02.25.22

9 Democrats, 9 Republicans Introduce Legislation to Reduce Polarization and Support Community Bridgebuilding

Bill Would Create Non-Partisan Pilot Program Within AmeriCorps to Support Community Civic Bridgebuilding, Build Relationships Across Lines of Difference

Washington, DC – Today, nine Republicans and nine Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Building Civic Bridges Act - bipartisan legislation to empower communities to tackle sources of division while assisting local civic and community organizations with ongoing efforts to address contentious issues and ultimately, bridge divides.

According to an NBC News poll conducted in January 2022, 70 percent of Americans agree with the statement that “America has become so polarized that it can no longer solve the major issues facing the country — and that those differences will only continue to grow” – up from 45 percent in 2010. The increase in polarization is prompting serious doubts about whether American democracy is under threat. That same NBC News poll showed that 76 percent of Americans — including 7 in 10 Democrats, Republicans, and independents — “believe there is a threat to democracy and majority rule in this country.”

A recent report from the Bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship points out that the U.S. government spends tens of millions of dollars through the National Endowment for Democracy trying to foster social cohesion and support civic bridgebuilding in other countries to strengthen democracy abroad — yet it does none of that work here in the United States.

The Building Civic Bridges Act would establish the federal government as a key partner in the deliberate effort to bridge divides and strengthen American democracy. The legislation would create a new non-partisan pilot program, led by an Office of Civic Bridgebuilding within AmeriCorps, focused on building relationships across lines of difference. Among other things, the office would be empowered to allocate federal grants on a competitive basis to bolster civic organizations and spaces that are dedicated to the revitalization of civic culture and bridgebuilding in the United States.

“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. 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,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06). “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.”

The pilot program created by the Building Civic Bridges Act will have four core pillars:

  • 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;
  • Supporting the training of AmeriCorps members in civic bridgebuilding skills and techniques;
  • Supporting research on civic bridgebuilding, civic engagement, and social cohesion; and
  • 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—providing resources, network, and collaboration opportunities to the field.

A broad coalition of civic, academic, community, and faith leaders and organizations have announced their support for the legislation, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Bridge Alliance, Citizens League, Community Mediation Minnesota, Convergence, Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), FixUS, the Islamic Center of Tacoma, Lead for America, Listen First Project, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), Office of Collaboration and Dispute Resolution at the Minnesota Department of Administration, Partnership for American Democracy, Service Year Alliance, Voices for National Service, YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, YOUnify, YMCA of the USA, Vice Chairman of Service Year Alliance & Former Director of White House Domestic Policy Council John Bridgeland, George Mason University Associate Professor of Policy & Government Justin Gest, former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), Veterans for Political Innovation Founder Todd Connor, National Civic League President Doug Linkhart, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress President Glenn Nye, International Republican Institute Board Member and former U.S. Rep. James T. Kolbe (R-AZ), Minnesota State Reps. JoAnn Ward (D) and Sandy Layman (R).

The legislation is co-led by: Rep. Derek Kilmer, Rep. Andy Barr, Rep. Lucy McBath, Rep. William Timmons, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Tom Reed, Rep. Joe Courtney, Rep. John Katko, Rep. Mondaire Jones, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, Rep. Debbie Dingell, Rep. Fred Upton, Rep Ted Deutch, Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, Rep. Glenn Thompson, Rep. Dean Phillips, and Rep. Don Bacon.

Statements of Support:

“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 Youth Core (IFYC). “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.”

“Toxic polarization and partisanship have become top concerns of leaders and citizens across sectors and parties; yet the core solution of bringing Americans together through ‘bridging’ programs has received scant attention,” said David Eisner, CEO of Convergence. “Thank you to Representative Kilmer for focusing Congress and the nation’s attention on the urgent need to lift and support the thousands of emerging bridging organizations and programs. This vision, along with the work it supports, offer urgently needed and hopeful pathways for Americans to come together across our differences in communities across the country to address our common problems.”

“One of the urgent challenges facing our nation is the rise in hyper-partisanship and the political polarization of so many aspects of our lives—a dynamic that is often manipulated and exploited by violent extremists seeking to disrupt our democratic institutions. We are pleased to support the Building Civic Bridges Act, which offers a creative and forward-thinking approach to bridging partisan divides and strengthening civic engagement in local communities across the country,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director, ADL.

“Recent polling by the 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. It should be a wakeup call to all of us,” John Bridgeland, Vice Chairman, Service Year Alliance & Former Director, White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush. “Right now, we must take action to 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 and help support the civic organizations already working to bridge partisan divides.”

“Polarization is one of the greatest threats to our democracy today. Yet, in communities across America, faith and civic leaders have created a groundswell of momentum to bridge the political, social, and economic divisions between us. American civil society is a silent strength of our democracy,” said Zeenat Rahman, Executive Director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. “I applaud Rep. Kilmer and the co-sponsors of the Building Civic Bridges Act for their work to provide federal support to help bolster these critical efforts.”

“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 the bipartisan House and Senate leaders who have come together around this legislation with a goal of building relationships across lines of difference through service.”

“Now more than ever, our country is grappling with deep divisions across lines of race, religion, geography, and partisanship. National service has long been a critical tool to address and overcome toxic polarization, bringing young Americans from different walks of life together in common purpose to solve local problems, fuel civic renewal, and cultivate empathy,” said Kristen Bennett, Chief Strategy Officer of Service Year Alliance. “We are grateful to Rep. Kilmer for his leadership in advancing national service’s capacity for civic bridgebuilding through this bipartisan legislation, which includes grant funding to support local civic resilience projects through AmeriCorps as well as training for AmeriCorps members. Service Year Alliance is eager to support this effort to build a stronger civic fabric for our society.”

“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 the 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.”

“We at the Islamic Center of Tacoma support the Building Civic Bridge Act. Now more than ever it is vital that we work together to build bridges. These past few years, divisiveness, lack of respect, and refusal to listen, have broken down our communities and our country as a whole. This bill is an effort to restore peace and order,” said Alaa Alshaibani, Assistant Director of the Islamic Center of Tacoma. “Our center was attacked last October, in addition to several attacks of places of worship along the Puget Sound, and we came together to call for solidarity. We learned a hard lesson in that we cannot wait for tragedy to arise before coming together. With the passing of this bill, we will be taking a step forward in creating and contributing to space where people are seen and heard. This is not only important, it is necessary.”

“Young people believe in the power of inclusivity,” said Layla Zaidane, President & CEO of the Millennial Action Project (MAP). “By investing in the skills and programs which enable more inclusive communities, the Building Civic Bridges Act translates this idea into action. It is a direct solution to the toxic polarization that threatens the future of our country, and builds upon the innovative ways young people have already connected across divides. As a member of MAP's Future Caucus, Rep. Kilmer has long sought to build bridges among his own peers, and his leadership on this issue can help create a more empathetic — and effective — democracy.”

“Toxic polarization - the way we demonize each other across differences - is a grave threat to our families, communities and country. The resulting personal pain and national fear is increasing by the day,” said Pearce Godwin, Founder of Listen First Project and the #ListenFirst Coalition of 400+ organizations bringing Americans together across differences. “I’m grateful that Congressman Kilmer is addressing this urgent crisis with meaningful action as this bill would turbocharge the bridging movement already powered by hundreds of organizations coast to coast who are committed to a future in which we honor difference without disunion.”

"Former generals, national security officials, and historians worry that our nation is on the brink of violence. Their warnings serve as a rallying call to the dozens of organizations and millions of Americans who know our disagreements don't have to end this way. Thank you to Representative Kilmer for supporting the critical infrastructure we need to counteract forces of division in our communities and work toward solutions together,” said Jillian Youngblood, Executive Director of Civic Genius.

“The Partnership for American Democracy is proud to support the Building Civic Bridges Act.  Americans' familiarity with, understanding, and ability to respectfully relate to people from different backgrounds is a foundation for healthy participation in civic and democratic life,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Partnership for American Democracy. “At this time of deep polarization and division, the Building Civic Bridges Act elevates the critical work of those working to bridge divides in service of their communities as well as in service to our nation.”

“Relationships are built at the speed of trust, and social change happens at the speed of relationship. Our deep divides illustrate the need for relationship-building more than ever to truly achieve the potential of our nation. I commend the co-sponsors of the Building Civic Bridges Act for recognizing this deep need and identifying practical steps for national healing,” said Rev. Jennifer Bailey, Founder & Executive Director, Faith Matters Network.

Support from Legislative Co-Leads

“As Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Working Group (BPWG), I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this legislation born out of the discussions in our group.  Our nation was founded on civic engagement and rigorous debate to achieve the ultimate good. This legislation will provide resources to revitalize our civic culture and bring our country together to confront the issues of our day. I want to thank my friend and Co-Chair of BPWG, Rep. Derek Kilmer, for his leadership on this bill and I look forward to this legislation moving through Congress,” said Rep. Andy Barr (KY-06), Co-Chair of the BPWG.

“Across this great nation, our diversity is our strength,” said Rep. Lucy McBath (GA-06). “This uniquely American ideal has never been more important at a time when civil discord has placed a significant strain on our ability to recognize the humanity within every fellow citizen, no matter their race or religion, sex or sexuality, education or zip code. I am proud to support this legislation which will encourage Americans of every color and creed to build relationships and push back against the forces that seek to tear down and divide us.”

“Since entering Congress, it has been my guiding belief that the best way to solve the problems our nation faces is by coming together and working toward a solution rather than retreating into our partisan corners. I believe this same principle can be applied at the community level to tackle our increasingly polarized society and foster civic bridgebuilding and community reconciliation,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01). “I am proud to support the bipartisan Building Civic Bridges Act, which will expand the national civic bridgebuilding movement and provide our communities with avenues to build relationships across lines of difference.”

“While it’s inevitable that the American people will hold a range of views on political and social issues, Americans should be able to debate with one another in a humane and respectful way, trying in good faith to understand why those with opposing views think the way they do,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL-07). “That’s why I’m proud to co-lead this bipartisan bill to boost efforts to build bridges of understanding between diverse individuals and communities in this country. I hope these conversations lead to a growing recognition that, as Americans, there is more that unites us than divides us.” 

“Establishing and maintaining relationships, despite political and other differences, is crucial to the functioning of a vibrant democracy like the United States.  That’s why I’m proud to join Congressman Kilmer in introducing the bipartisan Building Civic Bridges Act, which would establish a pilot program within AmeriCorps to support community-led efforts that help address some of the root causes of polarization and division, while strengthening civic engagement and our ability to work together to solve our nation’s most pressing issues,” said Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (PR).

“Our country is divided, and hate, fear, and polarization continue to threaten our democracy. We need to bring people together and focus on the things that unite us – not those that tear us apart. I am proud to support the bipartisan Building Civic Bridges Act, which will provide critical resources that empower our communities to begin repairing these divides,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI-12).

“Polarization is undermining progress in our country,” said Rep. John Katko (NY-24). “Without diversity, we hinder our domestic and international goals as a nation. That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Building Civic Bridges Act. This bipartisan legislation creates a pilot program within AmeriCorps focused on building relationships across lines of difference. I am hopeful this measure will yield positive results by promoting a greater level of understanding and cooperation in diverse communities across the country.”

“As Americans, there is more that unites us than divides us. Yet too often these unifying characteristics are hidden behind a level of polarization and division that makes it difficult to come together,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03). “The Building Civic Bridges Act will lay the groundwork for reversing this trend by investing in innovative programs to create space for Americans to bridge their differences and pursue common ground. By supporting civic bridgebuilding programs across the country, we are ensuring the strength of our democracy now and into the future.”

“We care about bringing our communities together and helping to heal our divides. That is why we are very proud to be an original co-sponsor of the bipartisan Building Civic Bridges Act. We must always strive to unite and overcome our differences for the good of our nation,” said Rep. Tom Reed (NY-23)

“Since my first day in Congress, I have gotten things done by working across the aisle. I truly believe we have much more that unites us than divides us,” said Rep. Fred Upton (MI-06). “This is as true at the highest levels of government as it is in city halls throughout Michigan. I am proud to co-lead the Building Civic Bridges Act to foster meaningful bipartisan cooperation to produce real results for our state and country.” 

“As Co-Chair of the Congressional Service Organization Caucus, I know that Americans are more united than we are divided,” said Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (PA-15). “An important staple of American life is service to others and helping our neighbors. This bill will help strengthen our communities and the bonds that unite us.”

“The only way we are going to solve our nation’s biggest issues is by working together, both in Congress and in our communities back home. While we will not be able to fix the biggest problems overnight, change can begin by building relationships with people who think differently than us at a local level. This is why the Building Civic Bridges Act is so important, and I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this bipartisan bill,” said Rep. William Timmons (SC-04).

A one-pager of the legislation can be found HERE.

A Section-by-Section bill summary can be found HERE.

Bill text can be found HERE.