Social distancing. While this phrase isn’t plastered in every public place anymore, the habit remains. The pandemic (magnified by political polarization) has widened the distance among Americans with rippling consequences. Feeling connected to others is a basic human need — and this epidemic of loneliness is bad for our health, our economy, and our democracy.

Our communities need more public gathering places in which to rebuild connections with others. It sounds obvious, but in reality there are fewer and fewer actual places that enable us to get to know those around us and build the relationships, trust, and collaborations that society needs to thrive. We’re talking about gatherings that are “upstream” of politics, where we can rehumanize one another and find ways to move forward.

That’s why we’re on a quest to build more “civic infrastructure” — structured and sustained community gatherings that help us feel invited, connected, energized. That help us overcome social anxiety and heal our social rifts. And that build a culture of looking out for others, of taking responsibility for what’s not working, of being civically committed.

Civic Gatherings

This is the third step to Spark Citizenship — a year-long project to equip more Americans (just like you!) as sparks of civic activity. Every month, you’ll dig into a timely theme and receive practical resources, inspiring examples, and grounded encouragement to not only embrace this civic mindset in yourself but also spark it in others. It’s an activating, community-building, and hope-filled antidote to the polarizing pull of the 2024 election.

Looking for more? Start with joining and inviting → 

Your task this month — 

Become a gathering engineer. Study the areas of disconnection, of social breakdown, and of civic opportunity around you. Pay attention to the kinds of connection your community is yearning for and sketch out what it would look and feel like to have public, purposeful gathering places where everyone can belong and thrive. It could be a swap meet, a BBQ at the county fair, a program at your library, a Memorial Day potluck, a community garden workshop… gatherings can (and should!) fit with the culture of your place. Do what you can: show up once; join a planning group; organize something of your own — each small step matters!

Don’t miss this: Applications now open for our Fellowship for gatherers: We offer a free, six-month program designed for this purpose exactly — to provide you the strategies, support, and network of collaborators to develop and embed civic gatherings in your community. It’s called the Civic Saturday Fellowship — and applications for our fall cohorts are open through May 17. Learn more →

Resource library — 

Over the month, we’ll be adding new ideas, tips, conversation prompts, inspiring stories, and other content to help you practice the civic skill of developing and practicing civic rituals.

Take a deep dive into the research

A Call to Connection: Rediscovering the Transformative Power of Relationships

The Einhorn Collaborative developed  “A Call to Connection” in an effort to help leaders in multiple sectors better understand how vital human connection is to effectively addressing the challenges of our time. Their findings are echoed and enriched by wisdom teachings and cultural practices going back thousands of years. Relationships are at the heart of what makes life worth living.

“Despite our desire for connection and belonging, more and more Americans are living in isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and fear. And our economic, political, and social systems keep pushing us further apart—eroding our faith in our institutions and each other. This primer is written for leaders who are ready to answer that call, or curious enough to explore it. While celebrating efforts to change systems, structures, and policies, our focus here is the everyday steps that can recenter our culture on connection. How we conduct our work, choose our priorities, set strategies, and measure success—each of these helps or hinders our connection with one another.”  Continue reading → 

21st Century Civic Infrastructure: Under Construction

This paper from the Aspen Institute outlines strategies to building civic infrastructure – an infrastructure strong enough to meet 21st century challenges and designed to serve all members of our society, especially those on the margins.

“If built with intention, civic infrastructure produces platforms on which a sense of shared responsibility can reside and grow; it enables us to communicate with one another more effectively; it helps to manage our differences; and it can help us to develop a shared understanding of what constitutes our common and public good. Civic infrastructure enables civic capacity — the “capacity to create and sustain smart collective action.” In the absence of an intentional civic infrastructure designed to broaden participation and, particularly, to engage those on the margins, other interests will fill the vacuum. The absence of a robust civic infrastructure risks giving rise to a system that serves a more narrow and elite constituency where market and moneyed interests can replace the interests of a broader public purpose.” Continue reading →

Become a builder

We Need to Build by Eboo Patel is a call to create institutions, structures, and gatherings needed to sustain our democracy — and a guide for how to run them well. IN his book, Patel shares how these gatherings serve as vital spaces for dialogue, learning, and collaborative action among diverse community members, fostering a sense of belonging and shared responsibility for the democratic process.

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