In polarized contexts, elections can exacerbate tensions. In the United States, Pew Research documented dramatically increased political polarization over the past two decades. Increased political tensions erupted in isolated incidents of violence from Charlottesville, Virginia to Portland, Oregon. Simultaneously, the FBI reported a 17% increase in hate crimes from its most recent data. From decades of experience working on contentious elections globally, even in the face of these negative trends, we know early preparation and a coordinated response can make a positive impact - holding space for tough, but peaceful, resolutions in the long run.
BDI’s two main pillars of work support essential components of preparation for and response to potential political violence, by
To learn more about BDI and the work we do, read more below or contact Director, Nealin Parker.
The work of the Bridging Divides Initiative strives to be:
Flexible, responsive, and entrepreneurial
Multi-partisan, with shared core value of non-violent resolution of political difference
Non-duplicative, with value-add to existing work and strong partnerships
BDI enables local leaders to build resilient communities and bring together key networks in targeted convenings. Our national Resource Map of over 2500 groups supports both these pillars, helping local leaders understand and tap the resource ecosystem and create linkages to build community resilience; and informing convenings to think nationally about political violence prevention.
A resource and catalyst for emerging efforts to think nationally about political violence prevention. Using its research, convening ability and partnerships, BDI supports gathering relevant stakeholders to develop prevention and early warning plans, and support electoral violence prevention.
A resource for local leaders and citizens to empower their community, prevent political violence, and respond to incidents that do arise. A toolkit combines lessons from international early warning initiatives with domestic expertise in US emergency management, faith-based, and community-building networks.
A resource for community building organizations and individual leaders to increase their network, coordinate, collaborate and focus resources in areas of higher risk for political violence. The map can expand to incorporate further networks, and machine learning models for predicting risk of political violence.
Bridging Divides in the Global Context
The current phenomenon of increased domestic nationalism, isolationism, polarization and upheaval is not unique to the US. The United States, however, has played a singular role in the comparative peace and stability of the past half century. We have been a critical champion and enforcer of a set of international structures and norms. These include the United Nations and NATO, Bretton Woods and international financial institutions. Within the United States we can see how nationalistic trends on trade, taxes, immigration, and the environment, among many others have powerful ripple effects beyond our borders.
As both test case in an unprecedented global phenomenon and as the historic leader of multilateralism, destabilization in the world’s hegemon deeply affects stability in the rest of the world. It is for this reason that Princeton’s LISD launched the Bridging Divides Initiative, focused on the experience of the United States, embedded within this international context. LISD seeks to enhance global peace and stability by bringing together academic experts, students and decision-making leaders to explore key events and crises and find innovative and sustainable solutions. The Bridging Divides Initiative explores domestic US polarization as an important component of this fundamental goal.
Who We Are: The BDI Team
is a Lecturer at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs with a joint appointment at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, serving as the Director of the Bridging Divides Initiative. She teaches courses on political polarization and conflict transformation, refugees, and management of aid in countries in crisis. Prior to this, Nealin served in the Obama Administration as Chief of Staff for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Acting Director of the Office of Transition Initiatives at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID/OTI), which is the office designed to provide rapid response to political crises globally. Nealin earned a Master’s in Public Affairs from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a Bachelor of Arts in Religion from the University of Virginia.
Shannon Hiller is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Bridging Divides Initiative and Assistant Director for International Affairs and Operations at Princeton, bringing diverse experience in start up and strategy for complex organizations. She joins the BDI team following a decade of work in international development and foreign policy, helping to manage and drive funding to peace building and conflict prevention programs across Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East. A proud Southwest Virginia native, she holds an MPA from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and a BA from the University of Georgia.
Jonathan Haynes is originally from Midland, MI and a senior in the politics department at Princeton. Jonathan is actively involved with LISD as a student associate and helps to lead Princeton's voter engagement campaign. Jonathan is honored to be a part of the BDI team for the reason that it provides a timely opportunity to bring visibility to the best parts of humanity in tense political times.
Matej Jungwirth is a native of Prague, Czech Republic, who received BA degree from Beloit College and MPA one from the Woodrow Wilson School. While researching the status and agency of displaced people in various locations, Matej came to believe that individual victims of conflicts are often the most marginalized actors in subsequent negotiations and post-conflict settlements. In Fall 2018, Matej completed the Bridging Divides course taught by Nealin and has been involved with BDI ever since. He put together a very early version of the risk and resources map and contributed to data cleaning and analysis.
Katrina McLaughlin is a Master in Public Affairs student at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University. She grew up in northern California and says almonds with no "l". Her background is in energy and environmental policy, and has included work in California, D.C., Nevada, Montana, and Wyoming. Her interest in BDI is informed by her time living and working in highly urban and rural places, and seeing how polarization keeps these communities from finding shared common ground. She is excited to join the mapping project and to further its work identifying tools for bridging divides.
Kelly Murphy is an aspiring conflict mediator who became involved with the Bridging Divides Initiative through her work with the Bridge Alliance. Originally from Massachusetts, she earned her B.A. in Political Science from New York University Abu Dhabi and is currently studying Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation at Trinity College Dublin. She is inspired by the organizations in the BDI map and is eager to see the effects of their great work.
is a MPA candidate at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs. Peter has a background in economic and workforce development. In New York City government, he served on a strategic planning team that advised City Hall on emerging economic development issues facing the city. At the Markle Foundation, Peter helped to launch the Skillful initiative and the Skillful State Network, a forum for officials from over 20 states to learn from each other’s innovative workforce development programs. He joined BDI to help communities strengthen their civic fabric. Peter is from Madison, Wisconsin and earned his BA from Washington University in St. Louis.
is a senior Integrated Marketing Communications major at the University of Mississippi. He plans to work with non-profit organizations after he graduates. He joined this team as a part of an internship with the Listen First Project, a group which encourages conversations to bridge divides in society. Brody is thankful to be a part of a group which seeks to bring people together for good purposes.
was introduced to the Bridging Divides Initiative during her time as an MPA student at the Woodrow Wilson School. Prior to graduate school, she worked in Washington, DC for several years, including on Capitol Hill. She hopes that BDI helps further conversations about political polarization in America and how citizens can best respond to the current political climate.