Brooklyn Boro

Unrig the System movement spreads nationwide

Grassroots activists get to work changing politics

February 9, 2018 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Jennifer Lawrence is a member of the Board of Directors of Represent.Us, the bipartisan organization that put together the Unrig the System Summit in New Orleans. Eagle photos by Paula Katinas

A week after the first-ever Unrig the System Summit ended, organizers were basking in the glow of the success of the three-day conference in New Orleans that featured everything from movie stars to musical performances to workshops and panel discussions focusing on ways to change politics in America.

The Brooklyn Eagle had a front row seat at the summit, which took place at Tulane University Feb. 2-4 and was sponsored by Represent.Us, a bipartisan group of Americans of all political stripes who are working to shake up politics by getting dark money out of campaigns, bringing a sense of fairness to redistricting and making it easier for people of modest means to run for public office.

More than 1,500 people attended the summit and had the opportunity to hear speeches, attend seminars and workshops and interact with each other. The participants came from all 50 states.

“Attendees from nearly every reform effort in the nation, many of whom had never met, forged alliances and friendships. It was timely, it was badly needed and together with the energy, entertainment and setting, it was simply amazing,” Represent.Us founder Josh Silver wrote in an email to supporters.

The speakers included New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii); U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin); former Congressmember Zach Wamp (R-Tennessee); former Louisiana Republican Gov. Buddy Roemer; Richard Painter, co-chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; Fox News Channel personality Steve Hilton; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind; former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner,;Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig; and Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn.

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A centerpiece of the three-day conference was a star-studded show called “Unrigged Live,” which took place at McAllister Auditorium on the Tulane University Campus on the night of Feb. 3. Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, a member of the Board of Directors of Represent.Us, was the host.

It was a night of music, comedy and remarks from political leaders. The performers included Al Blake, HoneyHoney and the New Orleans Preservation All-Stars.

But the evening also had a serious side. “We believe that our democracy could use some work. It’s time to come together. American taxpayers do not deserve to pay into a system that is rigged against them,” Lawrence told the packed crowd in the auditorium.

Lawrence also appeared at the summit’s opening plenary on the morning of Feb. 2, where she found an entertaining way to shed light on the need to change country’s byzantine campaign finance laws.

Lawrence got her point across by conducting a comical interview onstage with Trevor Potter, the former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) who often appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” after the comedian launched a political action committee (PAC).

Lawrence listened as Potter explained how the FEC limits the amount of money donors can give to individual candidates but allows unlimited amounts of cash to flow to PACs.

Another highlight of the summit took place on the morning of Feb. 3 when several speakers from both sides of the political spectrum took part in a panel discussion called “Reform Across the Aisle.”

The discussion was led by Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy for the group Issue One.

Turner, who was one of the participants, talked about the importance of reaching across the aisle to find solutions to the country’s problems. “We weren’t birthed into the world as a Democrat or a Republican or a Libertarian or as Green Party. We were birthed into the world as thinking, feeling human beings who desire to live a good life and that’s what we’re about at Unrig,” she said.

Gabbard urged audience members to think before they vote.

“Hold leaders accountable. Hold candidates accountable. Don’t blindly vote down party lines,” she advised.

Both Gabbard and Gallagher lamented the influence of big money in politics.

“Getting to the heart of how corrosive an effect money has on our politics and really regaining that voice and trust and confidence of the people, that’s how we begin to get back to a government of, by, and for the people,” Gabbard said.

“It shouldn’t have to cost you $3 million to run for a congressional seat,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher, a U.S. Marine, added that his time in the military taught him to be a problem solver and to not run away from a difficult challenge.

Prior to the panel discussion, James spoke about money in politics.

James said that while big money donors can often swing elections to the heavily donated candidate, there are times when small money donors win the day. But it helps to have a public financing system in place, she said.

“My victory would not have been possible without campaign finance laws. I did not come from a wealthy family,” she told the audience.

Wamp liked what he was seeing at the summit. “Something is happening here,” he said. “Change is coming. We can feel it.”

 

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