As a child of World War II refugees, I remember fondly how proud my parents were whenever they cast their votes on Election Day.
It was a long road from Hitler’s Poland to New York City. It may sound clichéd, but I loved hearing my mom’s stories of sailing at night into the harbor and seeing for the first time the glittering lights of the Big Apple and the Statue of Liberty. For her, traveling with other orphans, this was the sign of true freedom.
My father’s American story always began with the day he met my mother on a blind date in 1947. He fell in love with her immediately and quickly proposed that they make a life together, filled with children and joy. My two sisters and I are named for some of their lost family. I would have to have dozens more siblings to give names to all the family killed during the war.
My parents loved their adopted country and felt privileged to vote and have their voices heard.
Today in Pennsylvania, gerrymandered maps have corrupted that privilege and leave many people feeling like the election results in their districts are preordained.
To make matters worse, elected officials who feel their re-elections are guaranteed see no need to seek bipartisan solutions.
When politicians draw voting maps that ensure their victories, they lack listen to all their constituents. Creating fair districts, holding their feet to the fire, can make a world of difference.
I come to this work from the Penn Project for Civic Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania. There, as project manager, I brought a wide range of stakeholders together to help turn civic dialogue into innovative action plans on issues ranging from municipal budgets to parental engagement in schools.
Perhaps my strongest motivation for working on Draw the Lines is empowering people to believe that their ideas are as important as the ideas of their elected officials. I love that Draw the Lines will give citizens the same mapping tools and software that up until now were available only to politicians.
I look forward to being part of a movement to level the playing field - one that gives back the value of each vote and would make everyone feel as privileged as my parents to cast their vote.