Violence-Proofing U.S. Democracy

Immediate Priorities for Philanthropy
Policy Paper
Dec. 15, 2021

U.S. philanthropy is keenly focused on re-invigorating and renovating democracy, supporting a wide range of actors and approaches. Successful strategies to strengthen formal and informal institutions, and reverse polarization, will need to include strategies to prevent and build resilience against political violence. International experience teaches that the risks of violence endure—and sometimes reach their heights—amidst efforts to reform dysfunctional systems and address democratic backsliding.

In other words, rising risk of political violence is not just an outcome of democratic failure, but a side effect of efforts at democratic renewal. As such, philanthropy needs to prepare to minimize and mitigate violence as part of longer-term efforts to renew U.S. institutions and build bridges among American communities.

This working paper for philanthropy, written with our partners Over Zero and Thought Partnerships, briefly summarizes current trends that, in light of global experience, suggest heightened risks of violence. Against this worrisome backdrop, we propose six funding strategies and specific recommendations to integrate violence prevention and mitigation into existing strands of work on polarization, institutions, or justice issues:

  • Bolstering democracy and institutions
  • Addressing the threat of extremism
  • Addressing the harmful communications landscape
  • Resetting norms at the elite and community levels
  • Creating accountability
  • Laying the groundwork for coordinated response to immediate risks