Katie Fahey, founder and executive director of Voters not Politicians, spoke with students Tuesday afternoon in the Ford School of Public Policy about her journey from concerned citizen to political activist.
Her discussion, titled “Grassroots Organizing: Lessons learned from Voters not Politicians” included a presentation of Fahey’s two year journey of canvassing against gerrymandering in Michigan.
After the 2016 election, Fahey joked about trying to unite her family and friends over a nonpartisan issue by posting an easy-going message on Facebook only to have it circulate. She said she was then bombarded with concerns from fellow citizens.
“In an attempt to have a pleasant Thanksgiving, I make this very simple post: ‘I’d like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan, if you’re interested in doing this as well, please let me know, smiley face,’ Fahey said. “I went to work, came home… and there were all these people who had messages in my inbox who were all completely strangers.”
Fahey shared that she created a Facebook group message to start her organization and spent the next two years trying to get a gerrymandering proposal on the ballot for 2018 elections.
The organization thought of several methods to end gerrymandering, including being directly involved with legislature.
“When we started doing the research, we saw that over 11 bills had been written, but when Democrats were gerrymandering, those bills were only written by Republicans, and when Republicans were gerrymandering, those bills are only written by Democrats,” Fahey said. “None of those bills had ever even been brought up for a vote.”
The organization ultimately decided to use the ballot process as their method of change. Keeping in mind the failed attempts of previous bills, Fahey said she made sure political biases did not influence the efforts of Voters Not Politicians.
“Whatever your personal politics were, that was fine, but you were going to check them at the door,” Fahey said. “If you are a part of this group, you were going to be a group trying to create a solution to gerrymandering that would not advantage or disadvantage any Michigan voter based on who they voted for.”
Voters not Politicians canvassed in all 83 Michigan counties. They collected signatures, held town halls and stood outside of businesses and intersections wearing costumes in the shape of the gerrymandered district they were visiting.
In 2018, the proposal was placed on the ballot and passed in a majority of counties. Following the success of the ballot measure in November, an independent redistricting committee will redraw gerrymandered districts.
Fahey wrapped up her presentation by sharing the most important lesson she learned was everyone should contribute to legitimize the cause.
“Every team involved here mattered,” Fahey said. “Figuring out the way that we can all contribute to democracy regardless of whether we had done it before or feeling like we had the right skills was really important, and personally that’s how I hope America should be.”
LSA freshmen Alex McMullen and Sheila Lawrence attended the event and said they enjoyed the presentation.
“I feel a little more inspired to do something that I care about more than just trying to make money with what I learn here,” McMullen said.
Both McMullen and Lawrence are from New Jersey and said they learned from the presentation how important it is to limit the impacts of gerrymandering nationwide. Lawrence mentioned how gerrymandered districts affects everyone, even those who think they are unaffected by it.
“It’s also true with how important it is, obviously with the 2016 election, how so many states were in the edge and how gerrymandering can affect it,” Lawrence said.