For those of us who haven’t seen the film, just give us a quick overview of Gerrymandering.
Well there’s an issue confronting the American electorate that, in my opinion, is more menacing than voter suppression and tampering and more systematic than punch cards versus touch screens, and that is many of our elections are decided well before election day.
That is the simple but very alarming point that I want to make: American democracy has been hijacked and is producing a government in American that’s unresponsive to people.
Obviously gerrymandering is a problem, but what inspired you to make a movie about it?
Well, I think it was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I’ve watched how in California, we’ve put initiatives on the ballot five times, and five times they’ve gone down in defeat for gerrymandering reform.
Then, in the last go-round, we put on the ballot a half-measure, Proposition 11, which explicitly eliminated congressional districts. In viewing how other issues, like the environment had become galvanized with the making of a film, I thought we had a chance of doing the same thing with gerrymandering.
You conducted a lot of interviews to make this. Did you interview any average citizens? What was the average American’s reaction?
We interviewed a wide cross-section of America; from the political elite to average citizens. I think it’s fair to say that most Americans will never know if they’ve been gerrymandered out of a district. What they do know is that our country’s infrastructure is crumbling, that our economy has cratered and our government is broken, and these issues are directly effected by the arcane rules of re-districting, which determines who gets elected and who gets represented.
I think the American electorate today is broadly unsatisfied. They’re mad, but they haven’t quite focused in on why they’re angry, and I think through the interview process we expose this link that is really fundamental to making people understand how vital an issue it is.
So what conclusion does the film arrive at? Is there any hope for the 2010 census?
You know, I’m not sure. I think this film is going to do two things: number one, it will awaken the American electorate.And because it’s going to be distributed globally I think it will also awaken the rest of the world. It’s ambitious, but I think that the exposure of this problem to our friends abroad creates a legitimacy problem and a foreign policy problem, to the extent that it could become a Presidential priority, and I don’t think this is too much of a stretch.
That’s ambitious. Did you expect any result like that when you started making the film? How long ago did you begin?
No, this film has been in the works for the last couple of years, and I don’t think we did. What was very revealing was when we screened it over in London in December, and we had maybe half a dozen members of the British Parliament in the audience. They were, I think it’s fair to say, astounded by this reality, which was so different than the image of American democracy. One of the members of parliament said this is America’s best-kept secret.
There is an image, and it really is held the world over, of an American democracy that’s robust, vibrant, open to change, and subject to the will of the voters. But this image, as our film exposes, is an unfortunate illusion; an illusion, by the way, manufactured by the fierce contesting of Presidential and state-level races. These are the elections that draw the most attention, both at home and abroad, but below the state level as the film illustrates, the U.S. is experiencing a silent coup d’état.
Out of all the states you visited, which one is gerrymandered the best? Which one has that process down?
I would say California. Again, the California gerrymander is a particularly pernicious one because it was bi-partisan: Democrats and Republicans getting together behind closed doors to rig the system in such a way that they froze the existing incumbents in power. The reason that is particularly pernicious is that at least when you have a partisan gerrymander like you had in Texas with Tom Delay, you have the other party exposing it.
What we had in California, no one ever heard about, because Democrats and Republicans made a pact together to keep it quiet. It was particularly shocking in that they voted on it September 12th, 2001, the day after 9/11, when no media or anyone was paying any attention.
The fact that it was such an untold story was one of the motivations for me to make this film. Because I think the extent the electorate is awakened with this, they’ll understand why they’re angry, they’ll understand why they have unresponsive government, and they will force change in the system.