Carol, Pennsylvania

“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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