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Unrigging The System: Reformers, Civic Groups Take Action Following Historic Summit

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

The Unrig The System Summit in New Orleans was a historic event that brought together people from across the political spectrum who could all agree on at least one thing: Our political process is corrupt, rigged, and need of broad systemic reform.

Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, progressives, independents, and more shared the spotlight together not to talk about the political issues that divide them, but the reform initiatives that can unite them.

"Good things, developmental things are happening. Political reform and the need for systemic change are grabbing center stage. This need is being legitimized by institutions from Harvard to the voting booth," says Jackie Salit, President of Independent Voting.

Many attendees left the summit with a renewed sense of hope, as more and more Americans see the need for top-to-bottom systemic reform in our political system. But the lingering question on many minds now is, "what's next?" Where do we go from here?

As Salit observes:

"Reformers across the spectrum — from the arenas of open primaries, nonpartisan redistricting, anti-corruption, ballot access, ranked choice voting, presidential debates, initiative and referenda, felon voting rights, independent candidacies, and more — are looking for ways to coalesce."

Many of these reformers have come together under the umbrella of the Bridge Alliance, a movement of more than 80 civic action organizations that are “working individually and together to transform the political terrain,” according to the coalition’s website.

Members of the Bridge Alliance were asked to give their feedback on the Unrig The System Summit and answer the all important question of “what’s next?” Here is what some of them had to say:

Daniel Newman, President and Co-Founder of Maplight

MapLight plans to deepen our efforts at exposing deceptive manipulation of public opinion on social media, a growing threat to the deliberation needed for a functioning democracy.

We will also be creating new digital tools for transparency of political money, including free open-source tools for secretary of state websites. We will continue our work doing data analysis for democracy reform campaigns, showing the problems of money and influence in particular communities.

It was exciting and productive to have so many people come together who are working to reform our political system. We are all part of the same varied and complex movement.

John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries

The Unrig the System conference, sponsored by and held last week in New Orleans, was an important event for the reform movement.

I was so impressed by Katie Fahey and the Voters Not Politicians movement in Michigan. The process they went through to put an "end gerrymandering" referendum on the ballot is a case study in how to fuse electoral reform with voter empowerment.

They didn't devise a fixed solution and then present a finished product to the voters; they presented the problem—politicians drawing their own legislative districts—and organized thousands of Michiganders via on-line and in-person public forums to participate in developing a solution - a fully transparent, nonpartisan redistricting commission.

“The how” is as important as “The what” when it comes to mobilizing the American people to fully participate in revitalizing our democracy.

Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter presented their new Harvard Business School report, Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America, to a packed auditorium and received an enthusiastic response.

I recently interviewed Katherine for my new IVN podcast The Pickle, and I have become a fan of Katherine and Michael's blunt appraisal of how the partisan duopoly distorts and stymies the will of the American people.

My colleague and Open Primaries board member Dr. Jessie Fields participated in a panel discussion about alternative voting methods. She talked about the tremendous pressure being put on communities of color to condemn Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression while remaining silent about Democratic gerrymandering and voter suppression.

Her message was well received, and a shortened version of her talk was published in the Washington Examiner, and syndicated on Please read and share this important piece.

Grace Ramsey, Deputy Outreach Director of FairVote

Unrig the System was a fantastic experience for the FairVote team. In sessions we were able to hear colleagues in the electoral reform space discuss the urgent issues that plague our democracy.

Among them, ranked choice voting was frequently mentioned as one of the key solutions to our electoral woes.

At our table FairVote staff were able to have hundreds of conversations with activists and colleagues where we were able to get activists plugged into the movement and share ideas for collaboration with other members of the reform community.

And finally, in panel discussions, the democracy science fair, and the Spark Talk stage we were able to share our current campaigns and priorities with activists and colleagues that had come from across the country.

Unrig the System was a thrilling reminder of the passion that exists in the reform community and we are excited to dive back into our ongoing work and campaign, engage and develop the new connections we made at the conference, and continue to develop partnerships and coalitions with the reform community.

Brandyn Keating of United Citizen Power

As an organization that works to make sure our government serves all Americans and not just a select few, United Citizen Power was thrilled to be present at the Unrigged Summit with our colleagues from the Bridge Alliance to learn and plan together.

We participated in exciting discussions and planning about making the changes necessary to ensure that all voices are heard in our democratic process. We are out in communities across the country every day, meeting voters who feel alienated by the current system.

As we do our grassroots organizing, we meet voters at their doors and in the community who feel left out and left behind -- but they care deeply about their communities.

We came away from Unrigged energized to play a role in growing the movement of Americans calling for fair districting, getting money out out of politics, and so much more.

We are excited about the potential for growing and diversifying this movement so that we can see the concrete change that is needed to reach the promise of our democracy.

Moving forward, we'll be bringing the grassroots power we are developing to bear as well as helping other organizations to increase their capacity to grow the movement by providing training on bringing relational organizing to scale.

Throughout we'll be marrying the grassroots work with that of cultural and political influencers.

Bruce Bond, Committee Member of Common Ground Committee

The Unrig the System conference featured Passion with a capital “P.” These folks were mad as hell and determined not to take it anymore.

But among the vociferous demands for change were stories of people who were quietly getting involved to weaken the forces that maintain the parts of our political system that put too much power in the hands of a few.

If nothing else, the passion of the Unrig conference proved the political situation is ripe for change.

Recognizing this, in 2018 Common Ground Committee will be delivering more of its unique events than in the past three years combined. These are public forums where renowned panelists with differing views on important issues demonstrate to audiences “what good looks like” – passionate, but respectful and productive debate where panelists work with their counterpart to find points of common ground without compromising principles and identify opportunities for political leaders to make deals.

Our 2018 conferences will take place mostly on college campuses, a new focus for us.

In 2018, we are also ramping up our online activity and will be actively supporting Bridge Alliance initiatives.

Change is coming and we mean to be a part of it.

Pearce Godwin, Founder and CEO of the Listen First Project

In New Orleans, I was inspired by the breadth and depth of passion for revitalizing our democracy. Most of the activists who attended the Summit are focusing on important structural or electoral reforms--efforts that will be most successful on a foundation of cultural transformation.

In today's hyper-polarized and tribalized world, we must turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division by starting new conversations that bridge divides — move from 'us vs. them' to 'me and you.'

Unless we as citizens and leaders are able to have listen-first conversations that prioritize understanding the other, our reform efforts will fail to widely resonate and thus be limited in impact.

As Walt Roberts said during our Conversations Across Divides panel:

"The quality of our conversations determines the quality of our relationships, which determines the quality of our results."

The many new relationships formed and ideas generated in New Orleans are already propelling our collective Listen First cultural movement to new frontiers.

Ted Celeste, Director of State Programs at the National Institute for Civil Discourse

I was truly uplifted by the number of participants at the recent Unrig the System Summit in New Orleans. The enthusiasm and energy were in high gear.

As a member of the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) team, I was pleased to be among so many folks who are trying to address the political dysfunction in America today, whether the power that money has over every level of government, the way congressional districts are drawn to favor incumbents, the oppressive partisanship of the two parties, or just the basic breakdown of civility in our political discourse.

I lead a program that is aimed at bringing some civility to our state legislatures, and while it has been an uphill climb over the last 6 years, we have found through the Bridge Alliance a partnering opportunity with the State Legislative Leadership Foundation and the National Foundation of Women Legislators that has brought our work much notice from Legislative Leadership around the country.

In that spirit, the Summit in New Orleans brought new networking opportunities forward and many varied ways to address our dysfunctional political system.

NICD is working with a number of organizations that attended the Summit in the preparation of a National Week of Conversation - April 20-28. The Bridge Alliance and the Listen First Project held a briefing about the purpose of the Week of Conversation, and encouraged other groups to join in the effort, and NICD plans to have a major role with a focus on promoting civility in the 2018 elections.

I was pleased to learn of the goal of the new Director of Development of Bridge Alliance, Doug Nickle, to try to combine the reach of the various organizations within the alliance in order to provide a marketing edge for any development efforts. We look forward to working with Doug and the Bridge Alliance in this undertaking.

A big thank you to the organizers of the Unrig the System Summit. Hopefully the energy and effort will be sustained.

Jeff Clements, President of American Promise

Two things stand out to us at American Promise about the Unrig Summit. The first is the determination of so many Americans to go big on reform.

A 28th Amendment to the US Constitution that can end the domination of big money and secure real and fair representation of all Americans? We can do that. So many at the Summit reject the tired and false narrative that Americans aren’t capable of winning a Constitutional amendment in our time.

We also were so impressed with how much people are ready to work together for all the necessary reforms. Yes, we need a 28th Amendment as a foundation, but we need to build the rest of the reform “house”: anti-corruption acts, ranked choice voting, open up the political process and challenge the party duopoly and the political-industrial complex, end gerrymandering and empower citizens across the country who are willing to believe that the Amendment is winnable and necessary.

We returned from the Unrig the System Summit with a continuing commitment to cross-partisanship, and to working in coalition with all of our allies, old and new. We’re doubling down to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to pass sweeping reform, create lasting change, and live up to the American promise.

We hope that all plan to attend our upcoming National Citizen Leadership Conference, June 22-25 in Washington, D.C.

If you wish to learn more about the Bridge Alliance or its members, you can visit the coalition’s website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo Source: Crowdpac

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