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Your voting district shouldn’t be shaped like a jigsaw puzzle piece: Communicating the crisis of gerrymandering

Who represents you and your community matters. In 2020, millions exercised their right to vote to have a say in who represents us at the local, state and federal level. The promise of a true democracy is to ensure that every voter can have a say in who represents them. Yet, every ten years, the promise of equal representation is compromised when the redrawing effort aims to give one political party more power and attempts to strip power from the voters themselves. 

State legislatures nationwide have started the process of redrawing congressional district maps to address growing or shrinking populations - from small towns to big cities - based on the 2020 Census count. In this redistricting process, partisan politics tend to take center stage and jigsaw puzzle piece districts are drawn to divide communities, guarantee political victories and ultimately muffle the voice and will of the people in the communities they serve. This geopolitical process can be the source of stalling or improving a community’s economic and racial justice progress – and that’s where gerrymandering comes into play. 

Why does gerrymandering matter and why can’t changemakers turn a blind eye? 

Gerrymandering goes against the very promise of a true democracy, in which every voter has a say in who their leaders are. Yet, this partisan tool has been used for decades to do the opposite. The goal of gerrymandering is simple - divide power for partisan gain, carve up communities in a plea for political power. This practice has historically suppressed the voice of Black and Brown communities and been a racist barrier to true equitable and fair representation. 

At this very moment, states across the country are redrawing congressional districts based on the 2020 Census count. The count exhibited the growing Black, Brown, Indigenous, AAPI and multiracial population across the country making this a critical time to consider the long term impact redistricting has on communities of color and signals an opportunity to ensure they have equal representation for the next ten years. 

In states like Texas, an independent and nonpartisan redistricting process has been thrown out the window and is raising concerns that the growing multiracial population could be gerrymandered away, putting a blockade on racial justice and progress towards true equitable representation. Texas lawmakers have released draft maps that will weaken the influence of voters of color in state and federal elections, despite the fact that people of color have made up the most of the state’s growth. These suppressive measures should sound alarms nationwide. When partisan actors get free range to skew voting blocks, communities of color are hurt the most.

Texas isn’t the only state doing this, but the good news is, organizers and community advocates are working on the ground in states across the country to fight for fair and equitable maps. Groups like our friends at Pennsylvania Voice are proactively working on the ground to draw and share new district maps for the redistricting commission’s consideration that center the voices and interests of BIPOC communities. 

Redistricting not only determines how many congressional representatives a state has or how state senate and house districts are decided, it affects the wellbeing of a community because political power makes all the difference in critical issues like infrastructure, housing, health care and more. We must stand up to gerrymandering to ensure that this time, it does not take away political power from communities of color, which are often underserved due to this practice.

So how do we frame a complicated decennial process in a more accessible lens so that everyone understands what’s at stake and has a say? We do what self-serving politicians that benefit from gerrymandered districts fail to do, we put communities at the center of the conversation. 

Push past the partisan political traps and bring the issue back to its roots. 

The purpose of redistricting is to ensure the United States counts every person and that every community gets the local, state and federal support it needs. Instead of getting trapped in the partisan divide, communicators should focus on helping community members understand how new district lines will impact their day-to-day lives, such as through receiving increased funding for public schools, investing in infrastructure and access to health care. This framing helps community members make the direct connection to the impact new district lines will have on their daily lives and help their communities strengthen their argument to those redrawing the district lines: Prioritize the impact it will have on communities, not politicians. 

Remember that the power belongs with the people. 

The redistricting process has a direct impact on communities and their progress towards racial and economic equity. If a district is gerrymandered, we curb that progress. If we shortchange communities of color, we will fail to make the necessary progress to ensure equal representation, resulting in communities being neglected and lacking access to the funding and programs they are entitled to. Advocates and communicators should make the direct connection between the power of your vote and how this is your voice to create the change you want to see in your community. Your vote can mobilize community movements that urge your elected officials to take action on overdue police and criminal justice reform, advancing immigrant rights and economic opportunity. Advocates should balance the wins with the warnings, emphasizing the power of voters and the positive changes that come from high voter turnout while also demonstrating the urgency of making the power count through equal representation. Gerrymandered districts block the full weight of this power.

Call out gerrymandering for what it is. 

Make no mistake, gerrymandering fuels the partisan divide. All voters regardless of their zip code, background or race deserve equal representation. We must amplify the message that every voter deserves to have an equal say in who represents them. To do this, it’s important to recognize the damage of gerrymandering but focus our message on a vision for maps that are inclusive, don’t splinter communities and allow the people to decide who represents them. 

Redistricting and gerrymandering is complicated – but we must not fall victim to disinformation. 

Given the complexity of the redistricting process and state-specific processes, it can be difficult to determine what is true and what is disinformation. We must be vigilant and cautious about what we read from trusted and untrusted sources on redistricting. Most importantly, if you see disinformation on social media, we must not amplify this. Instead, we all should lift up content that is truthful about redistricting across states to spread awareness and help more changemakers follow the redistricting process and call out bad actors attempting to gerrymander away the power of communities of color.

Do not reply to, share or respost disinformation

Gerrymandering impacts all of us. To deliver on the promise of democracy, we cannot allow bad faith politicians to take away community power. We must communicate effectively and mobilize advocates so that every voter’s voice is heard and our communities have access to the funding and programs they deserve.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 1, 2021 at 08:38 am and is filed under Crisis communication and Frame, narrative and message development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.