Finally, a nonfiction book with concrete, actionable solutions ordinary people with busy lives can take!
I’ve mentioned in past reviews that I’ve taken a break from reading nonfiction books. This is in part because I often feel that 99 percent of each book buries me under details about just how bad and how scary and how nearly impossible our problems really are. Then, I’m let down by the sparse amount of “solutions” offered in the epilogues or the final chapters. Those solutions often consist of platitudes or abstract ideas that ordinary people like myself can’t really accomplish. It’s a helpless feeling, which I suspect is not just my experience: It could be what disengages many people from attempting to fix problems in their communities and our country.
“Unrig,” by Daniel Newman with art by George O’Connor, gives readers just enough information to understand what the problem is and why they would want to fix it before the authors dive into details and show how readers can get involved. And this book gives examples of successful solutions!
One example is Seattle’s implementation of democracy vouchers (money given by the city to voters to donate to candidates of their choice) starting in 2018, to help fight the influence of big money in local elections. Newman deftly provides concise, focused history lessons that are easy to understand and relevant to some of the major issues we face — such as an aptly illustrated origin of the word “gerrymandering.”
The best part is that “Unrig” is formatted like a graphic novel. The reader is not overloaded with text, which is essential given that the subject matter is already somewhat heavy.
But the comic-book layout gives “Unrig” a friendly, inviting feel; this is the first time I’ve felt like a nonfiction author was actually optimistic about solving the problem he was writing about.
And O’Connor’s artistic style fits the content well: His panels don’t just reproduce the text in pictorial form; they add layers of meaning and expound on the text in a way that would likely have overwhelmed the reader had it been in a traditional format.
I’m glad I was invited by Real Change to review this book — I wouldn’t have picked it out myself as I hadn’t thought the graphic-novel/comic-book style was really for me.
But I would have been missing out.
You might expect a book about unrigging our democracy to be left-leaning (or perhaps that’s just me). Newman makes an effort to see the issues with voting rights, access, registration and representation in government from both liberal and conservative sides and includes examples of how a rigged democracy hurts Republicans, Democrats and the increasing number of people who do not identify with either major U.S. political party and feel, perhaps even more strongly, that they do not have, and perhaps never have had, a voice in this political system that is supposed to be for the people.
Not only does Newman provide ways for ordinary individuals to take action immediately, but he also includes and recommends resources from other authors and creators, which is itself one of the principles of functional democracy in action: making connections with and lifting up the work of others that serves us all.
We are up against some big problems in our American democracy, but that’s exactly why Newman’s hopeful, inviting approach is so vital to motivating more people to get involved on all levels to fix what’s wrong so we can all have a say in our government and our civic life.
Read more in the Aug. 12-18, 2020 issue.