By Charlie Beall | April 4, 2022
Since late December 2021, a team of volunteers, staff, and fellows have been engaged in exhaustive retrospective work to understand the successes and shortcomings of supporting Communities of Interest and the public to engage in Michigan’s new redistricting process. This team has been actively working to identify attitudes, takeaways, and learned lessons for how we can achieve even more successful outcomes in this unique public engagement phase of fair redistricting. The goal is to provide a roadmap for advocates and the public that can be used when the next Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission is convened in 2030.
A key member of our evaluation team is Jake Hawes who joined VNP as a fellow through an ongoing program at the University of Michigan’s Rackham Graduate School. His work has been critical in documenting and interpreting feedback from dozens of interviews and surveys conducted by our evaluation project team.
Meet Jake Hawes
- What interested you in applying for a fellowship with Voters Not Politicians? My “other” job is research and teaching about environmental sustainability, with a special focus on policy and planning, so I’ve always been really engaged in the political process and interested in redistricting as a concept. About a week before the internship was posted, I saw a job posting for a permanent position working with a non-profit on redistricting in a different state. I thought to myself, “Wow, that sounds so cool, I’d love to learn more about that and work to end gerrymandering.” Sure enough, the VNP posting showed up soon after, and it seemed like I had stumbled into a great chance to work on a really important issue. As I learned more about VNP’s structure and ongoing work, I knew I had to try to join you all and see what I could learn from and contribute to this passionate, talented crew.
- How would you characterize your experience working with our volunteer team? It’s been interesting, exciting, and enlightening! The volunteers bring so much energy and enthusiasm for democracy in Michigan, and they bring such diverse experiences to share with me and the rest of the team. It’s been a really great experience learning to work with a majority-volunteer team and learning from them every step of the way.
- What have you learned about non-partisan activism and/or civic engagement during your fellowship? Oh, so much! I had really only experienced activism from the side of the volunteer or the boots-on-the-ground. To see behind the scenes and understand the incredible efforts that go into designing programming, thinking through next steps, and investing in volunteers has been extraordinary. In particular, I’ve really enjoyed learning about volunteer engagement and support from the awesome staff at VNP.
- What skill or experience have you gained that you are excited to take forward into your professional life? I specialize in environmental sustainability and social justice, so redistricting was totally new to me – the learning curve was steep, but I’ve learned so much about the redistricting process, about Michigan’s unique approach, and about the role of researchers like me in the process. More broadly, I’ve learned a lot about working with volunteers, engaging with community partners, non-academic writing and presenting, and interfacing with government bodies like the Department of State and the MICRC. I can’t thank the staff and volunteers at VNP enough for teaching me and helping me to grow as a professional. Connie Cook deserves a special mention for being a great supervisor and mentor.
- After your fellowship, what are your aspirations in the coming year(s)? Well, first I have to finish up my PhD! That should happen in the next 2 years, but after that I’m not sure. Part of the reason I wanted to join VNP was to get a new experience working with a non-profit and compare that to my research, teaching, and industry experiences. I’ve really enjoyed working with VNP, so maybe I’ll find myself working with another group of awesome volunteers on democracy or sustainability sometime soon.