First-year Max Kurzman was walking through the Pit when he noticed two students protesting voting rights with a sign that read: "ACT NOW."
The two protesters were Annie Evans, a junior majoring in philosophy and political science, and Patrick Clinch, a junior majoring in history and political science. The pair teamed up to create FAIRolina: UNC’s Weekly Voting Rights Protest.
“I walked past them at first, then stopped and went back. I thought to myself, ‘Eh, what can I do?,' so I walked away,” Kurzman said.
But again, he stopped and came back.
“I thought, ‘Okay, well, they seem to know what I can do,’" he said. "So I walked up to them and asked, ‘What can I do to act now?’ Patrick replied, ‘Well, you can raise awareness with us,’ so I sat down and they gave me a sign. It was fun.”
Kurzman has joined them in the Pit nearly every week since.
“We’re mad at the state of voting rights in North Carolina,” Evans said. "We’re out here every Monday from 12 to 1 protesting a different voting rights issue each week."
So far, the protests have tackled issues surrounding gerrymandering, voter registration, the Electoral College and foreign interference in elections.
Clinch said the purpose of the protests is to raise awareness about the injustices surrounding voting.
“In our presidential elections, not every vote counts the same, and there’s something inherently undemocratic about that,” he said.
“We just want people to know that someone is caring about the issue,” Evans said.
She and Clinch are both Robertson Scholars. The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program is a full-ride scholarship between Duke University and UNC in which students can take classes at both institutions.
Clinch was born and raised in North Atlanta. He does improv comedy with a group of students known around campus as the Chapel Hill Players and said he believes in the power of humor as a catalyst for social change.
Clinch attributes his involvement in politics to politician Jon Ossoff. Ossoff became a political sensation during his run for Georgia’s 6th congressional district in a 2017 special election, which he lost.
“Ossoff was running against a Republican politician who’d been around for a while,” Clinch said. “I got involved in that campaign and that was sort of the initial thing that that got me working as an actual participant in politics, rather than just someone who liked to talk about it.”
Clinch said meeting Evans when he came to UNC helped him become involved in North Carolina’s political world.
Evans is also an out-of-state student. She said growing up as a liberal in a conservative place like Zionsville, Indiana, helped reinforce a lot of her political opinions.
“When I got to college in North Carolina, I saw how messed up the gerrymandering here is,” she said. “It seemed like common sense that we could all get on board with this issue. I kind of became obsessed with it.”
Evans was so passionate about the issue that she worked for an advocacy organization in Richmond, Virginia last summer in an effort to pass a constitutional amendment against gerrymandering.
“As I learned more and more, I only became more convinced that this is an issue we need to care about,” she said.
Voting rights are fundamental to a lot of other issues, yet the topic often falls under the radar, Clinch said.
“It’s under-discussed and underappreciated,” he said. “It’s not a particularly sexy issue, but a lot of the division that guides our politics at the moment is a result of things that aren’t functional in our democracy — things like gerrymandering.”
Evans and Clinch also said voting rights should be a unifying issue.
“It’s something we both really care about that we thought we could get people together on,” Evans said. “Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, a moderate or a socialist, you can value everybody’s right to an equal vote. You can respect that.”
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