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Stand Together

Brian Hooks<br>chairman and CEO Stand Together

by Brian Hooks
chairman and CEO Stand Together

Bridging divides and building respect

Some of the biggest barriers to progress are the polarization and divisiveness gripping our country. Left unchecked, they not only lead to stagnation, frustration and lack of opportunity, they hinder self-transformation.

Fortunately, social entrepreneurs supported by Stand Together have shown that even these obstacles can be overcome. They’ve provided powerful examples of how to bridge divides and build mutual respect — even in the hotly contested arena of public policy.

Consider the story of Matt and Caitlin Bellina. When he was 30 years old, Matt was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. At the time, he was a Navy fighter pilot and father to three young boys. There is no cure for ALS and 80% of patients die within five years. In 2018, Matt was in year four.

Matt and Caitlin had been advocating for years to reform a law that prohibited terminally ill people from trying experimental treatments that could save their lives. Lawmakers from both parties supported this reform — as did nearly 85% of Americans. But for years, it was stuck in partisan stalemate. Neither party wanted to give the other a win. It was partisanship at its worst.

Matt and Caitlin Bellina at the Right-to-Try bill signing.

Matt and Caitlin Bellina at the Right-to-Try bill signing.

The Stand Together community set out to change that. Through Americans for Prosperity, they focused on building a nonpartisan coalition of lawmakers who wanted to do the right thing. The group launched a major media effort, including a national TV ad that thanked policymakers from both parties who were putting people over politics, while calling on their colleagues to act. And they upped the pressure on key lawmakers who were sticking to their old partisan ways, with grassroots activists making so many phone calls to Capitol Hill that one lawmaker finally called and said, “Enough, you’ve made your point — we’re trying to get this done.”

A few weeks later, Congress passed the legislation and sent it to the president’s desk — a major victory, proving that even in one of the most divisive periods of our country’s history, we can still bridge divides and move the country forward.

As for Matt? Thanks to his courageous leadership, Congress named the legislation after him and other terminally ill patients who advocated for its passage. And a few weeks later, Matt and Caitlin got incredible news: Matt had been granted access to a new experimental treatment. It had been two years since he’d taken his last step. But just one month after he began treatment, Matt posted a video on Facebook showing the progress he’d already made.

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Matt Bellina posted a video online showing the progress he’d made in just one month of treatment.

This is just one of many advances the Stand Together community led over the past two years, including historic criminal justice reform and health care reform for veterans, and dozens of reforms at the state level with support from policymakers of both parties.

These examples show how virtuous cycles of mutual benefit can transform how public policy is made in this country.
We can work together on areas of common ground — regardless of political party — which unlocks more opportunities for progress than is otherwise possible.

Societal transformation  

These five examples represent experiences typical of the thousands of social entrepreneurs who partner with Stand Together. As people benefit from these efforts, they go on to help others, creating and extending virtuous cycles that spark a ripple effect of positive change nationwide.

By applying this approach to America’s biggest challenges, we aim to inspire movements of millions that can transform the key institutions of society — education, business, communities and government — from top-down control to bottom-up empowerment so everyone can rise and realize their American dream.

Grassroots activists with Americans for Prosperity go door to door in their Florida neighborhood.

Grassroots activists with Americans for Prosperity go door to door in their Florida neighborhood.

With the discourse in our country becoming more and more contentious, it’s easy to get discouraged. As Charles mentioned on page 2, next year will probably be among the most divisive in recent memory. But that doesn’t need to be what defines 2020 or the future of our country. The initiatives we’ve described here, along with hundreds of others underway, demonstrate that this country is full of good people who want to make a difference and will do the right thing if given the chance. Through these efforts, we’re helping show there’s a better way and that there can be a brighter future ahead.

As Charles put it recently: “We have made more progress in the past five years than in the previous 50. And in just the last 18 months, we have made more progress than in the previous five years. Yes, the challenges we face are great. But our ability to overcome them is far greater — if we stay true to these principles and stand together.”

Brian Hooks is the president of Stand Together.