The term gerrymander was coined in 1812, when a Massachusetts district was drastically redrawn in a way that resembled a salamander. Governor Elbridge Gerry manipulated the district lines to give his party an unfair advantage. Hence, the term gerry-mander.
North Carolina is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. The voting districts look more like paint splatters or perhaps a salamander after a visit to Chernobyl. According to the New York Times 2016 election results, 47% of North Carolina voters cast ballots for democratic representatives, yet the Democrats only received 3 of the states 13 seats. A federal court determined that North Carolina’s intent with the last redistricting process in 2011 wasn’t to eliminate voter fraud, but instead to stop Black people from voting. The judges described that the process was designed to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
To shine a light on this disenfranchisement and the role and impact of money in politics in creating it, we teamed up with Appalachian Voices, Democracy NC, the North Carolina NAACP and allies to bring the new documentary Democracy for Sale to towns and cities across North Carolina. Part of the EPIX America Divided series, the film features NC native Zach Galifianakis as he uncovers the role that money has played in the state’s politics and the devastating effects it’s having on democracy.
On the heels of the 2016 election, the goals of the tour were to keep up civic interest and bring newly energized people into state and local campaigns to protect voting rights and intersectional social and environmental justice. “We want this event to allow our members to stay involved and realize this is an every day/all year movement, not just something to do around elections.” said Joanna Woodson of the Student Democracy Coalition before the screening in Cullowhee. Echoing this, Karen Bearden of 350 Triangle in Raleigh, explained: “because of everything going on right now, interest is high. There’s so many new people who’ve never attended something like this before, and these new people are critical to the movement.”
The events were also used to recruit and mobilize people for the 2017 Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) Moral March on Raleigh and a lobby day on gerrymandering organized by Common Cause and Democracy North Carolina. The HKonJ People’s Assembly Coalition is made up of the more than 125 North Carolina NAACP branches, youth councils, and college chapters from across the state and members of over 200 other social justice organizations in North Carolina. Robin Ellis of the Yancey Mitchell NAACP, host of the Bakersville screening said, “We want to get info out about HKonJ, it’s exciting that we’re getting info out to local people. A lot of people who don’t normally participate in anything related to the NAACP are coming to the film.”
Over the course of two months, we hosted 30 screenings throughout the state. This included large cities like Raleigh and Charlotte, but the majority of screenings took place in small, rural towns like Bakersville and Washington (population 455 – 9,789). With record turnouts, and several venues reaching full capacity a full hour before show time (check out the video below from Asheville), the tour reached thousands of residents. Each screening was followed by a discussion with local and statewide leaders who answered questions from the audience and gave them opportunities to get and stay involved.
According to Mike Schachter of the Craven County NAACP in New Bern, “our event was a success, we wanted to get new people interested in activism and to get more people to commit to going to the [HKonJ] Moral March on Raleigh. People purchased tickets to get on the bus for the March and many signed up to receive more information and follow up actions.”
“For many people, this event was an important jumping off point for the recent uptick in political activism now happening in our community,” said Emily Ford, a concerned resident in Salisbury who decided to host a showing. Several state Senators attended screenings and provided an insider’s view to audiences of the experience inside the legislature and the best ways to engage elected officials.
We hosted a finale of the tour in Zach Galifianakis’ hometown, Wilkesboro. One of the reddest districts in the state, a packed audience of more than 500 people demonstrated that the issues raised are of concern to a wide cross section, regardless of party affiliation. Zach joined filmmaker Lucian Read; Gene Nichol, who directed the defunded UNC-Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity; and residents featured in the film, Tracey Edwards and Tracy Deyton.
A rich and lively discussion followed the screening with self-proclaimed democrat and republican audience members expressing their disbelief and outrage that money in politics and gerrymandering are hijacking North Carolina’s democracy. More photos from this event, captured by Appalachian Voices, can be found here.
The Democracy for Sale tour that Working Films has coordinated in the last few months has inspired dozens of grassroots groups, churches and community members to self-organize their own screenings. As of this post, there have been 68 screenings throughout North Carolina with more being planned each day. Interest in other films in the Epix America Divided series has led to 91 screenings in total in 2017. We are thrilled by this ripple effect.
We’ll be bringing Democracy For Sale and other documentaries in the America Divided series to more states throughout the South this summer and fall. Stay tuned for updates!