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The People's Virginia leaders, Cindi Copeland (left) and Kim Collins (right), join Katie Fahey at the First National Assembly of The People.

The Fahey Q&A: How Cindi Copeland is searching for political humanity in Virginia

Having organized last year's grassroots movement ending Michigan's politicized gerrymandering, Fahey is now executive director of The People, which is forming statewide networks to promote government accountability. She interviews a colleague in the world of democracy reform each month for our Opinion section.

Cindi Z.S. Copeland has gone from someone who never voted to someone who spends her free time meeting in libraries, coffee shops and at dinner tables to unite Virginians of all political stripes around improving civic life.

Her life is inspiring and resonates with me on many levels. Neither of us share the same beliefs as some family members, both of us have lost relationships because of such differences and each have stayed involved in politics because we think all people have the right to make their voices heard. We find inspiration from connecting with people from different backgrounds, because you never know if your next conversation is going to transform your life.

Our recent phone conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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The People

The mission of The People is to bring Americans together to engage in civil discourse, establish and carry out nonpartisan governmental reforms. By doing so, we will live in a truly representative democracy. By activating all citizens and bringing our country together, one collective voice will be established and the average person can be heard. We will help individuals organize around common causes, rounding out strengths and weaknesses, and connecting them with others to accelerate their efforts. This will help us to facilitate productive dialogue between those with variation in beliefs and promote action to address needed governmental reforms.

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Katie Fahey

Katie Fahey and Michigan volunteers in 2018.

Making government more responsive is a task for Americans of all stripes

Fahey, who organized the grassroots movement that ended Michigan's politicized gerrymandering, is now executive director of The People, which is forming statewide citizen networks to promote government accountability. She will be interviewing another democracy reformer each month for our Opinion section.

Everyday people are the backbone of the democracy reform movement. As executive director of The People, a new national effort to find common ground and make non-partisan changes to fix our broken democracy, I am most inspired by those who volunteer their time and energy to make sure their government hears not just their voices, but their neighbors' voices, too.

In the coming months, I have the opportunity to introduce you to some of the men and women from across the country whose powerful stories of civic engagement are bettering their communities and repairing America's torn social fabric. Before we kick off this series, I wanted to take a moment to share with you my own journey working toward democracy reform.

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Katie Fahey

Katie Fahey speaks at a Michigan rally against gerrymandering.

Meet the reformer: 10 questions with Katie Fahey

Katie Fahey is not a fan of politics, but that hasn't stopped her from scoring one of the biggest political upsets in recent years.

Just a few years out of college and working in Grand Rapids for a nonprofit promoting recycling, the Michigan native never intended to get involved in politics. But her frustration with the system reached a tipping point with the 2016 election. Two days later, she took to Facebook with a simple message: "I'd like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan. If you're interested in doing this as well, please let me know."

Several dozen people responded, and soon her group Voters Not Politicians was born. Ultimately, it gathered 425,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot last year calling for an independent commission to draw the state's electoral districts in place of the legislature. Despite opposition led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, it was approved with 61 percent of the statewide vote.

The victory has made her something of a folk hero in the world of democracy reform, and she was flooded with calls from others hoping to similarly leverage grassroots activism. Now 30, she has recently created and is executive director of The People, a national group that aims to educate and galvanize people around reform issues. (Her co-founders are Andrew Shue of DoSomething.org and conservative pollster Frank Luntz.) She has also joined the board of the bipartisan democracy reform group Issue One (which is incubating, but journalistically independent from, The Fulcrum.)

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