David Byrne has never struck us as anything less than a prophet, one who has always been able to absorb from every corner of the zeitgeist, and return back something thoughtful, thought-provoking, and even generally hopeful, as well. He is, for all intents and purposes, the living embodiment of his own set of semi-utopian ideals.
So it was certainly no surprise when last September he launched a new media project, the blithely titled Reasons to be Cheerful, just as America had reached such a level of socio-political divisiveness as to provoke deadly serious talk of a second civil war. Trump’s impeachment hearings were set in motion a few months later, and immediately following, the world went into its pandemic enforced lockdown. Things were as bad as they could be, to put it bluntly—and it was as if Byrne had somehow known just what we would need to help us survive it.
Since that time, ReasonsToBeCheerful.world has been a place to go to remind ourselves that the world is full of people who want to make it better. Visit the site right now, and there are stories about solar farms, cooperative housing for people with disabilities, even a student-led movement to de-polarize college. And now RBC is taking on the toughest issue of all: the seething polarization of American society.
Indeed, the just announced and steadfastly titled We Are Not Divided will be a six week, multimedia journalistic journey described thusly:
“It has become conventional wisdom that we are hopelessly divided. But this narrative masks a larger truth: that we humans are incredibly skilled at overcoming division. We Are Not Divided is a collaborative multimedia journalism project dedicated to revealing that truth by telling the stories that show our capacity, and our deep desire, to bridge our divides.”
Byrne explains, “This series is hopeful at a time when that is in short supply. I realize the title might come as a shock. Not divided? Are you kidding me? What world are you living in?”
But don’t mistake him for some misty-eyed liberal just wanting to metaphorically throw his arms around the world. Rather, he is enlisting serious editorial clout, with the likes of The Guardian, The Marshall Project, The Tyee, Next City, Freakonomics, and Solutions Journalism Network all making contributions. Notably, We Are Not Divided will also include a weeklong video interview series, Bridging Divides, hosted by storyteller and artist Scott Shigeoka.
With a noxious campaign season leading up to the American presidential election in November, and bitter battles playing out across the country over the wearing of masks and the distribution of impending vaccines, we are surely in need of something uplifting as a counter…yet with the gravitas to make it truly effective.
“I am more than a little aware of what’s happening,” insists Byrne, “but the truth is there is evidence that we can find ways to come together—I have to believe that or I would sink into despair. Luckily, there are people and initiatives out there that we can look to for inspiration, and boy do we need it.”
We Are Not Divided debuts today, and continues on until November 2.