Ellen, New Hampshire

Dear America,

I am an asthmatic, like millions of other Americans, and need a rescue inhaler. The propellant that used to be in these inhalers, CFC, was very effective in sending the medicine deep into the lungs. In the early 2000s, GlaxoSmithKline saw their opportunity, and lobbied Congress to make CFCs in inhalers illegal, because they had developed a proprietary alternative, and far inferior, propellant, HFA. Not only is this propellant insufficient to deliver medication deep into the lungs, and in fact causes clogging of the inhaler which was never before a problem, but generic rescue inhalers disappeared overnight, sending the price of an inhaler from around $5 to over $50, and in some cases hundreds of dollars. Millions of asthmatics lungs, and pockets, are suffering…all so Glaxo could make an extra buck. Our ‘democracy’ at work.

Sincerely,

Ellen, New Hampshire

Melissa, North Carolina

Dear America,

I’m 60 years old and never missed voting in an election. I never bought into the my vote won’t make a difference apathy. Until now. Now I believe we have a Congress that doesn’t represent us. The majority of Americans support gun reform, DACA, abortion rights and 42 years later we are still fighting to preserve Roe, gun laws haven’t changed, and the dreamers are still twisting in the wind. Somehow a minority has hijacked the wishes of the majority. Legislation is being written by lobbyists. I didn’t vote for a lobbyist. It infuriates me when I hear my representative say they were handed a copy of the bill by a lobbyist. I really shouldn’t be surprised since my representative has to spend so much of their time fundraising. We have lost our voice to known and unknown big money contributors and foreign sources. The Supreme Courts decision on Citizens United is ruining our government and our elections, and I’m guessing the majority would agree.

Sincerely,

Melissa, North Carolina

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.”

Ready to tell your story?

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.”

Ready to tell your story?