An Update on the First Wave of Redistricting U Training

Since President Obama helped All On The Line launch Redistricting U two months ago, staff and volunteers have been working hard to empower citizens with the knowledge and organizing tools they need to impact the redistricting process in their own states.

All On The Line’s dedicated trainers have been traveling across the country engaging volunteers, listening to their ideas on how to best make change in their communities, and equipping them to be leaders in the movement for fair maps.

Over the course of nine weeks, we’ve held 21 trainings in 10 different states featuring a total attendance of more than 450 volunteers. Redistricting has to be an all-hands-on-deck effort, and we’re working to make sure there are leaders ready to step up and lead the charge against unfair maps. Our first wave of Redistricting U has proven that these volunteers are up to that challenge.

Genevieve Van Cleve, All On The Line State Director for Texas, poses for a photo with a Redistricting U class in Austin, TX.

All On The Line understands wholeheartedly that a one-size-fits-all approach to fighting gerrymandering is impossible. No two states are the same, and our work needs to reflect what will be the most effective in each state.

“We can’t show up to different communities with a single, catch-all plan,” said Mallory Long, All On The Line’s Training Director. “Our volunteers understand that a strategy that works somewhere else might not work in their home state. When I show up to one of our trainings, I want our volunteers to know that we’ve put in the time to design an organizing strategy specifically for them.”

Redistricting U’s training program walks attendees through the history of gerrymandering in their state, focusing on how things went wrong in 2011, and what the path forward looks like.

“I had a good grasp of how redistricting works and the effects of gerrymandering on fair representation going into Redistricting U,” explained Shelia Solomon, who attended Redistricting U in Atlanta, GA. “But the most important thing I learned was that we have a structure to build state-by-state plans to end the practice.”

Customizing each training for specific communities isn’t just for strategic planning purposes, explained Long. Gerrymandered maps have real-world effects that impact the finances, rights, and general quality of life for Americans everywhere. Attendees should be able to clearly explain how much is personally at stake for their families and neighbors.

“After the first handful of trainings, I quickly noticed a recurring theme — our trainees would get the most fired up right around the time we explained how gerrymandering prevented progress in their state,” said Long. “Telling folks that gerrymandering is harmful might get the point across to some, but showing people exactly how unfair maps directly hurt their friends and family really drives the point home.”

Elizabeth Treviño, All On The Line State Director for Wisconsin, leads a Redistricting U training in Madison, WI

Volunteers in nearly every training quickly honed in on the need for a strong communications strategy and the importance of delivering a message that resonates with others in their own communities. Redistricting U programming attempts to meet this demand with strategies on how to talk clearly and effectively about gerrymandering and redistricting with attendees’ neighbors and friends.

A strong message starts with the basics. Redistricting U graduates should leave training feeling comfortable explaining exactly what gerrymandering is and how important it is that we the 2021 redistricting process creates fair maps. Denny Troncoso, an Orlando, FL Redistricting U attendee, explained that his biggest takeaway from the training is explaining to others that the exercise of partisan gerrymandering is cheating, plain and simple.

“Gerrymandering and redistricting are different. Gerrymandering is cheating,” said Troncoso. “My main issue is making sure there is fairness in the system. Everyone has different political leanings, but the most important thing for me is for the game to be fair. After that, we can fight on a fair playing field for what we believe in.”

Ahead of the first wave of sessions, Long predicted that volunteers wouldn’t be content with solely focusing on a mastery of the basics. Eager volunteers quickly confirmed her hunch after the initial training sessions, seeking out more ways to engage their neighbors.

Long went on that redistricting isn’t the easiest concept to quickly explain to others, but gerrymandering does come with a built-in hook.

“I’ll admit, it’s hard giving a quick five-minute explainer on gerrymandering and redistricting that can get folks fired up,” said Long. “But gerrymandering affects almost every major issue in our politics today. If you care about your health care, you need to care about redistricting. If you care about preventing gun violence, you need to care about redistricting. The list goes on.”

For Shelia Solomon, the urgent need to address our changing climate is priority number one. She believes that fair maps can give us a more representative democracy with elected officials who will ensure that future generations have a healthy planet.

“Gerrymandering affects every issue that touches our lives daily,” added Solomon. “Protecting the environment is the issue that is most important to me. If we don’t have a life-sustaining planet, all other issues are moot.”

Shehn Datta, All On The Line Deputy Campaign Director, speaks with volunteers during a Redistricting U training session in Albany, GA.

Redistricting U trainings were not just focused on the history of gerrymandering — this program will only be successful if we focus on the path moving forward. Participants were given opportunities to collaborate with their fellow trainees to kickstart thinking about what they can do in their communities to prepare for the redistricting process in 2021 and make sure we make progress on this structural issue.

Throughout her career as an organizer, Long learned that successful planning includes long-term goals as well as actions that can occur in the short term. She added that attendees were given tasks that they’re expected to complete within a month of training, but many were ready for a heavier workload.

“Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged that our volunteers from almost all our events stressed that they were waiting for more work from us,” said Long. “We wanted to give attendees enough homework to feel engaged, but not overwhelmed. Turns out that trainees across the board were more than ready for additional work.”

Our All On The Line State Directors will continue to stay engaged with every Redistricting U attendee. The 2021 redistricting fight will have multiples fronts across the country, and we’ll need our graduates to serve as leaders in their communities. In the lead up to the next round of Redistricting U trainings, we’re building plans to visit with partners and more grassroots activists in the second quarter of 2020.

Katy Shanahan (top left), All On The Line State Director for Ohio, poses for a photo with a Redistricting U class in Cleveland, OH.

None of this is possible without people who want to effect change in their communities. We can’t do it all alone. It’s going to take a movement across America to demand action that gives power back to the people, where it rightfully belongs.

We’ll need the help of every person who wants to help fix our broken political system. Folks who want to be on the frontlines of the fight against gerrymandering should head on over to https://allontheline.org/redistrictingu/ to learn more about future in-person trainings.

All On The Line is the grassroots movement to end gerrymandering and restore fairness to our elections and democracy ahead of 2021 redistricting. Formerly OFA.