Facing Race: A National Conference in St. Louis, MO — November 20-22, 2024

Eric Ward

Executive Director, Senior Fellow | Western States Center, Race Forward

Eric K. Ward, a nationally-recognized expert on the relationship between authoritarian movements, hate violence, and preserving inclusive democracy, is the recipient of the 2021 Civil Courage Prize – the first time in the award’s history that an American has won the prize, revealing the dangerous proliferation of hate crimes and political violence by authoritarian and extremist movements in the United States.

Eric brings over three decades of leadership in community organizing and philanthropy to his roles as Western States Center’s Executive Director and Senior Fellow with Southern Poverty Law Center. Since Eric took the helm in 2017, Western States Center has become a national hub for innovative responses to white nationalism, antisemitism, and structural inequality, towards a world where everyone can live, love, work, and worship free from bigotry and fear.

Originally from Los Angeles, Eric began his civil rights work when the white nationalist movement was engaged in violent paramilitary activity that sought to undermine democratic governance in the Pacific Northwest. Eric founded and directed a community project to expose and counter hate groups with the Community Alliance of Lane County (1990–1994). With the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment (1994-2002), Eric worked with leaders from government, law enforcement, business, and civil rights groups to establish over 120 task forces in six western states, and successfully encouraged some violent neo-Nazi leaders to renounce racism and violence.

Joining the Center for New Community as National Field Director (2003-2011), Eric assisted immigrant rights advocates in addressing the growing influence of xenophobia on public policy. As Program Executive for Atlantic Philanthropies (2011-2014), Eric led grantmaking in immigration and national security and rights.

During his tenure as a Ford Foundation Program Officer (2014-2017 he invigorated the field that counters Islamophobia through innovative investments that opened up space for Muslim and South Asian leaders. Currently Chair of The Proteus Fund, Eric co-founded Funders for Justice with the Neighborhood Funders Group and has served as consultant or advisor to numerous philanthropic institutions including Open Society, Tides, and the Brooklyn Community Foundation.

Eric is an Advisory to the Center for Entertainment & Civic Health, a member of the Pop Culture Collaborative’s Pluralist Visionaries Program, and a former Rockwood Leadership Institute Fellow and OSI New Executives Fund recipient. Past board service includes Revolutions Per Minute, America’s Voice, Windcall Institute, The Moenkopi Group, Social Justice Fund Northwest (A Territory Resource), Western States Center, and McKenzie River Gathering Foundation. Eric has a special interest in the use of music to advance inclusive democracy.

In 2020 he helped to launch the Western States Center Inclusive Democracy Culture Lab which works with musicians to create new narratives that puncture the myths driving our political and social divisions, and invite people who don’t always trust politicians and movement leaders into the safe and trusting conversational space that exists between a performer and their audience.

The recipient of the Peabody-Facebook Futures Media Award, Eric is an aspiring singer-songwriter under the name of Bulldog Shadow. In high demand as a speaker and media source, Eric has been quoted recently in The New Yorker, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, ESPN, Black News Channel, NPR, BBC, Rolling Stone and numerous other media outlets.

The author of multiple written works credited with key narrative shifts, Eric currently publishes regularly on Medium; he contributed to the Progressive Media Project from 2008-14, and published the daily blog Imagine2050 from 2008-11. Seminal articles include “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism” (The Public Eye, 2017); “As White Supremacy Falls Down, White Nationalism Stands Up” (Pop Culture Collaborative, 2017); “The Evolution of Identity Politics” (Tikkun, 2018). Popular recent essays include “Who Are We, America?” (Southern Poverty Law Center, March 2020); “The Struggles That Unite Us” (Oregon Humanities, April 2020); Authoritarian State or Inclusive Democracy? 21 Things We Can Do Right Now (Medium, May 2020); Winning the Peace (Medium, August 2020); Are We Moving Towards a Better Society or Regressing? (Moment Magazine, Sept/Oct 2020); Conspiracy Theories are Killing Us, America (Medium, February 2021); With Philanthropic Support, Artists Can Help Rebuild American Democracy One Song at a Time (Chronicle of Philanthropy, April 2021); The Hard Work of Democracy: A Case for Leisure (Center for Effective Philanthropy, April 2021).

Presentations from Facing Race 2022

What’s Next (Race Forward Direction)

This panel will look at the evolution of the racial justice movement with a focus on current trends. The objective is to understand how the racial justice movement is evolving, what new frameworks and analyses are being posited, and what promising practices and bright spots are informing the work of Race Forward moving forward.

Speakers: Glenn Harris, Charlene Sinclair, Eric Ward, Julie Nelson, Faron McLurkin, Kerry Mitchell Brown

The Narrative Coup: How the Right is Using the Tools of Fandom to Digitally Hack Our Democracy

In the wake of QAnon, insurgent movements are embracing its model — building passionate extremist communities using the symbols and communication styles of pop-culture fandoms. When these viral techniques are combined with the infinite reach of digital platforms, the result is a dangerous new approach to hacking our democracy, consolidating influence and advancing the surging cultural power of white nationalism. From the parents’ rights movement to the pro-authoritarians, these toxic digital narrative ecosystems are activated by content created by influencers and right-wing media; held and spread by communities that criss-cross platforms and demographics; and ultimately ultimately forge the identities, beliefs and behaviors of millions.

Join Western State Center’s Eric Ward, Pop Culture Collaborative’s Tracy Van Slyke and Institute for the Future’s Jeff Yang as they share groundbreaking research and cultural analysis on how these “digital narrative ecosystems” are being created, evolved and expanded; discuss the implications of their growing role in American racialization and politics; and share insights on how these same fandom-based narrative change strategies could inspire millions of people to resist, neutralize, and supplant the white nationalist movement with the yearning for a just and pluralist society.

Speakers: Tracy Van Slyke, Jeff Yang, Eric Ward

Presentations from Facing Race 2020

Where Do We Go From Here? Building a Just Multiracial Democracy

As Reverend Barber argues, we find ourselves in the Third Reconstruction. Like all previous reconstructions, Black leaders are at the forefront, collectively moving us towards liberation and justice. When we think about what it means to build a truly just, multiracial democracy, what are the core questions that we need to answer? This plenary will draw on the brilliance and wisdom of Black leaders across our movement to answer the fundamental questions of our time, including what it looks like to center the experiences of Black and Indigenous people in practice, why we need to build multi-racial solidarity across communities of color, how we tackle core issues of immigration, land rights, and a reimagining of our justice system, and what's needed for us to lean into intersectionality in more meaningful ways. Panelists will share concrete actions that participants can take to help us build new possibilities for our future. The title from this session draws from Dr. King’s final book “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” which is deeply resonant in this moment. The legacy of our ancestors rests on our shoulders; it is up to us to use this crossroads in our country’s history to make our democracy finally meet the needs of our communities.

Speakers: Glenn Harris, Eric Ward, Michael McAfee, Judith Browne Dianis, Andrea Jenkins

Presentations from Facing Race 2018

A Movement Is Rising and It’s Not Ours: White Nationalism from Charlottesville to the White House

Once contained, the racist fringe subculture is morphing into a mass movement that has support from nearly one-third of Americans. The white nationalist movement and its “alt-right” coalition is shaping public narrative on national policies, endangering community cohesion, and limiting the rights of people of color, immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized communities. White nationalism has changed the game, jeopardizing 50 years of equity gains and the vision of an inclusive democracy. Join us to explore the history, strategies and personalities of this movement, examine its impact on American public opinion, and take with you resources and tools for learning more.

Speakers: Eric Ward, Scot Nakagawa