In the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, when deadly riots followed a White Nationalist rally, a diverse group of organizations including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Ford Foundation, Soros Fund, and the Charles Koch Institute, came together to walk alongside people in communities most affected by extremism in order to better understand the causes of extremism and to discover new tools to prevent related violence.
The Communities Overcoming Extremism (COE) initiative recently released its report documenting the topics addressed during its summits and detailing the key questions that merit further exploration.
As the report confirms, intolerance is complex, and there are no easy answers. While research underway starts to surface ways to address the systemic causes of intolerance, individuals grappling with these challenges can work to promote empathy, building educational programs, elevate innovative models and stories of hope, and other tenets highlighted in this framework.
Consider the work Lisa Consiglio is developing alongside authors and educators. “We’re trying to revolutionize education,” she says. The international nonprofit Narrative 4 is just one initiative that has helped build empathy across communities. Narrative 4’s premise is simple: to use the power of storytelling to develop tolerance among people—mostly high school students—from vastly different socio-economic, geographical, and cultural backgrounds.
Samar Ali gives cause for optimism too. “We are stronger together,” she says. “We need to focus on our commonalities, not our differences.” Ali, founder of Millions of Conversations, a collection of audio testimonies about survival and resilience and a speaker at a fall 2018 CEO event, recently discussed overcoming extremism on COE’s podcast. Ali said connecting communities is key. She explained, “The way forward is by having conversations, humanizing each other, and focusing on progress, and actually addressing the fear and the situation head on.”
Former Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer organized many of the other voices represented in the initiative including ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt, journalist Vegas Tenold, and pastor Alvin Edwards, among others, in an accompanying podcast also released this week.
There are no quick fixes, but one thing is clear: the antidote to intolerance requires creating a space for dialogue and ideas. As we see through the work of groups like Narrative 4 and individuals like Samar, it’s possible to discover the tools that can empower people while we work to discover long-term, systemic solutions.