Reader’s Forum — Al Bell

Al Bell is writing some short commentary on each chapter in UNRIGGED as he reads it. Join him in his exploration of David Daley’s book.

In this installment, Al reads Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Chapter 2: Aboard Idaho’s Medicaid Express

David chronicles the adventures of some improbable characters, saddled together in a couple of end-of-life RVs, wandering the back roads of Idaho, turning the political world upside down. Three millennials sharpened their creds in the community of Sandpoint by convincing reluctant voters to support a recently rejected school funding measure that went on to win by a two to one margin. The lesson: door-to-door contact enabling real conversations with real people flipped the odds. You would have to know Sandpoint in a state like Idaho to appreciate the significance of their breakthrough (I’ve been there).

They doubled down and went on to accomplish the truly impossible statewide to overcome ridiculously powerful political resistance to fill the yawning Medigap “doughnut hole” for desperate citizens their elected officials were willing to write off. That endeavor scaled up lessons learned to a 61% win.

Moral of the story:

Keeping a Democracy, it turns out, requires lots of work.”

Don’t forget that phrase.

My observation: Millennials are democracy’s secret weapon. This book is a veritable arsenal.

Chapter 3: The Defeat of the Voter Fraud Myth

Chris Kobach is a pathetic, anti-American disaster. Chapter 3 explains why. The fact that he was an actual candidate for the governorship of a state in America is one of the most powerful indictments of this Nation in decades. We should be ashamed of ourselves. He has no shame, so the point is lost on him.

Despite Kobach being the despicable destruction machine that he is, a simple, decent official from the State of Maine emerges as the American hero no one has heard of. How gratifying that we now know his story and his role in destroying the destroyer. The contrast between the two is astonishing.

Chapter 4: Native Americans Battle Back

Our history is strewn with amazing feats of accomplishment and astonishing acts of evil and exploitation. The awful selling of black Americans down their long, painful, trail of tears is relatively well known, though typically diminished in its telling. The demonization and exploitation of Native American tribes and the duplicity of many of our leaders in suppressing their humanity is a monstrous blot on our American heritage. This is a part of our behavior as a nation that erodes our past and clouds our present. This tragic reality struggles for redemption and often fails.

However, in a county in Utah, the dedication of contemporary Native American heroes manages to achieve an extraordinary breakthrough in local representation. The lessons learned there have been carried to other states in which illegitimate strategies dominate party politics. North Dakota provides an impressive object lesson in what the trend looks like.

Chapter 5: Michigan’s Redistricting Revolution

If you only read one chapter in this book, this is the one. That does not diminish the power of the others nor the significance of the people involved in other adventures. It is just that the Michigan experience and the leadership that fomented it are exceptional examples of what happens when real patriots get organized around a pivotal issue and bring it home.

This chapter is also a chronicle of real heroism. Imagine standing on the eve of a major event that has been bought by the energy of literally thousands of people who have devoted multiple thousands of hours of their time, pursuing a vision that the experts discounted is illusory, with the potential to change the lives of even more thousands of citizens, and it all rests on a state supreme court decision with the balance of members loaded against you by a 5-2 ratio. The politicos still think you’re crazy. And then, your case prevails by a 4-3 margin. And you have never been involved in grass roots politics before. And you aren’t even thirty years old yet. And the people win and the message goes viral and a powerful movement is joined by a new force.

I think of heroism as nothing at all like fearlessness; rather, it is knowing fear and going ahead anyway.

There is so much more, even so. The leadership team and collaborative spirit of the whole enterprise are evidence of a “way of going” that vastly exceeds the contribution of any one person. The multiplier effect is central to the whole experience and its story. Therein lies the immense power of The People.

If you can read the story of Katie Fahey and The People and not stand up and cheer, it’s because somehow you’ve been strapped to your chair with duct tape on your mouth.

Chapter 6: Redistricting Goes National

As exceptional as the Michigan adventure is—and it does take your breath away—there are five other states in which significant breakthroughs engineered by motivated citizens overcame seriously entrenched party establishments committed to choosing voters rather than the other way around. None of these breakthroughs were easy (they shouldn’t be); each was different in important respects. They all share this, however: common, ordinary, regular, everyday, plain citizens (among the various labels the elites apply to the rest of us) can turn the tables on party control masters.

What shines through in this chapter is that the circumstance, backstory, pivotal characters, partisan/non-partisan mix, historic patterns, and richness of common ground discovered amid a wide array of motivations enjoy a diversity of almost fictional inventiveness. This tells me that no situation is impervious to improvement. Perfect is always illusory; better can be highly worthwhile. And better is eminently achievable if a few key people tune in to the opportunity and choose to throw away the blinders.

The key takeaway:

When voters are given a choice, fairness wins.”

Now there’s a concept for you!

I just read this today in a Time Magazine column by Colum McCann:

What if [this virus] can allow us to see that we’re not as stupid as our political parties want us to be, or as unidirectional as our TV channels seem to think we are?”

My response:

Mr. McCann, the proof was underway long before the virus struck. Read UNRIGGED.”

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Daela Taeoalii-Tipton

The Battle to Unrig Democracy

Daela Taeoalii-Tipton

Daela Taeoalii-Tipton

David Daley is an award-winning author for a reason. In his first book, Ratf***ed: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, he opened many peoples’ eyes to the cause behind their own political frustrations: gerrymandering. Like any good activist, instead of just riling folks up, he then provided an outlet for that energy through his second book, UNRIGGED: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy.

By profiling everyday Americans across the country pushing for pro-democracy reform, he helps readers see that you don’t have to be anyone in particular to make change. Anyone can take action. You just have to care enough about the promises of our nation, to protect and provide, and notice how many needs are going unmet by one of the wealthiest, “most developed” countries in the world. From there, you can start conversations with your friends, family and neighbors about their own needs they’d like met and the power they have as constituents.

Representative democracy, the foundation of our country, is our ticket to change. Our vote is our voice, yet for many, truly representative democracy remains an unrealized dream. As UNRIGGED highlights, it’s on us, We the People, to fix the lever of accountability that is our ballots in order to form a more perfect union. Without the sanctity of our votes, people-power will always be fighting an uphill battle against big money and vested interests.

As an organizer fighting to end gerrymandering in Virginia, I loved reading UNRIGGED because it serves as a reminder that democracy is a verb. Not only does it take participation (which has been intentionally, strategically, and structurally suppressed), but it takes defending. As seen in Michigan, Utah, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, every step forward for voters is met with pushback. The good news is, “when voters are given a choice, fairness wins.”

Daela at rally in Richmond in March in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment to establish Virginia’s first redistricting commission. March 2020

Regardless of background or political affiliation, people are frustrated. Regardless of background or political affiliation, people want change. That means that regardless of background or political affiliation, together we can unite to unrig our current political system. Disenfranchisement is not democracy, and neither is a diluted vote. Thank you David Daley for reminding us that we all have the power to do something. When we start the conversation highlighting our shared values, we can fight and win to empower all of our voices, together.

Daela Taeoalii-Tipton is a field organizer with OneVirginia2021, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to end gerrymandering in Virginia through a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in November. If you’re interested in getting involved, visit!

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Steve Hough

Steve Hough

Left to Right: Steve Hough, Desmond Meade and Jessie Fields

David Daley’s book UNRIGGED: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy throws a lifeline of hope to anyone who may sometimes feel like they’re drowning in a sea of despair. Hope emanates from the stories of Americans from all walks of life who recognized that the political system was rigged and decided to change it. Despite the naysayers and the obstacles faced, they persisted. While not every effort to unrig the system results in victory, without a dogged determination to persist, the rate of success would likely be negligible. Daley’s book details some of the most important work being performed in a political environment desperately in need of citizen heroes.

I was fortunate enough to meet two of the heroes in this book, Desmond Meade and Katie Fahey, at the 2019 Unrig Summit in Nashville.

As a resident of Florida, I became aware of Desmond Meade and his Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FFRC) juggernaut in the spring of 2017. As an open primaries activist in a closed primary state, I became personally involved with the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). With assistance from the national organization Open Primaries, I testified before the commission at a series of public hearings and committee meetings and enlisted others to do the same. Our efforts resulted in open primaries being the second most popular issue raised; second only to the automatic restoration of voting rights for “returning citizens”.

The FFRC was so successful in their petition drive that multiple commissioners were able to withdraw their proposals from the CRC. The question of whether to automatically restore voting rights to felons upon completion of their sentences would be decided by Florida voters. The ability to have voters decide would not be due to the benevolence of a group of political appointees, but due to the collective efforts of citizens who believed in second chances. These citizens not only believed in second chances, but they also abhorred the machinations that subjected an application for the restoration of voting rights to the whims of a small group of partisan elected officials.

In Florida, where Democrats and Republicans are pretty much evenly split statewide and where a ballot initiative must garner 60% approval, Meade and the FFRC had to appeal to a broad swath of voters. As Jane Rayburn, a senior director at EMC Research, was quoted on page 19:

Making it a partisan issue… That messaging doesn’t work and it’s something the campaign has been really disciplined about. Across party lines, racial lines, geographic lines, people feel that if you have paid your debt, the debt is paid. We’ve made sure that this is an inclusive campaign.”

We have seen this kind of broad support for previous ballot initiatives on water and land conservation (2014) and medical marijuana (2016) followed by the legislature’s after-action responses attempting to circumvent the will of voters. The 2018 Florida amendment for restoring voting rights to felons was no exception, as was the Michigan amendment to end gerrymandering. While Desmond and FRRC continue fighting for second chances in the courts, Katie has created a new organization aimed at sharing her newly acquired knowledge with activists in other states.

Katie Fahey and Steve Hough

When I met Katie for the first time, she was already a hero of mine. As a grassroots activist, I found her movement, having begun with a Facebook post, not only remarkable, but inspiring. I followed Voters Not Politicians’ progress as the story unfolded and recently watched Slay The Dragon. Katie was/is a “rock star” in the reform movement.

Before we met in person and became friends on Facebook, I would periodically see where she had “liked” a post of mine. When you’re fighting an uphill battle, and occasionally thinking about giving up, it’s heartening to get some positive reinforcement from someone who has been in the trenches. Seeing another such victory amidst a toxic partisan political environment provides indisputable evidence that people-powered change is possible.

After the CRC thumbed their noses at Florida’s independent voters, I formed a political committee and began a grassroots petition drive for open primaries. At the time, I had no expectation that we would be able to collect 766,200 signatures, but I hoped our refusal to give up would continue the momentum built during the CRC and that our effort would attract the attention of some big donors. Somehow the stars aligned, and a wealthy Miami businessman wrote a big check to another organization that had attempted a ballot initiative five years earlier. Florida citizens will vote on Amendment 3 this November.

The approval of 2018’s Amendment 4 restored voting rights to 1.4 million returning citizens. A huge achievement by any measure, and the accolades bestowed upon Meade, the FRRC, and everyone involved are well deserved. This year, we have an opportunity to expand voting rights in Florida again. Amendment 3 has the potential to bring 3.6 million registered independent voters (27% of the electorate) into the primary process for state offices where some 85% of races are decided.

Even after Floridian’s approved a “Fair Districts” amendment in 2010, and new maps were drawn after years of court battles, races still produce lopsided representation. Republicans control the Florida government on every level, and low turnout closed primaries result in elected officials accountable only to a small sliver of the citizenry. This must change! Florida should look to California, through an unbiased lens, where adoption of a top two open primary has yielded positive results in a state controlled by Democrats.

Dogged determination was required for me to trudge onward after being disappointed by the CRC, and it is required as we continue building our network of supporters and promote Amendment 3 in the face of stiff opposition from the political parties. Win or lose in November, the work doesn’t end, because there will always be room for further improvement.

Steve Hough is a lifelong independent and became an activist for political reform after retiring as an accountant. He is the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Jessie Fields

Dr. Jessie Fields on Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to SAVE DEMOCRACY by David Daley

Dr. Jessie Fields

Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to SAVE DEMOCRACY by David Daley is an inspiring book that reports on the new activism by ordinary citizens working outside of traditional structures, people of all ages and races, including many women leaders determined to make government of, by and for the people a reality. The author set out during the summer and fall of election year of 2018 to join these quiet revolutionaries who were reinvigorating our civic fabric at the very time it was most needed. These quiet revolutionaries, as he calls them, were taking on barriers that stretch back decades.

In the first chapter of the book, Daley details the past and ongoing systematic disenfranchisement of blacks in southern states such as Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. He writes of the framers of the Alabama’s 1901 state constitution. John Knox, presiding attorney at the state constitutional convention, announced that the convention’s goal was, “within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in the State.” Delegates implemented pool taxes, literacy tests, and labelled minor crimes as acts of moral turpitude for which blacks could be permanently deleted from the voting rolls. Almost a century later, those laws continued to function against people of color.

In 2017, the Alabama legislature finally reinstated voting rights that were unfairly denied to tens of thousands of citizens released from prison, but refused to allocate a dime to actually register them. Daley spent time with Blair Bowie, a young attorney who launched the Alabama Voting Rights Project to inform people of the change in the law and help them to register and regain their right to vote. Daley asks Bowie why she does this work, registering only about a dozen people after long hours of door-knocking. She replies,

Those people would not have known all their rights had we not been there. That’s just a fact. Maybe twelve votes isn’t going to swing an election, but that’s not what matters. There’s inherent value in helping each person and helping them through something they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

In Florida, Daley observed Desmond Meade, president and founder of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, and his team train hundreds of formerly incarcerated people as activists for the vote. This determined effort included a volunteer grassroots petition drive that collected 799,000 signatures statewide for the 2018 ballot initiative which ultimately passed with close to 65 percent of the vote to restore voter eligibility to 1.4 million formerly incarcerated citizens.

In the Voters Not Politicians campaign, led by Katie Fahey with 4,000 volunteers who collected more than 400,000 signatures, ordinary citizens fully participated in creating the process to establish an independent redistricting commission. Daley joined the Voters Not Politicians canvassers as they knocked on tens of thousands of doors across Michigan.

In San Juan, Utah and the hardscrabble tribal lands of North Dakota, he watched Native Americans organize desperate, heroic efforts to preserve their voice against surgically focused voter ID bills, intricate precinct closures and gerrymandered chicanery.

In July 2018, Daley spent several days with the three Millennial first-time activists who spearheaded the Medicaid for All campaign in Idaho, riding across Idaho in a rickety bright green RV, the Medicaid Express. The campaign succeeded in the passage of Medicaid for All initiatives in Idaho, Utah and Nebraska.

These campaigns were not lead by politicians or parties. Grounded around issues of fairness, these efforts brought people together across party lines, across racial lines, and across geographic lines. It seems to me that the fact that these campaigns were non-ideological was key to their ability to bring diverse citizens together.

Such efforts are continuing. One current example is the Let All Voters Vote campaign in Florida which is set to have an initiative on the ballot in Florida in the November 2020 election. Let All Voters Vote ballot question 3 gives every voter, including those who are not registered in a party, the right to vote in all elections. The campaign, led by a diverse coalition of reform activists and independent leaders such as Steve Hough of Florida Fair and Open Primaries and voting rights attorney Glenn Burhans, collected over a million signatures to put the measure on the ballot. Despite opposition from the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the attorney general of Florida, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the measure constitutional and certified it for the November 2020 ballot. The initiative concretizes the goal that all voters have equal voting rights.

I believe that political parties should not control the electoral process. The erosive bias of party control is pervasive at all levels of American politics. It is stark in gerrymandering in which the politicians pick their voters. The chapter Mathematicians Enlist for Duty in the book is fascinating. It speaks of the possibility, when voters are included in the conversation about districting, when the technology is democratized, when the work of partisans can be checked by nonpartisan mathematicians, the playing field begins to even. Redistricting need not take place in the shadows, or be left in the hands of well-funded partisans armed with big data and the most sophisticated software.

Let me end with this important caveat. A danger of redistricting plans that seek partisan balance is to further entrench party control to ameliorate extreme partisan gerrymandering. It seems to me that the goal of electoral reform is to empower the voters not to achieve partisan balance. Partisan balance excludes those who choose, as over 40 percent of American voters do, to be independent of the two parties. The next frontier in the fight to rebuild American democracy is the full inclusion of all voters, including those who reject party control altogether.

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practicing in Harlem, and a Board member at Independent Voting and Open Primaries.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


The People Facebook Live Interview with Cathy Stewart, Katie Fahey and David Daley

On Wednesday, May 13th, Cathy Stewart interviewed Katie Fahey, Executive Director of The People and author David Daley in a special Facebook Live event on The People’s Facebook page. They discussed Daley’s new book, UNRIGGED: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy. Chapter 5 is devoted to Katie Fahey and “Michigan’s Redistricting Revolution”. You can watch the full interview in the video above.

During the interview, Cathy posed the following question:

Cathy: I wanted to ask you both to speak about the importance of these stories and the book in the midst of this moment here in the United States and across the world. Obviously, we’re in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic and in the middle of an economic crisis spurred by that. Why do you each think…why do you think this is an important moment for these stories to be told and for the American people to be reading UNRIGGED?

Katie: I think this moment’s really interesting and intense. I run an organization called The People where we have members from across the country, we’re talking to people across the country, and there’s just this weight in people’s voices when it comes to trust, I think, especially. When there’s a worldwide pandemic, having to trust your elected officials – who you normally don’t trust anyways, whether it’s local or federal or whatever – and not knowing whether they’re making decisions that actually are in your best interest or whether they’re part of a political agenda, that’s just heavy. It’s hard, it’s very real, and I think in this moment too, it’s kind of like “Well, what can I do about it?” So I think this book – and in general, reminding people that we actually have much more power than we think, and that actually, unless we, as the people who are impacted by having these dysfunctional systems and a system where somehow, that is one of the first questions that would be in your mind during a worldwide pandemic – we are the ones who have to be at the center of changing this, of rewriting these rules. It’s hard, I don’t think that we should have to do it, but that is the reality. It’s that we are in a world and in a country right now where unless we do, anybody else who’s working on it is going to have some kind of other agenda that’s going to keep the system broken.

David: I hope that the book provides people with some hope and with a road map of what they can do, and an understanding that when individuals stand up, when they put their hands on what Dr. King called “the long moral arc of the universe”, that they can bend it towards justice, that individuals can do this. I know that these are dark days and difficult days, really challenging. We look at the pictures from Wisconsin of voters standing in line and voting in person during a pandemic, we see all of the political fight being invested in vote by mail, in trying to ensure that we have safe and secure elections this fall, and I think what’s so important for people to realize is that we are not as polarized as we think. We’re not as divided as we think. Whenever these issues are put to the people, it doesn’t matter where it is. 60, 70, 75 percent of voters come along. Your fellow Americans, your citizens, your neighbors, they believe in elections, they believe in fairness. Even if we cannot, perhaps, always trust in our political leaders and their agendas, I think we need to understand that we can, perhaps, trust each other more than we realize.

You can listen to the full interview above and then join us on May 31st for an hour of conversation with David Daley on zoom.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Frank Fear

Daley’s Unrigged, Homage to Democracy Activists, Offers Plenty to Chew On

Frank Fear

Frank Fear

“Getting democracy to work as it should” is more than a head-nodding phrase. It’s an activist call to arms. Democracy is being sabotaged. And what makes David Daley’s Unrigged especially noteworthy is that he doesn’t write about any kind of political activism; he writes about grassroots political activism.

It’s a 21st Century adaptation of what de Tocqueville wrote about centuries ago. In Democracy in America (1835), the French author expressed admiration for everyday Americans who rolled up their civic sleeves and got to work. Then as today, the storyline is about grit and persistence. In 2020, add courage and fortitude to the list. That’s because today’s work is about righting wrongs and fixing broken systems.

But while activists’ work is challenging and stressful, reading Unrigged is neither. Daley hits the trifecta in at least two ways. The book is easy-to-read, engaging, and uplifting. And in writing it, Daley makes three contributions: affirming/applauding the work underway, offering a primer for future citizen activists, and authoring a piece that’s worthy of use in civics classes and collegiate classrooms.

Daley writes about knotty, complex issues—gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other forms of political chicanery. He also gives extensive treatment to instances where “the riggers just won’t quit—even after being vanquished. Through legislation, courts, and other means they repeatedly try to undercut grassroots resolve and contradict the people’s” voice.

Daley is so good at what he writes that my mind kept wandering to matters connected to, but extending beyond, the book. Here are three (of many) examples:

There are plenty of ways to get democracy to work as it should, so what do these activists have in common? Daley’s activists work to unrig the electoral system. Unrigged is a book about electoral system change.

What other pathways do citizens pursue for democracy’s sake? There are many. Here are two examples: I’ve long observed the work undertaken by Extension educators associated with land grant universities, who work with elected officials, staff, and citizens on matters of local concern. Meaningful change often emerges, including bridging political divides where conflict and power issues lurk. An example is Bill Rizzo’s work at the University of Wisconsin. I’ve also observed work at the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio. The foundation is dedicated to helping citizens engage thoughtfully and collaboratively through the use of dialogic and deliberative practices. Kettering’s work is connected to a national network of civic practitioners, including those associated with the Institute for Civil Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University and the work (among others) of Professors David Procter and Timothy Shaffer.

When viewed through a social change lens, what kind of electoral system changes are Daley’s activists pursuing? There are at least three kinds of change (at least as I see it)—reform (fixing what’s not working well or is broken), innovation (introducing a new idea or practice), and transformation (a wholesale shift to a new way of doing business). A good share of what Daley writes about falls into the reform category. An example is ending gerrymandering in Michigan by taking district-drawing responsibilities out of a party’s hands and putting it into citizen’s hands. There are examples of innovation too, such as Maine’s ranked-choice voting system.

What about transformational change? That question made me think about a more recent case not covered in the book—Florida’s proposed top-two open primary system. If Florida voters approve the proposal this November, the system will enable Independents to vote in future presidential primaries. That’s reform change because Florida operates currently as a closed primary state. The proposal also converts Florida from its current two-primary system (one for each major party) to a single, statewide primary. That’s a form of innovation. What’s transformative is how that single, statewide primary will work. Democrat and Republican voters won’t vote using a party-only ballot with non-party affiliates being given a choice of one ballot or the other. Instead, all voters will vote for all candidates (irrespective of party or no-party affiliation) using one ballot. Because the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election, it means November contestants may come from the same party or no party at all.

The Florida proposal bundles three forms of change—reform, innovation, and transformation—in a single proposal. While admirable (and worth pursuing, I would add), the record shows that bundled forms of change travel a rocky road to adoption because people have to say yes to multiple change proposals. In the Florida case, the bar is set exceptionally high. Because adoption changes the FL state constitution, 60% of Florida voters must vote ‘yes’ on November 3 for it to become law. Early polls suggest a close call.

Yes, Daley’s Unrigged offers plenty of food for thought. It’s a timely and relevant book, one that electoral reformers and all democracy activists/scholars should read. Daley documents initiatives over which Americans can exude pride—stories about everyday people unwilling to accept the status quo and then doing something to change it.

And it is political theatre at its best—riveting tales of protagonists and antagonists engaging in win-or-lose battles—well expressed in the title of the documentary featuring Michigan’s anti-gerrymandering effort, Slay the Dragon. What’s more, observers don’t know who will win until the very end. Hollywood, be jealous!

In Daley’s melodrama, ‘the good guys’ win most of the time, and we (the beneficiaries) get to cheer, “Well done!”

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as a faculty member for thirty years and worked in various administrative positions for nearly twenty years. Frank also writes about issues that intersect sport and society.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Tonight — Facebook Live Interview with David Daley and Katie Fahey!

At 5:30 pm ET Wednesday, May 13th, Cathy Stewart will be doing a special Politics for the People Facebook Live interview with David Daley and Katie Fahey, executive director of The People, on The People’s Facebook page. Politics for the People’s current selection is Dave’s book, UNRIGGED: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy. Chapter 5 is devoted to Katie Fahey and “Michigan’s Redistricting Revolution”. Please join us on The People’s Facebook page for this 15 minute conversation.

Watch it here!

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Al Bell

A Review of Unrigged: How Americans are
Battling Back to Save Democracy

Al Bell

Al Bell

The fundamental problem with the Democratic and Republican parties is that neither party has any interest in governing the America that actually exists. Rather, they wish to govern an America that has never existed and never will.

The power to change that no longer resides within either party. Their DNA needs some serious splicing from the outside even if they manage to remain the dominant structure for choosing our elected leadership. Until that happens, effective governance will have to occur by means of citizens who are not beholden to the existing party power structures, whether they are party members or not. That enterprise is underway. Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy celebrates some of the loyal Americans who are making it happen.

The revolution Thomas Jefferson talked about is now a work in progress.

David Daley cares deeply about America. He joins the ranks of numerous writers these days whose books are directly relevant to our dilemma. I learned things from his first book, Ratfucked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count (sorry, David, I prefer to just say it; I accept that you no doubt had practical reasons for the asterisks in place of uc) that I could not have found out any other way.

I am reading his new book in installments, absent the luxury of binge reading from cover to cover. And, for the first time ever, I am writing a review as I go, not at the end.

A sentence in Mr. Daley’s introduction jumps out at me:

Keeping a Democracy, it turns out, requires lots of work.

Yes, just as Ben Franklin warned us about a few years ago. It will always require a lot of work, and one reason there is so much heavy lifting right now is because too many of us allowed our civic muscles to atrophy. In fact, it requires sustained work over years or even decades. It took 123 years to finally enable women nationwide to vote. The shadows of slavery are still with us at least 455 years after beginning in what is now the United States (St. Augustine, 1565; Virginia, 1619). More work still to do.

A democratic republic is not designed for civic laziness. I interpret Mr. Daley’s introduction as setting the stage for a lot of folks who are anything but lazy. I suspect he will introduce us to some impressive people who climbed some pretty steep civic hills. I expect to be inspired by most and outraged at why those hills exist in the first place. I respect his dedication to taking us on the journey.

I owe anyone reading this a full disclosure. A prism through which I view America is that we are a highly interdependent society and nation; myths of self-made men and a certain kind of American exceptionalism may have some truth, but are universally inaccurate and misleading. Labeled, with a narrowly defined accuracy, as an Independent Voter, I am actually a lifelong Interdependent Voter. But that’s a mouthful, and I’ll leave it at that. Fully independent in a broader sense, it turns out, does not exist, because it cannot. If ever we needed proof of concept, our encounter with the novel coronavirus should resolve the matter.

Before heading into Chapter 1, I am compelled to highlight Mr. Daley’s summary of the Supreme Court decision to declare that gerrymandering is a subject beyond the Constitution’s reach. By a 5-4 vote. Many of the most significant rulings by the high court in recent decades were determined as well by a one-person margin. If ever we needed reminding that one person can make a difference, this should be it. If ever we needed a reminder that united we do not always stand, it’s hard to find better evidence. In each case, a profoundly consequential decision shaping American lives was made by a single person with lifetime tenure! Ponder that.These are smart people; they are also anything but omniscient.

As a foundation for the adventures we are about to share, Mr. Daley’s stories demonstrate the fact that we don’t need to seek agency from some authority to act on democracy’s behalf. We already have it. That one truth defines a centerpiece of the Great American Experiment that, with all its faults and failures, is sheer genius. Granted, perhaps it shouldn’t be so difficult. But it is a long way from impossible. And it is always appropriate to ask, compared to what?

And now, on to Chapter 1 and a lesson in why paying a bill should always generate a receipt stamped Paid in Full.

In this chapter, entitled “Second Chances and Rights Restored”, we learn of the amazing struggle in Florida to enable felons to regain their voting privileges after satisfactorily serving their sentences. We are also admitted to some of the underbelly of past agendas for dehumanizing black Americans and current practices of arbitrary, obscene toying with people’s lives—just because it can be done. Astounding.

Perhaps one of the most useful insights presented in the story of how ex-felons in Florida finally have been allowed to get a second chance in life is the discovery by their advocates that it isn’t what your message is that counts as much as how you say it. Specifically a single word—in this case, eligibility, of all words!—enabled connection with people of vastly different political persuasions that could have been turned off by just the wrong word. Amazing. But not surprising in our superheated public space.

Particularly poignant to me was the reality that, even as startlingly successful as the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative was, a category of felons had to be thrown under the bus. They remain outliers for reasons that even a highly motivated array of reformers had to accept. Even this monumental breakthrough affecting almost 1.7 million Floridians did not quite get the job done. Intentionally. By its sponsors. My sense: it may never.

My highlights leave out a great deal more insight revealed in only 22 pages. Would I be inclined to move on to Chapter 2? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Paige Bartkowiak

Revolutions from Revelations

Paige Bartkowiak

Paige (Left) and Katie (Right)

I have known Katie Fahey for over two years, working alongside her at Voters Not Politicians while we hosted events 6 days a week and celebrating her 30th birthday together playing lawn games in her front yard. Katie’s positive attitude and willingness to do hard work makes her a strong leader. Katie also never gives up on people, something which made Voters Not Politicians (VNP) such a success. While Katie’s skill with the quill is more akin to writing speeches from her phone; I agree with Unrigged that both Katie Fahey and Alexander Hamilton are true believers in the power of America and the duty to defend the principles and values which make our country great.

I worked on the VNP campaign in 2018 as the Major Event Coordinator on the Fundraising Team. The stories David shares through Unrigged I saw first hand. I came from a more traditional campaign background and the new model of organizing VNP deployed excited me. I was ready to entrust regular Michiganders to host fundraising events, use a homemade quilt to raise money and revolutionize my traditional view of fundraising into the new grassroots tactics we would use to eventually raise over $16 Million. We saw an injustice in our state and we corrected it.

I saw everyday Michiganders deeply care about a political jargony topic: gerrymandering. I studied Political Science at Alma College and graduated feeling frustrated by the old song of corruption. I welcomed the opportunity to have deep intellectually stimulating conversations about fairness, citizenship and voting. I was able to educate thousands of Michiganders on how the system was intentionally designed to minimize voters voices and protect elected officials. After explaining how the system was flawed I saw Michiganders move beyond blaming the other political party into evaluating the fairness of our system and why election officials seemed to be making choices which served them and their donors, but not us the everyday people. We no longer could stand to the side, we rose up.

I first met David Daley on September 26 2018 at a VNP luncheon event in Ann Arbor. While VNP Volunteers enjoyed lunch at the Detroit Street Filling Station, David spoke about the other democracy warriors he had been visiting around the country, whose stories he shares throughout Unrigged. David spoke about knocking doors with groups and calling residents to whip the vote.

The VNP volunteers were delighted to hear stories of others, just like them, from around the country working to take our democracy back. Dave brought a renewed energy to the VNP crowd and was engaged up to and after our 2018 election win. He also reinforced that what we were doing in Michigan mattered and we were not alone in the fight.

David highlights in chapter five of Unrigged the systemic barriers we at VNP had to face. Including a court case which could have been determined by the preferences of the judges donor base, as opposed to the law. Similar to how the King in Hamilton signs “You’ll be Back” to subtly remind people he is in charge and not to cross him, we knew we were breaking historic power structures and this did not make everyone happy but the politics of the system was more challenging than we had anticipated. Politicians and ‘experts’ confessed they were perplexed with our model but we continued. Unrigged does not highlight every challenge we faced but throughout our time at VNP we took on many long standing organizations and challenged the traditional models. Monied interests have long been powerful but we battled through dark monied attack ads placed to confuse voters. We had the law on our side but the system was not. In Michigan we had to have millions of conversations with voters, fight back against dark money to genuinely engage Michiganders to dismantle just one part of our broken system; gerrymandering. We showed the political system you could turn the playbook upside down and still win.

As the leader of VNP, Katie never gave up on the principle that everyday people have the knowledge and ability to be deeply engaged in the sausage making of democracy. Nothing was too complex to be crowdsourced. Katie found a job for everyone, something Unrigged highlights with the anecdote of a birthing doula who served on the policy committee. Katie and David both use the power of story to bring everyday people into the work of saving our country. Afterall, we all have to live here, so we should all play a part in making it a better place.

Paige and David Daley

In early 2019 when Slay the Dragon premiered at Tribeca Film Festival I was able to meet with David again to get an update on his work. He spoke with excitement and optimism and when he described his new book; I knew I would be an early reader. David has seen the good and the bad of campaigns and has unearthed filthy truths about our democracy. But even to this day he is energized by the work of everyday Americans and remains optimistic. His books should provide any reader with a roadmap for making meaningful change, Unrigged is no different. David shared with us his hopes for this book back in 2019 and now, as I am reading the printed version, I realize the power his words have in allowing readers to understand what symptoms appear when the structure is rigged and laying out a plan forward for how the system can be fixed.

Unrigged shines a light on the dark truths of our country, it confronts us with realities most of us would rather not admit are happening in America. We are founded on principles and values we want to see in our community; yet, our elected officials and public servants are not fulfilling those values. Why? The ugly truth behind Unrigged is a desire for politicians to preserve power. Politicians want to stay elected and one of the ways they do this is by drawing districts that they, or their party could never lose. Gerrymandering is a political weapon that has been used to manipulate voters’ voices into not really mattering. When people are gerrymandered they have no way to hold their elected officials accountable. They cannot be voted out, so the people are left voiceless. But with the 2020 redrawing of the lines, gerrymandering was running out of time and VNP was there to outrun and outlast the self interested politicians fighting to preserve their power.

Unrigged works to show that regular everyday people know this is wrong; that is why there is broad agreement from across the political spectrum on democratic systems reform. Unrigged further shows readers how to take that frustration and anger and do something about it. No longer are we just to complain on social media or simply write a letter to an elected official. Now is the time to put the gloves on and work on our country.

Massachusetts’s redistricting maps of 1812 set by Governor Elbridge Gerry established the practice of politicians packing or cracking voters into districts to ensure they will be ‘elected’ again. In November 2018 the people of Michigan came together, Republic, Democrat and Independent alike to slay the political dragon of undue influence in Michigan. We provoked outrage and built comradery around a nonpartisan solution to gerrymandering. We made political gerrymandering illegal and we are ready to help mobilize millions more Americans. After the win in 2018 Katie and I traveled back to Boston where Governor Elbridge had conducted the first gerrymandering of voters and set out on another journey to size the opportunity we saw to be young, scrappy and hungry yet again.

Our system as a whole needs some major renovating and that is why I now work for The People. Katie and I, along with Cathy Stewart from Independent Voting and our other incredible team members were able to recognize what we did in Michigan mattered, was unique and could be replicated. So we are taking the lessons learned from Unrigged and moving them into other states and applying them to other changes that need to happen in our system. We know this is an endless uphill climb and we need you to join us. To find out more about our work visit to learn how you can bring the much needed change to our country.

Paige Bartkowiak is the Head of National Development for The People. Prior to working for The People, Paige was the Major Fundraising Event Coordinator for Voters Not Politicians, a fundraiser for Senator Debbie Stabenow and a field organizer for Bryan Mielke.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Fixing Bugs in Democracy: Gerrymandering

On April 17th, David Daley joined Sam Wang and Julian Zelizer for a gerrymandering-themed episode of the virtual town hall Fixing Bugs in Democracy, co-sponsored by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and the Pace Center for Civic Engagement.

Sam Wang, Director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, begins the conversation by asking Daley about his experiences outlined in his previous book, Ratf**ked, where Daley traveled around the country bumping elbows with various political figures and witnessing the suffocating consequences of gerrymandering firsthand. Daley explains the flagrant desperation of the Republican party to secure its position despite a fleeting support base, contrasted by the incompetence of the Democratic party to recognize a shift in tactics that was all but announced to them.

However, as Daley begins to lead the conversation into his new book, he shifts from a regretful tone to a more optimistic one. His new book, Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy, focuses not on what was lost among the struggle of the two major parties, but what was won by the people who decided it was time to take the government back into their own hands.

Here are some interesting highlights from the conversation:

Sam Wang: So, these are not gerrymandering stories, this is all kinds of democracy reform. This is now Medicare expansion, this is now getting voting rights back for one and a half million Floridians, so you covered a lot of stories.

David Daley: Yeah…I was down in Florida, I was in Utah and covered the events in North Dakota on Native American voting rights, went around the country on student voting rights – the passion that was unleashed in this country, that I think we saw especially in the 2018 election, was this citizen movement that was non-partisan, it was uniting Democrats, Republicans, independents. You don’t win Medicaid expansion in Idaho with 60% of the vote if you’re counting on Democrats – I think Democrats are about 14% of the vote in Idaho. You can’t win a constitutional amendment in Florida on felon voting rights at 64% of the vote in a year in which Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott are the statewide [representatives] – unless you are doing the work of persuading people who maybe are not automatically on your side. So, I went out looking for hope and optimism in our politics and I found it in these really unlikely places – people doing the hard work of rebuilding these structural problems that had gotten bugs put in them.

Julian Zelizer, Professor of History and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton : Is there top down support in the stories you saw, from either funders or from the Democratic Party, or are they kind of operating on their own, once again disconnected from a party that’s not seeing this as central?

David Daley: I think it started on its own, and I think that some funding has flown into it since then. I mean, if you look at Katie Fahey and what happened in Michigan, there was, I think, a lot of reluctance to fund them at all because people thought that Michigan was where good ideas went to die and it was such an expensive state to try to operate in. I don’t think they had a lot of support until they got on the ballot and then until the supreme court there allowed them to stay on the ballot, and then I think you saw some of the national money come in – largely foundation money or kind of good government money…others are just citizen groups that got moving and found each other.

Sam Wang: It strikes me that it’s a bit of a tightrope: on the one hand fighting for structural reform, on the other hand bringing it into people’s lives without making it into a partisan food fight.

Julian Zelizer: I’m curious what you’ve found in terms of what motivates people… in all the different people you’ve traveled with and encountered, what’s motivating them to get out of their house and to talk about structural reform as opposed to other kinds of high-profile issues?

David Daley: …I think that there’s more awareness among regular Americans than folks imagine about the connection between structural reform and the broken dysfunction of our politics. Congressman Sarbanes said this to me…He said that Democrats in 2016, 2018 would be out having town halls and they’d be giving their presentations, and they could feel that the room wasn’t with them when they talked about how they were going to fix healthcare and increase the minimum wage and all of these litany of policy proposals, and in the questions, it came out that people didn’t think it could get done because of the brokenness and the gridlock and gerrymandering and sort of all of these structural problems. And he said once they started talking about the structural problems, the room started nodding along, people started bobbing their heads, and they realized “Ok, people sort of get this, in a really profound way.”

59 million Americans right now live in a state in which one or both chambers of their state legislature is controlled by the party that won fewer votes in 2018 – that’s one in five of us. So, if you Live in Michigan, if you live in Pennsylvania, Ohio –

Sam Wang: Wisconsin.

David Daley: -Wisconsin, you understand the impact of gerrymandering firsthand. You’ve lived with it for the last decade. You’ve seen how it drives policy to the extremes, you’ve seen how it means that your votes don’t count the way that they perhaps used to, you don’t have competitive elections all the way down to your state legislature, and I think people have, sort of, come to really understand that this is a huge problem, and that it was incumbent on them to do something about it. The courts slammed the door, and the politicians were not going to fix the process that kept them in office. It was up to the people to do this…if people wanted to get anything done, they had no choice but to take it into their own hands.

David Daley: If we want to focus on the half step backwards in all of these states, we can. But there’s also been a couple of steps ahead. The history of voting rights in this country is not a straight line towards progress…it’s a story of progress and retrenchment, sometimes all at once…Dr. King talked about the moral arc of the universe being long but bending towards justice – it doesn’t bend towards justice by itself.

Sam Wang: Right, you gotta bend it.

David Daley: It only bends when all of us grab it, and what happened in 2018 is that people grabbed it.

David Daley: In many ways, this is a war between voters and their elected representatives.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


%d bloggers like this: