There were so many life-changing events over the past couple of years that have influenced our country – economically, socially, and politically – that it almost doesn’t seem real. A high-stakes presidential election, the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent variants, an ocean on fire, and protests for racial equity and climate justice all competed for our time and attention. Whether it is 24/7 media coverage, or a true cosmic shift, it appears we have been in a continual season of change. What I do know is that the defining issues of our lives are not going away. Consequently, one of the ways we can weather these unpredictable times is to be relentlessly engaged in the political process, including redistricting. We can do this by being a part of redistricting, or the drawing of district lines. This process happens just once every ten years. It is also one of the few opportunities where people from all corners of the state, all walks of life, and all backgrounds can play an active role in determining who represents us in state government and at the federal level.
At first glance, the drawing district lines process doesn’t seem like something that requires a communal effort. In fact, many of you may wonder whether non-elected leaders can participate in the process at all. But redistricting should involve us all, and politicians must hear from us as they attempt to draw lines that could divide our communities and alter the resources we receive.
With so much going on in our own lives, you may wonder why I’m asking you to care about something that feels so foreign. But redistricting will impact our lives whether we realize it or not.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, between Jan. 1 and July 14 of 2021, at least 18 states enacted 30 laws that restrict access to voting. Over 400 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions. This is voter suppression. These increased restrictions were preempted by false and racist allegations of voter fraud. Of course, there is no voter fraud. The only hint of fraud we see is some elected officials manipulating the rules for partisan gain. Our elected officials, at the state and federal levels, know that our communities are stronger when we are united. That is why we must work together, engage in this process and make our voices heard.
The process of drawing district lines is crucial for our communities’ future as it determines which elected officials will represent our communities and the resources that will be received. Resources include things such as funding for schools, parks, libraries, hospitals and social services. Although redistricting happens once every 10 years, it has long term ramifications; the decisions officials make today will be felt for the next ten years.
Together, we can draw districts to ensure our communities remain whole and are heard, included and visible. We can demand that our elected officials look like us and share our values. By getting involved in the process, we are controlling the narrative. Your participation in the process of drawing district lines is your voice. It is the power that provides resources and opportunities to our communities.
How we handle the redistricting process this year will impact not just the literal geographical lines of our communities but the future. The 2020 presidential election is proof that with perseverance and unity, we can win. In spite of the unprecedented challenges of 2020, the general election had the highest voter turnout of the 21st Century. This is proof that the American people want to be heard, they want to have their needs met, and they want representation that aligns with their values.
At Southern Echo, our vision is to end the institutional, structural and systematic racism in Mississippi (and the rest of the Southern region) that drives inequitable policies. Participating in the process of drawing district lines is a step in dismantling a part of the system that so often works against the same communities, people of color and low-income. We will not let them silence our voices or try and limit our power. We can influence our future, so let’s fight for one that uplifts us.
Rachel Mayes is the executive director of Southern Echo.