May 172017
 

Gerrymandering:  Because, why should voters choose their representatives, when representatives can choose the voters?

Imagine North Carolina as a puzzle. Jagged lines are drawn across the map, spreading across counties like greedy fingers and into neighborhoods like silent snakes. North Carolina, and many states across the country, has these oddly shaped voting districts that end up making impossible puzzles of themselves. In most states, politicians have control over how they draw the maps that separate voters into districts. This essentially means that they have control over who votes for them, they draw maps that make it virtually impossible to lose, and they strengthen or weaken the power of specific groups of people. This process is infamously called Gerrymandering.

The voting districts of North Carolina have always been politically contested, but there is growing people-power working across bipartisan lines to support the drawing of fair electoral maps. We are making progress.

In a recent partnership with Democracy North Carolina, we have joined a statewide coalition to campaign for fair maps in our state. Democracy NC has shared with us the data and in turn we have shared our experiences and connections in the county. Many statewide campaigns have had success doing traditional canvassing in middle class, urban or suburban areas, but North Carolina is a low-income and rural state. So we combined our low-income, rural organizing models with Democracy North Carolina’s research and materials.  We incorporated their data, and they incorporated our language and knowledge of turf.

Four of us got together Saturday, April 29th at the Swannanoa Library. We started with a training about what Gerrymandering is, what it does, and how it hurts democracy. We then asked the group if anyone was from the area, and went over a brief introduction to the area. We talked about the industry that has come and gone, the class and cultural shifts over the years, and described the physical terrain of the area. We explained that we would be walking on roads without streetlights, without sidewalks, and with plenty of dogs running loose. We reviewed the materials that we would be sharing in the community, and made sure they were understandable. We spent extra time on the postcard we were giving to neighbors. The postcards include space for people to write their personal information on a petition to send to legislators urging them to support fair electoral maps (click here to download the postcard for your own use). We then did a role-play of knocking on a door, to familiarize people with the process.

Source – Democracy NC

Two pairs of us went up parallel streets stemming out from the library. Over the course of two hours, we met several dozen community members. Out of everyone we spoke with, only two people declined to sign a postcard. People became very interested when they heard it was a nonpartisan issue, and that there was legislation in the North Carolina Legislature supporting the possibility of fair maps. I was particularly inspired by the few folks who had never heard of the issue before, but became passionate through our materials and conversations, and signed a postcard to their representative.

The more public support we can get behind an issue, the more likelihood we have to change policy. It might sound like a small event on Saturday April 29th, but it enlivens and awakens the public perception and outcry about equal access to representation. If we win fair representation, we are all the more likely to win on issues we care about. Gerrymandering sits uniquely positioned as an issue that is the key to unlocking our ability to hold representatives accountable for their decisions on behalf of their constituents.

We are planning several more canvassing dates around this issue. Stay tuned with us and Democracy North Carolina to learn about canvassing opportunities! This project will impact the 2020 elections immensely. And as we’ve seen in the past, the ability to have equal access for North Carolinians at the ballot box has a huge impact on national elections. We are moving our state and country forward when we fight for fair maps.  To become involved contact us.

Update 05/24/17 – Since posting this blog, the SCOTUS has agreed that North Carolina has gerrymandered districts along racial lines – SCOTUS Blog and Reuters.

Lia Kaz currently serves as the North Carolina Community Organizer for Spirit in Action’s We the People: Working Together (WtP) project. Through the WtP project she organizes in low-income, rural communities across Buncombe County to empower civic engagement. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and won the Alton J. Pfaff Award from Warren Wilson College, which recognized her as the graduating student who most exemplifies the triad of Academics, Work, and Service. She currently lives in Asheville with some great roommates, and a perfect dog named Mona.