Skip to content
Search

Latest Stories

Top Stories

A new nonfiction graphic novel probes democracy's challenges, inspires fixes

"Unrig" graphic novel
First Second Books

How did American democracy get so broken and what are the paths forward to fix it?

These complex questions are explored with levity and clarity in a new nonfiction graphic novel. In "Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy," the campaign finance reform advocate Daniel Newman dives into gerrymandering, money in politics, voting rights and more — all through comics illustrated by author and illustrator George O'Connor.

Having worked in the democracy reform space for the better part of two decades, Newman says he saw a critical need for material that explained the issues plaguing American politics, while also providing optimism and inspiration for making the system work better. Sales of the books, which start next week, will suggest whether he was right.


"I've had so many conversations over the last 15 years where I'm explaining how the rules of political money and voting affect every other issue in the county, and a lightbulb goes on, so this book is meant to provide a lightbulb moment of clarity," said Newman, who created in 2005 and remains president of MapLight, a nonpartisan nonprofit group that chronicles the influence of money in politics.

Newman, who's based in Berkeley, Calif., has been working on the 290-page book for two years, using interviews with more than 100 advocates and experts, plus his own knowledge and experience, to inform his writing.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

His artist partner O'Connor, based in Brooklyn, is best known for the "Olympians" series of Greek mythology graphic novels.

Throughout, their work highlights central problems with the political system and explains tried and tested solutions, while also weaving in real-life stories of democracy reform advocates. The book leaves the reader with potential next steps they could take to get involved in the fix-the-system movement.

The chapter on political money — the topic Newman's most familiar with — explains how corporations and special interests are able to use their wealth to exert influence over politics, while remaining largely hidden from the public. One example is Republican John Ward, who lost his 2008 bid for the Montana Legislature by 25 votes following a last-minute ad blitz funded by entities whose identities remain hidden.

The chapter also points to solutions at the federal and state levels, including Congress bolstering disclosure rules for political ad spending online, the Federal Election Commission requiring greater campaign finance transparency and states adopting donor disclosure rules for political ads.

Democracy reform issues can often seem dry and complex, Newman said, but he hopes "Unrig" brings clarity and inspiration to readers.

"I hope people will be inspired to see that change is possible and is already happening — and how you can be involved, too," he said.

Here's an excerpt from that money-in-politics chapter of "Unrig."

Read More

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley won the Congressional Management Foundation's Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility.

Official portraits

Some leaders don’t want to be held accountable. These two expect it.

Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

There is probably no more important concept in the compact between elected officials and those who elect them than accountability. One of the founding principles of American democracy is that members of Congress are ultimately accountable to their constituents, both politically and morally. Most members of Congress get this, but how they demonstrate and implement that concept varies. The two winners of the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility clearly understand and excel at this concept.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda and others on stage

Donald Sutherland (left), Paul Mooney, and Jane Fonda performing in an anti-Vietnam War FTA (Free The Army) show in the Philippines in 1971.

Stuart Lutz/Gado/Getty Images

This young GI met Donald Sutherland in a bygone era. RIP to an original.

Page is an American journalist, syndicated columnist and senior member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

News of Donald Sutherland's death at age 88 took me back to a day in 1971 when he was protesting the Vietnam War onstage with Jane Fonda and I was one of about 1,000 off-duty soldiers in their audience.

I hoped, in the spirit of John Lennon's anthem, to give peace a chance.

Keep ReadingShow less
Woman speaking at a microphone

Rep. Lucy McBath is the first lawmaker from Georgia to win a Democracy Awarrd.

Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Surprise: Some great public servants are actually members of Congress

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

TheCongressional Management Foundation today announced the winners of the seventh annual Democracy Awards, CMF’s program recognizing non-legislative achievement and performance in congressional offices and by members of Congress. Two members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, are recognized in four categories related to their work in Congress.

Americans usually only hear about Congress when something goes wrong. The Democracy Awards shines a light on Congress when it does something right. These members of Congress and their staff deserve recognition for their work to improve accountability in government, modernize their work environments and serve their constituents.

Keep ReadingShow less
Man climbing a set of exterior steps

The author, Miliyon Ethiopis, following a court’s decision to grant his asylum request on June 18.

U.S. immigration court ruling on statelessness could have wide impact

Ethiopis is a co-founder of United Stateless, a national organization led by stateless people.

I feel like I have been born again, after a U.S. immigration court made a remarkable ruling in my “statelessness” case in June. I hope that my case will have significant, broader implications for other stateless people in America.

Being stateless means no country will claim you as a citizen. We don't belong anywhere. Stateless people are military veterans. We are Harvard graduates. We are Holocaust survivors. There are millions of stateless people around the world, and 200,000 such people in the United States.

Keep ReadingShow less
two Black people wrapped in an American flag
Raul Ortin/Getty Images

July Fourth: A bittersweet reminder of a dream deferred

Juste is a researcher at the Movement Advancement Project and author of the reportFreedom Under Fire: The Far Right's Battle to Control America.”

“Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.”
— Langston Hughes, I Too

On the Fourth of July we celebrated many things: our nation’s independence, our democracy and the opportunity to gather with loved ones who, ideally, embrace us for who we are. Yet, this same nation does not always make room for us to live freely for who we are, who we love, what we look like and how we pray. And it is this dissonance that renders the Fourth of July’s celebration a bittersweet reminder of a dream deferred for many of us.

Keep ReadingShow less