NCOC Featured Discussion

Why Tuesday?’s Jacob Soboroff Hosts “Civics In A Minute”

June 4, 2012

On May 15, 2012, Participant Media officially launched "Civics In A Minute." TakePart and Why Tuesday? teamed up to create "Civics in a Minute" — a video series that breaks down politics to show how government and the elections process works. NCoC Fellow Alice Murphy caught up with the series host Jacob Soboroff (MTV News, AMC News, CNN) to discuss his new project.

Alice Murphy: Participant Media and you recently launched " Civics In A Minute ." What led you guys to create this program?

Jacob Soboroff: I've had a long relationship with Participant Media and I've always been a fan of their films and their double bottom line, which basically means that they make films not only to make money but to make social change. When they told me about the idea to make "Civics In A Minute," to have short animated videos — basically refreshers for people about U.S. civics and U.S. history in about a minute — that they wanted me to host, I jumped at the chance.

Alice: Who's your ideal audience? Is it students or the general population?

Jacob: I think it's both. I think it's both students and anybody who's ever had a civics lesson or wondered about the ins and outs of our government but might not have stored that information in the back of their head. Everybody hears so much about the electoral college, primaries, caucuses, etc., this time of year but for a lot of people those words and terms and phrases go right over their heads because it's been so long since people have actually focused on these institutions.

Alice: And how often can we expect to see new episodes?

Jacob: About once a week. So far we've recorded 10 episodes. "Civics In A Minute" is part of a thing called TakePart on Tuesday. Participant Media's online arm is TakePart.com and TakePart on Tuesday is their election initiative which Why Tuesday? has partnered with them on. So hopefully every Tuesday you'll see a new "Civics In A Minute."

Alice: Are there any plans to expand "Civics In A Minute"? Are you ever going to try to do civics in an hour or anything beyond these one-minute clips?

Jacob: The short answer is no, not right now because what we're trying to do is capture the short attention span of people when they're online in these short, sharable videos. Right now we're more focused on that than doing things in a longer form.

Alice: Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about Why Tuesday?

Jacob: No, of course.

Alice: What got you involved in politics and voter reform in particular?

Jacob: Well, when I was in high school my dad ran for mayor of Los Angeles and he finished just barely out of the run-off election. Many years later, after going to college for politics and after having worked for Mike Bloomberg in New York, I went back and I looked at the results again. And I realized that he lost by so little and so few people voted that had more people voted, I think he could've had a better shot. So when I heard about this movement, Why Tuesday?, that was started by Ambassador Andrew Young, Norman Ornstein from American Enterprise Institute, and William Wachtel whose father was Martin Luther King's attorney, I thought it was just fascinating. Why Tuesday? is both simple and straightforward and it made so much sense that I was very, very eager to get involved.

Alice: And it sounds like you guys have been getting lots of attention: you've been on MSNBC , Fox , and CNN . But according to govtrack.us , the Weekend Voting Act ( HR4183 ), which was reintroduced this March by Steve Israel, has a 0% chance of passing the house. This will be the bill's 7th reintroduction. What needs to be done to make voter reform happen?

Jacob: We need bipartisan support. We need support from Democrats and Republicans. The number one thing that we're facing is the institution of incumbency. Every elected official in Congress and every president for over 100 years has been elected on Tuesdays. The system works for the Members of Congress, the system works for the Presidents and the Vice Presidents so there's no incentive for them to change it. We need them to, at the end of the day, be more accountable to the American people rather than protect their own job security.

Alice: In your opinion what has been Why Tuesday? 's biggest moment or your biggest accomplishment so far?

Jacob: When I talked to Barack Obama in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2007 and he looked me in the eyes and told me he understood what Why Tuesday? was all about and he supported election reform. At the time it was a big moment and now, in retrospect, it's an even bigger deal to know that the president is receptive to this idea. But what we need is not just the president to be receptive to it, we need Congress to be receptive as well. That was a huge moment for us and I think that we would want to continue to have moments like that.

Alice: One last question. So far, which of the "Civics In A Minute" videos is your favorite and why?

Jacob: I think my favorite would have to be "What is a Super PAC" because super PACs are so central to the 2012 election campaign after the Citizens United decision. We do have a great time with it, too, and that's the best part.

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2 Comments
By Jamie Kemmerer at 10:43 AM on Jun 12th, 2012
There are any number of ways to parse the Super PAC question. First, you can do a gut check. I think most people feel in their gut that there is something deeply wrong with our current political system. Far too much money before Citizens United gave birth to the Super PAC, and now we may not have a word to quantify how much money is in the system. Second, we can look at the issue by the numbers. Ari Berman notes in The Nation that about 80% of Super PAC money has come from about 196 donors. Clearly in a nation of 300 million, this is not what democracy looks like. Finally, you can look at the question from the perspective of the Constitution and the founders' intent. As Lawrence Lessig notes, the founders sought to create a government that was dependent upon "the people alone." With so much money in the system and so few people donating and so few voting, it's easy to make the argument that money in politics and the Super PAC are very serious threats to the integrity of our democracy.
By Jamie Kemmerer at 11:55 AM on Jun 28th, 2012
Two additional fun facts on Super PACs after the SCOTUS decision not to even consider the Montana case:

1. The 2010 Midterm elections saw a 460% increase in spending as the result of the new Super PACs
2. Disclosure of donations dropped from 97.9% in 2006 to 34% in 2010.

Either of these would be a problem for our democracy, the combination of the two is even more so.
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