The inner workings of politics are often about who holds the power. When it comes to redistricting, power should not be held with politicians, but with the community that elects them.
Redistricting, or the redrawing of legislative districts, occurs following a census, which means every ten years districts must be redrawn to accommodate an equal distribution of populations and the allotment of congressional districts to the states.
Given the release of 2020 Census data earlier this year, we are in that window and the time to act is now. Only this time, the community gets to participate. We do that by going to redistricting hearings, encouraging others to do the same and, in some cases, drawing maps that we would like to see. Without our participation, elected officials can draw district lines in a way that silences our vote.
If we ignore the process that mandates where district boundaries are drawn, we run the risk of losing our voice, of being forgotten, of being overlooked and ignored at times when it is most crucial that we are not. If you ask me, taking that risk is far too great. We must map our own future. We must draw our own community lines to ensure that when resources are allocated, that they are fairly distributed toward our communities, our children, and our specific needs.
Let’s remember, we elect politicians, they should work for us…not the other way around. When politicians take control of drawing district lines, they are doing so in favor of their own interests, of their own agendas. Do you want a district purposefully redrawn so that your representative can nostalgically have his former high school in his district even when he lives nowhere near that high school? It has happened. Would you want to be forcibly removed from your own district that includes your community – the one that you have nurtured, fought for, organized, and loved for a decade? It has happened. What if you spent time, energy and money to get your favorite representative elected? Redistricting could take away that representative and you’d be left with one that you do not desire. Do you want that to happen?
Our communities worked tremendously hard in 2020. We flooded the polls, the streets and the airways to show that our communities could not be silenced. From social justice issues, presidential elections, voting rights and more, we have spoken up. However, we have more work to do. Now is not the time to be complacent. Now is not the time to think, “Someone else will take care of it.” Now is the time to choose, rather than have choices made for you.
We must be watchdogs.
The governor of Georgia has called a special session to start on Nov. 3, 2021. Moreover, we’re not certain if districts have already been drawn, and if so, our next steps. Will we have the opportunity to approve or disagree with what’s been drawn or will we be relegated to only testify about the criteria?
We want to see the maps; we want to have the ability to comment on the maps that will be presented, and we want to know the process available to us to present our own maps, whether that will be in a legislature or only in a court situation. We need to know these basic things. Now.
It truly is imperative that we all become watchdogs in this situation. You must call the U.S. Congress, your senators and representatives and ask them about the legislature’s special session regarding redistricting. Republicans hold a majority in the Georgia state House and Senate. Governor Brian Kemp is the sole individual who can set the agenda. We must track and follow this issue. We need redistricting at the top of this agenda. I promise you, if we’re not watching, these people will do things that are not in our best interest…we’ll see our power diminished, we’ll see ourselves broken up into pieces that have little voices rather than one that is unified and we’ll see we’re represented by those who neither look like us, share our background and values nor respond to and understand us.
While we’re at it, we also need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021. Under this act, there will be further protection against redistricting. For example, as stated on Congress.gov, “states and political subdivisions that meet certain thresholds regarding minority groups must preclear covered practices before implementation, such as changes to methods of election and redistricting.”
Mapping our future.
In my own community, we are currently working with a demographer to draw our district. Based upon criteria set by law, and our wishes, he is drawing a plan that works for us. You can do the same. Communities can also work with a civil rights lawyer to challenge unfair maps. There is help out there, you must only seek it. For example, in the last decade, community members have progressed legal challenges that resulted in fair district maps being drawn in multiple Southern states. You must simply tell your stories and act to get your interest considered either legislatively or legally. Change can and will happen.
Communities must find a way to take care of themselves, just as we are. Redistricting is not a complicated process. It merely relies on us ignoring the process of drawing district boundaries. Let’s not give politicians that advantage.
Helen Butler is the Executive Director of Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda. As Executive Director, Ms. Butler leads initiatives that increase citizen participation in the governance of their communities.