Tips so that your book club can make the most out of reading Ratf**ked:
1. Check out the Elephant in the Room for the inside story of how political consultants drew congressional and state legislative district lines in a hotel room 500 feet from the Ohio Statehouse in 2011.
2. Bring congressional map to the book club so that you can check out the crazy district lines.
3. Make sure that everyone has a chance to share and let them know that there are all sorts of ways to get involved so that we have fairer maps and fairer elections in 2021.
By Marci Bird, Delaware Ohio
I think it is safe to say that I was not the only one in shock in mid-November 2016. There were folks across the entire political spectrum that were more than a bit surprised that Donald Trump was our president-elect.
I really wanted to understand why and how our political system works.
I worked the polls in a very Republican area and the turnout was – to borrow a word from our new president—stupendous. It was evident to me before I left for the evening that I was seeing something that the pollsters had missed. I mean, where did all these voters come from? There were so many folks that had not voted in such a long while. Many needed a thorough explanation of the machine voting process and reassurances that their votes would, indeed, all be counted. It was really quite incredible.
Voting is democracy in action and the turnout was inspiring.
That being said, I am a “blue” and there were few “blues” on our ballot and lots of uncontested races. Few voters identified themselves as Democrats at the polls I manned that day. The turnout was overwhelmingly red. And the results reflected this.
This confused me. We live in a swing state and this got me thinking…
Did few Democrats show up at these uncontested races? Or were there no Democrats on the ballot because no Democrats showed up to vote?
Was this outcome that extraordinary an event and if so, how did it evolve to the point where we had a complete outsider with a disdain for all things political as our president?
I mean, it didn’t seem that many of my “red” friends or family were that thrilled with the outcome either. Honestly. They expressed via social media and personal messages that they had voted “red” despite their misgivings because they had simply not felt listened to or taken seriously by the people in Washington for years. They were tired of working hard, sometimes at more than one job, with nothing to show for it, of not being able to find work in their own communities, of having to choose between clothes and a home for the kids, of losing health care coverage and pensions and of their own medication being taken off the table. They said they just wanted to try something new. Someone that was not part of the establishment. Something different. Maybe someone would listen and help bring back their dignity.
So my next question was why had no one been listening all along?
Isn’t it the job of our elected officials to help all of their constituents, not just the ones who voted for them? How could it be that so many people had suffered in silence— not because they did not speak out but because they were not being heard—for so long? If the people that were supposed to be served by the system were this unhappy, there had to be a reason and likely a systemic problem.
I felt as if I had a responsibility to understand what had happened and why. And I, a bookish introvert, did what bookish introverts do. I looked for books. And I decided
to start a book club. Still, I was not sure where to start.
Then, on November 17, 2016, I was driving down SR315 and I heard David Daley on All Sides with Ann Fisher on WOSU. He was discussing the research that he had done to write his book Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy. Daley explained that Republican consultants focused on winning state legislative races – and using “dark money” to get a leg up – in 2010 so that Republicans would be responsible for making legislative and congressional maps.
Gerrymandering or the manipulation of district lines for partisan advantage is nearly as old as our country— and both parties engage in it--
but this REDMAP Project marginalized the Democratic Party in states like Ohio and insulated incumbents of both political parties.
If the Democratic winners of Democratic leaning districts and Republican winners of Republican leaning districts only have to worry about the Primary Election or Primary voters or partisans, then they are not likely to listen to, or be accountable to the majority of the voters in their own districts. No wonder ordinary voters feel neglected.
It’s easy to ignore voters if all you have to worry about is the Primary. So then voter, if you feel you have no voice, why would you show up to vote? Why have faith in the establishment? And, conversely, why not show up to vote in droves for the unknown outsider who promises he hears you and he will answer to you? This was my eureka moment. This made sense. The system was broken and we were all hurting for it.
As soon as I arrived at my destination that day, I pulled out my phone and ordered Ratf**ked. I finished reading it by the end of the week and I began to tell everyone about the book and how it had clarified to me that this current gerrymandered system hurt us all, not just Democrats but all voters.
We deserve real elections. Mapmaking by the political party in power led to a lack of accountability and extremism in both parties. This led to a lack of compromise on policy proposals and without compromise and bipartisan support, common sense proposals do not become actual policy.
I met Cheryl at the Ohio Electoral College official count day. We had sat next to each other by fortunate coincidence and started to talk about how we were feeling and what we personally needed to feel as if we could start to make a difference, which was an understanding of how we got here in the first place. I told her about Ratf**ked and asked her what she thought of the idea of a book club that read books and studied issues relevant to the current political situation in the US. She thought it was a great idea and she was in.
Next, I met a group of folks that were educating themselves on policy, civic engagement and activism. I mentioned my book club idea to them and some members were enthusiastic about the idea. Thus, Relevant Reading, the book club, was born. Our first selection was Ratf**ked.
Our discussion on the subject was interesting. I felt this most deeply when several
members of the group mentioned that the book made them feel hopeful. This book
about how our voting rights were skillfully manipulated away from us, showed them
that there was a problem with the system, not with the people governed by the
Fixing a system, making our representatives accountable for their actions and forcing them to listen to their constituents—all their constituents—was something we could actively work on. We could make a difference. We could volunteer for the Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition and work on the Bipartisan Congressional Redistricting Reform Initiative.
We could talk to people across the political spectrum about how this deliberately broken system has worked to disenfranchise us and to put hyper-partisanship above governance.
During our book club on April 20, we were able to take action:, we signed a petition to get congressional redistricting reform on the ballot. And then we selected our next book.
We were all grateful for the insight Mr. Daley provided us on how we got to where we are and how to move forward so that we can improve representational democracy.
I look forward to learning more with and from the ladies in Relevant Reading Book Club.