"Protecting democracy is more than directly influencing public policy. And although most of us don’t have the means to vote on legislation, we each serve an important role in protecting the right to vote and have the responsibility to encourage civic responsibility."
Libbey Detcher is a Senior at Saint Mary's College studying Political Science, with minors in Justice Studies, Intercultural Studies, and the Hesburgh Program in Public Service. Originally from Garrett, IN, Libbey has championed democracy as a congressional intern, co-lead of SMC Votes, and work with All IN for Democracy. Libbey's current research focuses on the impact of gerrymandering on Republican systems of government.
What does being a "champion of democracy" mean to you?
Growing up in a fairly conservative community, I was taught that politics, social issues, and most topics of importance were taboo. Yet, my generation has routinely been told that we have the capabilities to change the world. Even when engaging in discourse surrounding controversial topics, everyone just wants to be heard and understood at the end of the day. I became passionate about voting rights not only because I believe them to be necessary for good government, but because they serve as a means to bring people together.
Tell us a bit about that experience as an intern in the United States House of Representatives in the Spring of 2022. How did this experience shape your understanding of democracy and what it means to champion it?
As a “Hilltern” last Spring, I worked for a representative whose ideology I don’t necessarily identify with. While I was able to find some common ground on policy and respect the representative, I understood my role in constituent services to be a communication bridge between constituents and their member of Congress. Protecting democracy is more than directly influencing public policy. And although most of us don’t have the means to vote on legislation, we each serve an important role in protecting the right to vote and have the responsibility to encourage civic responsibility.
How have you championed democracy on-campus and in the local community?
As a devout Catholic, I stem a lot of my advocacy work from Catholic social teaching and the Church’s call for equitable civic engagement. I currently serve as the co-leader for SMC Votes, Saint Mary’s nonpartisan effort to increase voter registration and participation on campus. In the past, I have worked with various groups to publish an article on prison-based gerrymandering and speak on an inter-religious panel to advocate for fair redistricting practices in Indiana. I am currently preparing to present my senior comprehensive, “The Great American Gerrymander: Implications of Strategic Redistricting on the American Republic” and am planning to present a similar project, that ties in Laudato Si, at the Saint Mary’s spring Symposium. I’m also working on a class project where I’ll use ArcGIS to analyze the accessibility of polling locations in Saint Joseph County via public transportation.
Do you have a favorite course/book that you found helpful for thinking about democracy - either in the US or abroad?
David Daley’s books are great and easy-to-read accounts of gerrymandering across the U. S., especially surrounding Republicans’ 2010 REDMAP plan. While they touch on broader racial issues in the United States, Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of our Discontents and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy are important reads that consider racial class systems that have ultimately posed barriers to democratic institutions.
Who is a public leader or historical figure that you admire, or would consider a model 'champion of democracy'?
One of my favorite but lesser-known suffragettes was Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, an indigenous American woman of the Ojibwa Nation in what is called North Dakota. After working in the Office for Indian Affairs under Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, she became involved with the women’s suffrage movement while resisting forced assimilation as part of an indigenous community. While we work towards a better democracy, it’s important to pay tribute to the women and BIPOC communities who have worked diligently to protect and promote democracy against continued resistance.