MIL-OSI USA: Sens. Coons, Sasse announce legislation to reduce polarization and support community bridgebuilding


US Senate News:

Source: United States Senator for Delaware Christopher Coons
WASHINGTON—Leading up to the celebration of Independence Day,  U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) today announced they would introduce a Senate companion to the Building Civic Bridges Act, bipartisan legislation that would empower communities to assist local civic and community organizations with ongoing efforts to address contentious civic issues and reduce polarization at the local level. The House companion bill was introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Was.) and Andy Barr (R-Ken.) in February.
“This bipartisan bill with Senator Sasse would strengthen America’s civic fabric as we approach the country’s birthday,” said Senator Coons. “The roots of democracy lie not in the halls of Congress, but in conversations between neighbors who see the word differently and seek to understand one another. This bill will play a crucial role in nourishing those roots, and I am grateful to Reps. Kilmer and Barr for helping spearhead this effort.”
“America only works if we pass the American idea onto the next generation and right now that isn’t happening as well as it should. Americans are capable of doing big things, and most of that begins at the local level— in rotary clubs, schools, and community non-profits. This bill recognizes that civics starts locally and it provides tools to these local communities to promote civic engagement,” said Senator Sasse.
“Universities have a unique role to play in fostering civil discussion, and that kind of earnest engagement across deep divides is more important now than ever before,” said Association of American Universities President Barbara R. Snyder. “I applaud Sens. Coons and Sasse for introducing the Building Civic Bridges Act in the Senate as a smart way to encourage civic engagement and to renew our commitment to democracy.”
“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.”
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the Building Civic Bridges Act and thanks the co-sponsors for crafting this important bill to help local communities foster civic discourse to address shared challenges.  We believe this bill would provide important tools to leaders in America address many challenges.  The Chamber supports this legislation,” said Neil L. Bradley, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
“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.”
“Whether at protest rallies or on social media, Americans have become adept at criticizing each other, often twisting the truth in the process.  But we have allowed our skills of respectful listening and building bridges across differences to atrophy. We urgently need initiatives that bring us together, not around a lowest common denominator, but around the intersection of our deepest convictions,” said Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Association of Evangelicals
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. Meanwhile, political polarization here at home continues to trend upward; 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 Building Civic Bridges Act would work to rectify this problem by creating a new non-partisan pilot program, led by an Office of Civic Bridgebuilding within AmeriCorps, focused on building relationships to increase public trust and reduce polarization. Among other things, the office would be empowered to allocate federal grants on a competitive basis to bolster civic organizations and support AmeriCorps members in developing skills that could bridge public divides.
A one-pager for this bill is available here.  
The bill text is here. 
A full list of supportive organizations and quotes is available here.