Student Leaders

Douglas
Douglas

Douglas, California

Douglas started with Common Cause helping run the victorious campaign to create a groundbreaking public financing program in Berkeley in 2016. He now leads the Common Cause student group at UC Berkeley.

 

AK
AK

AK, Illinois

The first time I went to vote, it took five hours. The line was well over a hundred people long and completely wrapped around the block. The County Recorder had drastically cut the number of polling places for this primary cycle. A lot of voters in my county were mad about that, and come the general election, we voted her out of office. I work with Common Cause because I think the country needs more stories like that, where ordinary individuals get together to make the government work for them.

Cindy
Cindy

Cindy, Georgia

After the 2016 election, Cindy began taking more of an interest in politics and became aware of Common Cause. During the legislative session she is organizing lobby days to educate and empower voters to and doing social media to help pass redistricting reform in Georgia.

 

Julia
Julia

Julia, Illinois

“Throughout my two and a half years with the University of Chicago branch of Common Cause Illinois, I’ve done everything from going to my alderman’s ward meetings and learning about community issues to lobbying in Springfield for issues like Automatic Voter Registration that affect millions of people across the state.”

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Will, Pennsylvania

Will Fuller
Will came to this work “through his faith, not in spite of,” and works to help others make the connection between faith and justice.

Where Faith Meets Democracy

Religion can lead a person many places – ministry, community service, volunteer work – but for Will Fuller, his faith brought him to democracy advocacy.

Will is a Community Organizer at POWER, a multi-racial, multi-faith social justice network serving the Philadelphia and Harrisburg regions. He believes in numerous causes including education, equity, immigration, health care, and criminal justice reform. The keystone to all these? Reforming the gerrymandering that keeps progress on these issues stagnant. Will came to this work “through his faith, not in spite of,” and works to help others make the connection between faith and justice.

“This is a specific action that God speaks up about.”

When explaining why he believes in fairer districts, Will cites scripture. He points to passages in the Old Testament about drawing property lines fairly. He says, “this is a specific action that God speaks up about.” He sees gerrymandering reform as an opportunity to “bring us closer to the vision of equality and justice that God has for the world.” It would dramatically impact the issues POWER works on, as well as the communities they work with.

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Tony, Pennsylvania

Tony Crocamo

“No one has given their life for America to make sure that one party has an advantage in an election.”

Veteran Tony Crocamo believes in fighting for a country that honors our democratic voice, and is empowering others to use their own voice to speak up.

Honoring Veterans’ Sacrifice by Strengthening Our Democracy

Donning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, veteran Tony Crocamo believes that those who die in combat for America did not do so “so we could have safe districts for politicians where they couldn’t lose an election.” He says, “No one has given their life for America to make sure that one party has an advantage in an election. For politicians – people in power – to hold onto that advantage is dishonest to anyone who has ever given their life for America. These politicians talk about honoring veterans and honoring their sacrifice and they trash it with their self-serving redistricting.” Without gerrymandering reform, he says these aren’t “races, they’re victory laps.”

Tony is no stranger to politics either. He’s served as Township Supervisor and a Zoning Board member. He was the first Democrat elected to the position in over 30 years, and represented his party alone on the board. He says it taught him how to work in a bipartisan fashion, to be able to engage in open conversation. He takes those skills to Fair Districts PA, where he established their statewide Speaker’s Bureau and coaches speakers. He believes courts, the press, and the people should all be furious about the current state of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, and is using the power of stories and dialogue to draw attention to this issue.

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Carol, Pennsylvania

Carol Kuniholm

“We think out vote should count, and then when we realize that it doesn’t, we’re disillusioned. The reality is that there are things that we can do. We can change the system so that it goes back to being true, that our vote does count.”

Carol Kuniholm is the co-founder of Fair Districts PA. In just two years the organization has grown to hundreds of volunteers, has brought thousands of community members to informational meetings, and is helping push legislation to end gerrymandering.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

Carol Kuniholm did not begin her adult life in politics. While she was a youth pastor, her church, which is part of an affluent suburban community in Pennsylvania, had a partnership with an urban church in a low-income community. Children of each church would spend time in the summer staying with families of the other church. Through getting to know the children of the other church, she began noticing stark differences from the experiences of the children of her own community. Her research led her to dig around in Pennsylvania politics. What she found was a political system that was unresponsive to and uninterested in the needs of Pennsylvanians, and it hindered the legislators who were concerned. It became clear to her that until we addressed gerrymandering, other issues would not be fixed.

Carol’s story and the way in which Fair Districts PA came about highlights a key component of democracy reform – the litany of causes we care about all connect to these keystone issues.

“It became really clear that that until we fix gerrymandering, nothing changes.”

When Carol first got involved with the issue, she said she would talk to people around the country asking if gerrymandering reform would be impactful and how it would be achieved. While there was agreement that it would be the most important reform that could be done in Pennsylvania, she was told it was impossible. People responded, “leadership will never give up power and the people in Pennsylvania will never pay attention. This will never change.” Fast-forward to January 2017, and Carol filled a meeting room with almost 900 people to talk about redistricting. A few weeks later, she filled another room with 800 people. One meeting had a line of 65 people standing outside waiting for a new seat to open. “People were begging to come in to meetings to learn about gerrymandering!” She says that’s when she realized “people are paying attention, people are really trying to understand why there is no choice in the state and why it is impossible to vote out bad legislators…they come up to me and say ‘now that I understand this, I can’t go back to doing nothing.’”

Since this past January, Fair Districts PA has held over 300 meetings with a total of 16,000 attendees, and they gain new volunteers every week.

“What we’re trying to do is wrestle power away from people who are addicted to power and that doesn’t happen without a huge groundswell of grassroots effort”

The movement is growing, and people like Carol are fueling the fire. For the next three years, the end of which will mark the release of the 2021 U.S. Census, they have their eyes set on creating independent citizens commissions to make redistricting fair and transparent. To achieve this, she’s casting a wide and inclusive net to build as large of a coalition as she can. “Whatever the issue is that brings you to the table, you’re not going to fix that until you fix this. If you’re looking at issues like gun violence, minimum wage, housing, or criminal justice reform, even if that is your passion, save space for this so when we give the call to show up, we all show up.”

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Gina, Washington

Gina Owens

“It feels like I’m more a part of the system. People like me can contribute in ways that we never have before. We can participate in ways that Big Money always has.”

Gina Owens, a longtime voter and low-income resident, contributed to a political campaign for the first time using Seattle’s innovative democracy voucher program.

Participating in a more inclusive local democracy
Gina Owens is a born-and-raised Seattleite, public housing resident, activist, volunteer, grandmother, and committed voter. She is raising her grandchildren after her only daughter passed away from health complications. The decisions of those in office greatly impact her life, and while she is engaged in her community and advocates for policy changes that work for everyday people like herself, her income has always created a barrier for her to contribute to the candidates she supported. That is, until Seattle created its innovative democracy voucher program.

Using her democracy vouchers, Gina contributed to a political campaign for the first time. She said, “It feels like I more a part of the system. People like me can contribute in ways that we never have before. We can participate in ways that Big Money always has.”

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Paul, Pennsylvania

Paul Perry

By telling us his story, we were able to work with Paul to get an op-ed published. Read it here.

“Until we put our feet down and say ‘enough,’ we’re going to keep being victimized by the system. I think it’s really on us. It’s for us to decide.”

Paul Perry, a former teacher and long-time public servant, dropped out of a Pennsylvania Congressional race after being outspent by his opponents. Unlike his opponents, he rejected large and corporate donations and did not self-fund.

“I was tired of seeing kids come to school hungry, guys having their lives thrown away by the criminal justice system, or people in my own family struggling with addiction and inequality…I was sick and tired of being sick and tired” – On why he ran for office

Paul Perry has long devoted his adult life to public service. By any objective standard, he is qualified to serve the people of Pennsylvania in Congress.

Perry holds an MEd in Urban Education from the University of Pennsylvania, a Masters of Public Policy from Berkeley and a Doctor in Education Leadership from Harvard. He’s been a Legislative Assistant for the NAACP, an intern for then-Senator Barack Obama, a Policy Analyst at the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at Berkeley, a regional Executive Director of the Reset Foundation, which helps young people involved in the criminal justice system, Executive Director of COLAGE, which unites those with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents to become leaders in their communities, the Founder and CEO of PDP, LLC, a social impact leadership firm, Director of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, and worked for schools in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and Denver – all before age 35.

And yet seven months before the primary, he was forced to drop out of the running.

“People are like ‘we need more black candidates, we need more women candidates.’ What are you going to do to make sure that woman moves from 70 cents on the dollar to a dollar on the dollar so she can even afford to think about running. That’s the debt we owe to women. Same for candidates of color…How are we going to help them actually see and feel that they can run for office.”

In the crowded Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, a seat currently held by Republican Patrick Meehan, Perry’s opponents outspent him 6-to-1. It was clear that despite his qualifications, winning his race was not realistic.

When asked about whether he felt like the door was open to people like himself to run for office, he said the door was open, but “it’s a question of what weights on your back when you walk through the door…and also how steep the steps are once you walk through.” Perry committed himself to rejecting large and corporate donations, and to not self-fund. He did not have family members writing him large checks, nor did he have a network of those who could. During the day, he was the Executive Director of a non-profit, spending his limited free time talking to voters and fundraising. His opponents do not share these barriers, and proved early on to benefit from a system that unfairly favors the wealthy and well-connected. He stated, “we were at the same door, but what was before the door and after the door was very different.” He also believes that in order to have more people of color and women in office, we need to make sure they can afford to run. With public financing, he says the steepness of that metaphorical stairwell is more level.

After donors continued to fundraise for him even after unsuccessful attempts to convince him to change his policy positions “As a candidate I thought ‘this is interesting, they want a foothold on me.’ Even if they initially can’t get ahold of you, they still want to latch on. Maybe you’ll think twice…its all about power. I don’t see that changing until fundraising changes. There’s no such thing as a self-directing system, that’s how a system works, it maintains itself. There’s going to need to be greater upheaval that changes this.”

Ready to tell your story?