Identity Politics with Erik Bottcher and Jon Reinish

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Identity Politics with Erik Bottcher and Jon Reinish

On March 10, we were fortunate to be joined by two activists who have been on the front lines of political activism and LGBT rights advocacy to help us navigate the complexities of identity politics, shifting demographics, and social change:

Erik Bottcher, who serves as Chief of Staff to NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, prior to which he served as Governor Cuomo’s Regional Representative in the borough of Manhattan and liaison to the State’s LGBT Community, prior to which he served as LGBT and HIV/AIDS Community Liaison for City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.

Jon Reinish, Senior Vice President at SKDKnickerbocker, with over a decade’s worth of strategic communications and media experience in the political and public affairs realms, prior to which he was an Aide to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

America’s diversity remains on the rise, with all racial and ethnic minorities growing faster than whites. With demographic shifts come opportunities and challenges.  And, of course, politics and identity politics.

Identity politics is defined as a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, sexuality, social background, etc to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics. As such, identity groups occupy an uneasy place in democracy. While some see recognition and prioritization of identity as a long overdue corrective, critics emphasize how much group identities constrain rather than liberate individuals. When individuals themselves identify racially, ethnically, or religiously as part of groups, they can derive a sense of strength and solidarity but can also develop hostilities, competition, and a sense of superiority over others. Is it possible to honor identity without amplifying difference and divisiveness?

Our Constitution begins with the iconic words, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union.” In other words, one nation made up of individuals.  America was not to be defined by race or ethnicity but by “creedal identity” and political ideas such as loyalty to the Constitution, the rule of law, and belief in the fundamental law of human equality.  Can this creedal identity handle the increasing tensions between increasingly diverse individuals–and groups of individuals? Are these tensions greater than they’ve been in the past and if so, why and what are the implications if we wish to “perfect our union”? In what ways, if any, does the American value of individualism and self determination conflict with rules of law and standards as they apply to all? Given that democracy means majority rules, how do we honor and reconcile individual political needs and desires? How can we ensure the compatibility of diversity and democracy? Can we as Americans create an inclusive way of thinking about what we share and what we can do together that honors individual identity while emphasizing an integrative identity?

Check out the Keynote at:

After hearing Will and Jon discuss how “the impossible became the inevitable” in the passage of gay marriage, Fellows were asked to give consideration to an (entrenched!) issue area of your choice–Abortion, Climate Change, Death Penalty, Gun Violence Prevention, Money in Politics–and, taking into account the impact of different identities and ideologies on the issue, talk through different “drivers” that influence it and what you think is needed to create significant positive change around this issue. 

Check out their presentations here:

We are very proud of our Fellows willingness to grapple with some of the most complex and challenging issues of our time–and very inspired by their potential to create change.