Bridging the divide through courageous collaboration

The greatest advancements in human progress—social, scientific, or otherwise—have resulted from an exchange of ideas, not borne of a single thought. Unfortunately, the polarization that grips our country today threatens continued progress. We’ve splintered into factions that focus more on what divides us than unites us. Worse is that more people want to silence opposing viewpoints rather than listen to and learn from different perspectives. We’re working to end this vicious cycle. Uniting people from all walks of life who have the courage to not let their differences prevent them from collaborating on areas of shared concerns. It’s the key to unlocking solutions to the biggest challenges facing our country today.

Collaboration—even, and especially, with those who have different ideas—is the key to unlocking solutions to our country’s biggest problems.

Our vision in action

  • The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University protects free speech in the digital age. That includes studying and increasing public awareness of the threats to online speech and privacy and freedom of the press.
  • Professor Chris Medina resurrected a debate league for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that gained national prominence in the 1930s and was featured in the 2007 movie, The Great Debaters. With support from the Charles Koch Foundation, Professor Medina created a national speech and debate championship, after which the number of HBCUs with debate teams doubled.
  • StoryCorps’ One Small Step is counteracting our country’s polarization by bringing together people with different viewpoints for one-on-one, in-person conversations.

“The chief source of innovation in human society . . . is not the efforts of lonely geniuses thinking in solitude, but simply the exchange of ideas.” – Matt Ridley

Guiding principles and insights

Our differences and openness to new ideas are essential to progress

Gravity. Electricity. The Polio vaccine. Women’s suffrage. The abolition of slavery. Each of these milestones in human progress was the result of people who had different perspectives, backgrounds, and skillsets collaborating with and challenging their contemporaries while building upon the discoveries and ideas of generations before.

Despite the headlines, however, this country is full of good people who do respect the dignity and opinions of those with whom they disagree and who are willing to unite in common cause. A recent study found that 77 percent of Americans believe we can unite despite our disagreements.

We’re working to foster such unity. It’s the key to ensure the progress our country has made accelerates going forward, helping more and more people live fulfilling lives.

“The most effective way to counter the potential negative effects of hate speech . . . is not through censorship, but rather through more speech.” – Nadine Strossen, Former President of the ACLU

Civil liberties are the solution to incivility

Our country is no stranger to struggle: Civil rights and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Watergate in the 70s. The fight for LGBTQ rights in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. The list goes on.

Yet each time, we persevered. And we became a stronger and more just society. The civil liberties that served as the foundation of our country make it possible for courageous individuals to take courageous stands—for example, the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press, and the right to worship and peaceably assemble, among others.

Despite these achievements, today many see restricting civil liberties as a solution to division. A recent poll found that nearly one-in-three Americans say the government should shut down media outlets they believe are biased or inaccurate. A similar proportion of universities maintain speech codes that censor students’ ideas. Politicians try to insulate themselves from critique by discouraging involvement with certain charitable and civic organizations.

Although this is a natural instinct, it’s counterproductive. It’s especially harmful for groups of people who have historically been disenfranchised. Without free speech and the right to peaceably assemble, there might never have been national movements for civil rights and equality for the LGBTQ community. Without free press, corrupt politicians and cultural figures would have escaped accountability for abuses of power and other harms they inflicted.

More examples of work supported by the Stand Together community:

In Education
  • The Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism education organization, teaches accountability in media and equips student journalists to engage their campus communities on controversial topics. In the 2017-18 academic year, Poynter launched the College Media Project on three campuses: Iowa State University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and Howard University. This past year it grew to nine campuses. The Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute—which are part of the Stand Together community—also announced the Poynter-Koch Media & Journalism Fellowship Program in the spring of 2019.
  • The Newseum in Washington, DC, launched its NewseumED program to help K-12 educators teach students about First Amendment rights.
  • Professor Eric Luna of Arizona State University law school united more than 100 scholars of diverse perspectives to publish the authoritative source for anyone seeking to reform our nation’s criminal justice system. Their work has been cited in U.S. Supreme Court proceedings and distributed to policymakers, law enforcement, and many others.
  • Scholars such as Kurt Gray, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, are using science to better understand the cognitive roots of political polarization so others can more effectively address it going forward.
In Community
  • The After Charlottesville Project—a partnership between the Charles Koch Institute, Center for American Progress, and Anti-Defamation League—helps to ensure protests are done peacefully, including assisting police control crowds in a safe and respectful way.
  • Urban Specialists works to reduce violence in urban communities and increase collaboration between law enforcement and the populations they serve, including an event in 2018 that brought together the families of victims of police brutality as well as those of police officers who have been killed in counter protests.
  • Narrative 4 promotes collaboration between disparate groups of people by equipping them to use their stories to build empathy, shatter stereotypes, and break barriers.
In Government
  • The Senate passed a bill in Tennessee that strengthens protection for journalists, whistleblowers, activists, and other individuals speaking out on issues from so-called “SLAPP” lawsuits (strategic lawsuits against public participation).

Bottom Line

Collaborating with others—especially those with whom we disagree on other issues—has led to breakthroughs that have helped millions of people improve their lives. Let’s work together to bridge our country’s divides and accelerate that pace of progress.