As in many states around the nation, California lawmakers have been embroiled in an often-partisan debate over the redrawing of political district lines. And, as in other states, like Michigan and Illinois, a decline in its Black population threatened a decline in Black leadership. Liberal critics have charged Republicans with using such demographic shifts to eliminate minority districts by packing African-Americans and Latinos into districts to dilute their voting power.
“Proponents of this viewpoint saw this year’s redistricting process as a golden opportunity to take action. This was their chance to spin the narrative of ‘a declining black population’ into permanent changes in political boundaries that would lead to the disenfranchisement of black voters. If these black districts were eliminated, it would be near impossible to get them back,” wrote Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition, in New America Media.
California implemented a new redistricting process this year as a result of voter-approved measures that enabled a California Citizens Redistricting Commission, made up of 14 ordinary citizens, to oversee redrawing the lines, instead of politicians. Because of the ensuing transparency, groups like the African American Redistricting Collaborative, a coalition of Black leaders and community organizations, were able to keep an eye on the lines and voice objections to proposals that might harm their constituents.
“AARC was able to anticipate these attacks, prepare and mobilize Black communities, engage attorneys to provide a legal basis for our position, and ultimately preserve all of the current Black districts in California,” said Harris-Dawson. “Additionally, there are new State Senate and Assembly districts where an African-American candidate can run competitively. The Redistricting Commission listened to our collective voices and approved a final map that preserves African-American political representation.”
The lesson, he adds, is that when people become fully engaged in issues that have the potential to help or harm them and mobilize, rather than standing on the sidelines, they can prevail. But their job is not over.
“With redistricting we have secured a seat at the table, but now as a community we must organize to make sure there is a full spread of food,” Harris-Dawson contends.