Reimagining a transformative response to a threatened democracy.

What are the rights and responsibilities that define the relationship of people to the government, and to each other?

The United States is built on a belief that the relationship of citizens to their government and to each other should be defined by rights and responsibilities.

The system of rights expressed by the U.S. Constitution, and later by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is facing severe threats today. The principle of free and fair elections is being subverted.  Racial, gender and religious discrimination, extremism and violence are being stimulated, condoned or ignored. Public discourse essential to democracy is being manipulated and degraded by new forms of digital communication, surveillance, and personal data collection.

Americans across the political spectrum are aware that their rights are under severe attack. This consensus creates a rare opportunity to reach people with different and competing conceptions of their rights and responsibilities as citizens, and to build support for reform and renewal of the entire system. 


About the Project

The Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States Project, which began in 2020 and concluded in 2022, was directed by John Shattuck, former Carr Center Senior Fellow and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The project was overseen by a faculty committee chaired by Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse, with the participation of then-Executive Director Sushma Raman, and the support of the Carr Center staff.

The project team performed two nationwide polls of American citizens to learn more about shared beliefs in today's democracy. The project culminated in the publication of Holding Together: The Hijacking of Rights in America and How to Reclaim Them for Everyone. 

Holding Together

Holding Together, by John Shattuck, Sushma Raman, and Mathias Risse, is about the promise of rights as a source of American identity, the struggle to realize rights by countless Americans to whom the promise has been denied or not fulfilled, the hijacking of rights by politicians who seek power by dividing and polarizing, and the way forward in which rights can bring Americans together instead of tearing them apart.

Explore the Polling Results


Ahead of the 2020 election, a national survey of American attitudes toward rights and freedoms in the U.S. found surprising bipartisan support by substantial majorities of Americans for rights that are now frequently under political attack.  


A 2021 national survey of American attitudes toward rights and responsibilities in the United States found that large majorities now favor strengthening the nation’s civil rights laws, despite continuing partisan division.

Read the Polling Reports

Americans today know they face threats to their rights, their democracy, their health and their economy. These threats are interrelated and demand a transformative response. The Reimagining Rights team researched fifteen topics—including racial discrimination, women's rights, and more—that are fundamental to protecting and expanding citizens’ rights.