Graphic Novel Review: Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy (World Citizen Comics)

Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy (World Citizen Comics) by Daniel G. Newman, art by George O’Connor. First Second, 2020. 9781250295309. 280pp. including notes/citations for each chapter and an index.

Newman, who runs MapLight (, lays out problems with our political system alongside examples of how they can and are being fixed. At the heart of most of the trouble is money, wielded by companies and individuals who can spend enough to determine who runs for office, gets elected, and writes US laws. The politicians they help elect then rig the rules in their own favor, and to favor the folks who help get them elected. Newman points to ways to unrig the system, including Seattle’s democracy voucher program, which allows candidates to fund campaigns without becoming beholden to those who finance their campaigns. (He highlights other ideas for clean elections too, which not only affect funding but also make politicians pay attention to the public as a whole.) The book often goes into a great deal of detail — for the Seattle idea, for example, Newman talks about how it came to be starting with the ten folks who founded Vote Clean Seattle, and how they pushed their idea forward, including what they learned from early mistakes.

Not to make a huge push for this, but this whole section at the beginning pretty much guarantees every library I frequent in Seattle and King County (the county around Seattle) is going to buy a few copies — and they should. But it doesn’t just belong here, it belongs everywhere. There are other real-life examples from across the country as Newman looks at problems with congress, the most shocking of which is how much time each member has to spend making calls to solicit donations for their next campaign. (This clearly has to be their focus, with the way things are now and the amount of money they have to raise: “The average winning Senate candidate spent much more — $15.8 million. That’s more than $7,000 per day — for an entire six year term.”)

At the heart of most problems Newman lays out, is MONEY. He explores campaign finance rules in detail, shows how wealth hoarders buy a system that benefits them (including climate change denial), and addresses voter suppression. In each case though he offers hope and a way forward. There’s much more in the book than I’m detailing, too.

I normally don’t like graphic novels with a talking head, and it’s worth noting that Newman himself appears in this one throughout, talking to readers. But O’Connor (best known for his Olympians graphic novels) has done a fantastic job illustrating the concepts and people Newman discusses, and the panel layouts, word balloons, and other text work together to keep make the book a page turner.


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