Unrig: How to fix our broken democracy by Daniel G. Newman

Having been raised in a mostly-white mostly-middle-class part of a purple state, I understood that the United States is a government for, by, and of the people. But for the last ten years or so that hasn’t felt like it was particularly true anymore… and it wasn’t just because of the presidential election or the current unrest. Nobody seemed to be able to tell me why, though, and the few that tried fell into traps of Democrat and Republican stereotype talking points and attacks on the other party.

Which didn’t make sense, really, because I know Democrats and Republicans and while everyone has points they differ on, we’re really not as far apart (on the whole) at the grass roots level as we believe. Heck, I was raised Republican, and the Republican party of today is definitely not espousing the same values as the one that existed when I was in high school.

So what the heck’s been happening? Why can’t we get along? Who the hell are the Koch Brothers and why do I care? How is Betsy DeVos in charge of education and why does it look like she’s purposely destroying public schools? Why are the elections swinging directions that we don’t expect, or don’t want?

When Scott McCloud mentioned Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy on Twitter I decided to give it a shot, and it’s done a very good job of describing the forces that are pressuring both our elected officials and the elections themselves.

Daniel Newman puts forth a case (with a sizable bibliography) that the ultra-rich in the US banded together and started playing a long game years ago with the intent to take control of the democracy out of the hands of common citizens like you and me. Dark money influences both elections and the elected. It changes how our electoral maps are drawn. It prevents fair elections. It increases the financial effects of corporate lobbyists to get what they want.

It’s a freaking mess.

But this book isn’t just an explainer for what’s happened over the last 20-50 years. It’s also an explanation for what we, the people, can actually do about it. It explains ranked choice voting, clean elections, the Voting Rights Act, gerrymandering, and many other political tools that we can use to make our democracy more or less fair, and then what we can do to wield those tools.

And look, if you’ve fully bought into the narrative that the government should be small and helpless and distrusted, or that people shouldn’t help each other or work together for better lives because it’s a dog-eat-dog world, you’re probably not going to be a big fan. This book assumes that neighbors help neighbors, we all want better lives, and we can work together to get them. It doesn’t ascribe to any specific ideology although it does make it clear that most of the dark money from the ultra-rich is going into the Republican party with the specific intent to undermine democracy.

This book is for disillusioned Republicans, frustrated Independents, confused Democrats, and everyone else who’s looking for an explanation of our current political and democratic situation in clear terms, with a compelling and precise visual and textual story. It’s for everyone that needs a graphic novel (graphic textbook?) refresher in that civics class you might not have had in five, ten, twenty, or thirty years. It’s for people thinking of getting into politics now, people thinking of getting into politics later, and people who are just sick of attack ads on television and always having the worst choices at the election box.

The book has an accompanying website for bringing people who want to unrig our democracy together. And it’s time.

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for their Rights

If you’re looking for a graphic history (aka “comic book style”) book that explains the fight for women’s rights, Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and illustrated by A D’Amico, is the book.

The plot entails a class of young women, who disagree with what the women’s movement is, receiving a tour through history from a purple artificial intelligence.

They cover historical figures from multiple countries, as well as an outline of different systems of rights in different places and times.

They cover suffrage, equal rights, and how women’s rights movements intersect with minority rights, the labor movement, white supremacy, child labor laws, eugenics, misogyny, the civil rights movement, LGTBQIA rights movements, and many other important points in history.

I think Fredrick Douglass might be the only man mentioned by name.

They also cover historical activist figures you may not hear about elsewhere — especially Black, Native American, and Indian folks. I learned more names in this book than I did in 12 years of education. (Admittedly, that education was in the 80s and 90s. Hopefully we’ve come a ways since.)

Because it’s a survey more than a textbook, most of what you get is a name and maybe two paragraphs about a person or an event. It’s enough to pique interest and send the reader back to the library. (It’s also probably a good “pick one person from the book to do a report on” resource for teachers.)

I see this book making a place for itself on bookshelves for historians young and old, women who want to know they’re not fighting alone, and the home of anyone who wants to better understand how women fit into the history of the human race.

The Nib

The Nib is a daily comic publication and political magazine.

Okay, that doesn’t quite capture it, let me try again.

The Nib is a website that delivers a daily political comic. It also publishes a print magazine. But it’s not a words-magazine, it’s a comics-magazine. By that I mean the whole magazine is the size of a short graphic novel, with various sections covering infographics about that issue’s topic, short comics related to the topic, feature (longer) comics about specific items, a “letters to the editor” of one-panels on a related topic or question, etc. etc.

It’s what you’d get if you converted a political magazine from strictly words and the occasional image to sequential art and then published it on a regular basis. For me, it’s about a 45 minute read per issue.

In the first three issues (I bought the back issues from Topatoco after I subscribed to the magazine), themed Death, Family, and Empire, they cover topics from how the Day of the Dead is merging with Halloween in Latino communities to the current humanitarian crisis at our borders to Filipino cheese pimento. In other words not only do these issues teach me about the politics of the world I live in, they educate me about the people I don’t see or hear from on a daily basis. And that’s pretty damn cool.

The Nib does a fantastic job of providing context to where we are and why we’re here, without being a five-thousand-word article. It makes politics approachable for young adult and adult readers. It definitely has a position, and that position is that we’re all in this together, on one earth, and families and working together and not being toxic assholes matter.

Readers can subscribe to the daily comic email for free, or become a member at a couple of different tiers.