July 1, 2021
A statistician by day, Bridget Bly is a part of the COI Community Mapping Committee that has been hard at work providing training and resources to Communities of Interest (COIs) so they can participate in the redistricting process.
Community mapping volunteers help COIs succeed by breaking down each step of the process, from map-drawing to the submission of testimony.
“A lot of COIs are absolutely committed to this process, but it’s daunting because they have to create a map that can be geocoded. Then they have to think about what they want to ask the commission to do with the district lines so that their COI would be better represented in Lansing and Washington. Then they have to present testimony where they have 2 minutes to talk and they have to make their point and get it across. There’s a lot to do for COIs. Voters Not Politicians has been trying to support them in the production of these maps and in the development of effective testimony before the commission, in particular with groups that are traditionally underrepresented.”
COI input is one of the most important criteria that the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) will use when drawing the new maps. The work that Bridget and the other COI Committee volunteers are doing is vital to remove barriers to and increase participation in the map-drawing process.
“We’re hoping to have an impact not only by making it easier for COIs who may not otherwise participate, but to reach out to COIs who have a voice, who need representation, who are important to the state, but who have fewer resources. Sometimes it’s money, staff, or technical support that is needed to get the job done. We’re lending morale but also providing skills and the wherewithal to get their testimony completed.”
Bridget started as a volunteer in 2018 doing educational presentations for community groups on Proposal 2 that ended gerrymandering in Michigan. Working with COIs has provided Bridget with some of her most meaningful experiences as a VNP volunteer. She enjoys empowering COIs by teaching them how to use the mapping tools..
“It’s amazingly freeing to hear people say “Oh, that’s it!” or “I could do that!” or “You know I didn’t know it was that simple!”. It seems like a lot to have to figure out how to make a map and also how to devise your testimony and also how the current legislative districts are impacting your COI. That’s a lot to think about. If we can just unpack one of the pieces and say this is how easy it is and we’re going to do it in five minutes. My favorite part is when people’s eyes light up and say ‘ah ha!’.”
Volunteers like Bridget are a key part of VNP, which is truly a volunteer-led organization. Volunteers oversee committees and play an important role in the design and implementation of VNP programs. That ownership mentality was a surprise for Bridget when she started volunteering.
“I’m used to a much looser kind of organization that has volunteers. VNP has a very professional organization and structure and it makes a difference. I have come to appreciate the amount of work that goes into creating that structure and what you can do once you have that. I think that is how VNP works and that is how we have gotten so much done.”
Bridget is involved with other organizations. She volunteers with the United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which provides tax preparation assistance to people who need help with filing their taxes. She also participates in her local community garden, which provided a reprieve for her and her husband during the pandemic. However, Bridget is committed to VNP, which is a special organization for her because of its unique blend of mission and people.
“We’re fighting against forces that are trying to make democracy work less well for individual Michiganders. The mission is important and also it is such a human endeavor. It’s just a nice combination — often you only get one of those. At VNP, the people are wonderful, the volunteers are appreciated, it is built by volunteers, and what we are doing is so crucial.”