Their Proposal Creates a Non-Partisan Pilot Program Within AmeriCorps to Support Community Civic Bridgebuilding, Build Relationships Across Lines of Difference
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Congressman Andy Barr cosponsored 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. Congressman Barr is an original cosponsor of the bill that was a product of the Bipartisan Working Group (BPWG) that Congressman Barr is the co-Chairman of along with U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA).
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.
“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. Barr.
“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. Kilmer, who introduced the bill. “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.
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.
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.