggling with deep divisions across lines of race, religion, geography, and partisanship. At the same time, service years bring people together across lines of difference through a shared experience that builds cultural competency and civic engagement, and strengthens social cohesion in America,” said Kristen Bennett, CEO of Service Year Alliance. “We are grateful to Representatives Kilmer and Barr for their leadership in advancing national service’s capacity for civic bridge building through this bipartisan legislation. As we work to support AmeriCorps programs across the country in developing AmeriCorps members as life-long bridgers, we are excited to endorse the Building Civic Bridges Act as an essential tool in building a stronger civic fabric for our society.”

“The U.S. Chamber applauds Reps. Derek Kilmer and Andy Barr for reintroducing the Building Civic Bridges Act, a vital measure aimed at strengthening our communities and nurturing civil discourse,” said Allison Dembeck, Vice President of Education and Labor Advocacy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “This legislation is pivotal in furnishing local organizations with essential training resources to unite communities, effectively combat polarization, and confront shared challenges head-on. “

“Now more than ever we need to build bridges across differences in our nation. I strongly endorse the Building Civic Bridges Act as an important step in fostering the civil and respectful engagement needed to ensure better outcomes for our communities, institutions and families,” said Sheila Edwards Lange, Chancellor of the University of Washington Tacoma.

“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 Representatives Kilmer and Barr, and the other bipartisan House leaders, who have come together around this legislation with a goal of building relationships across lines of difference and strengthening civic engagement across the country.”

“With Honor Action commends Representative Derek Kilmer and Representative Andy Barr for introducing the Building Civic Bridges Act, especially as we recognize the continued commitment of Americans to national service during AmeriCorps Week,” said Rye Barcott, CEO and Co-Founder of With Honor Action. “We look forward to working together to seek more avenues for Americans to reconnect, rebuild, and restore a national sense of civic engagement.”

“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 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.”

For a one-pager on the BCBA, click here.

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