We Draw the Lines: Not So Much

latino powerIn the middle of the twentieth century, journalist Carl Rowan, mused, “It is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home.”  For some time now, our energy and attention have belonged to the movement to end the war on immigrants and our children.  We’ve organized on the ground and online in favor of the Dream Act, comprehensive immigration reform, and in opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070, Indiana’s SB 590, Georgia’s HB 87, Alabama’s HB 87, to name a few.  Well, now the war has come home…

On Friday, June 10, following a series of 14-0 votes, the Citizens Redistricting Commission released its first round of draft maps.  Unless these drafts are redrawn, California Latinos will be robbed of the Congressional and Legislative representation we deserve—despite the fact that these draft maps were drawn using the very same Census data that attributes 90% of California’s population growth between 2000 and 2010 to Latino youth and migrants.  The Commission has only found fit, for instance, to establish just seven “Latino opportunity districts,” out of fifty-three sets of boundaries for those that are to be elected to the House of Representatives.

This is an awfully low blow considering Latinos comprise nearly 40% of total statewide population, and that without our growing numbers, the number of seats set aside for Californians in Congress would have otherwise diminished.  I’m asking the Commission to redraw its maps using boundaries suggested by nonpartisan civil rights groups such as MALDEF.  I simply refuse to forfeit the protections the Voting Rights Act affords to California’s Latinos.  Please join me:

Add your voice by writing to votersfirstact@crc.ca.gov.  You only have until Tuesday, June 28, to do it.

As a member of the Alliance for a Better Community’s education policy team, I am fortunate to work in coalition with a great number of nonprofits committed to local, statewide, and federal policies informed by the right of every student to receive the rigorous and relevant education needed for success in college and career.  In Los Angeles, this work roots us deeply in communities working tirelessly to overcome the achievement gaps that often plague students from families orbiting the poverty line, populated by English language learners, displaced by diminished housing options, and/or void of micro-investment to generate jobs, support small business owners; in any way supplement the livelihood of neighborhood residents.  Each day, I remind education policymakers of abolitionist Wendell Philips’ words, “Governments exist to protect the rights of minorities. The loved and rich need no protection—they have many friends and few enemies.”  I now ask the Commission to remember them as well.

We were founded to serve, and remain located in Los Angeles’ Pico Union.  The Assembly map proposed clusters us with Miracle Mile.  The Congressional map proposed clusters us with Melrose, Beverly Crest, Hollywood Hills, and Pacific Palisades.  Since this did not immediately trigger cognitive dissonance in the minds of all fourteen Commissioners, please allow me to highlight some points for reflection:

First, Pico Union has more children as a percentage of the population than these other areas.  Our youth, regardless of citizenship status, were counted in the Census used to draw the proposed maps.  The needs of a child in Pico Union are no less important than the needs of a voting age adult in Beverly Hills.  And although many Pico Union youth will turn 18 between now and the drawing of district lines following the 2020 Census, and exercise their right as US born or naturalized citizens to vote, the probability that their needs will actually be met by an Assembly Member or Congressperson serving the boundaries of the proposed maps, has been nullified with undeniable certainty.

Second, Pico Union has more immigrants, and persons living in temporary housing as a percentage of the population than these other areas.  Immigrants pay taxes, obey laws, and contribute to the economy, but are not voters.  Persons considered homeless, or living in temporary housing, cannot vote unless they are able to provide addresses on their voter registration forms.  These two populations were counted in the Census used to draw the proposed maps.  These two populations need highly effective and focused advocates in Sacramento and D.C., but, the boundaries suggested, make this highly improbable.  While clearly contributing to the number of residents an Assembly Member or Congressperson is expected to have in his/her district, the proposed maps tell these populations to expect no influence whatsoever over the decisions their Assembly Member or Congressperson makes.

Third, Pico Union has been disproportionately impacted by the lingering effect of recent global economic downturns and the conversion of family housing into properties designed to encourage gentrification.  Like Koreatown, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Eagle Rock, El Sereno, and other communities forming a horseshoe around the Downtown business center, an examination of Census data reveals that a majority of Census tracks in these communities saw population displacement between 2000 and 2010.  Where skyscrapers were found, Los Angeles saw construction and investment in commercial properties such as L.A. Live.

In Pico Union and similar communities bordering Downtown, small businesses went under, buildings fell into neglect, lines of credit for entrepreneurs dried up, work opportunities disappeared, and direct investment went away.  Residential units were introduced or renovated solely as speculative ventures to attract purchasers or renters from outside of the community.  Exaggerated price points and bureaucratic access barriers created moats around gentrified castles, offering lavish square footage per unit, and high-end amenities, including private security services to keep neighborhood residents out.

The maps currently proposed by the Citizens Redistricting Commission represent nothing less severe than a death sentence for communities like Pico Union.  The Voting Rights Act prohibits drawing district lines that dwindle down the influence of any protected population to a level below its proportion of the populace, and potential impact as a voting-block.  Yet, this is precisely what the Commission’s maps do to Latinos all across the State of California.

unai Montes IruesteWhile philosophically objectionable, they establish representative boundaries that stack the deck against communities with greater numbers of children, immigrants, and homeless persons.  While fundamentally anti-democratic, they writ large reduce the potential Congressional and Legislative representation of California Latinos, despite the fact that we comprise 3 million out of the 3.3 million people who were born in, or moved to California between 2000 and 2010.

The Commission must rely on nonpartisan civil rights groups such as MALDEF, and redraw its maps.

Unai Montes-Irueste
Alliance for a Better Community
Education Policy Coordinator

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