California Tea Partiers Revved Up by Redistricting Reform

Hostility and Intimidation

It’s not just what the Tea Party activists have been saying at the redistricting hearings, but how they’ve been saying it, that angers civil rights groups.

There are reports from around California that people of color, particularly Latinos, have been so upset and intimidated by Tea Partiers’ comments that they have been leaving meetings before they’ve had a chance to speak.

“You go to a meeting, of course, you will have pros and cons, but this was very hostile,” says South Bay resident Drina Collins, who attended a May 23 hearing in San Jose to advocate for keeping Latino communities in the South Bay intact. “It was disastrous and made me angry that they made so many people intimidated.”

Crowds cheered when citizens asked commissioners not to take race into account. When a Spanish speaker using an interpreter urged the commission not to split up the Latino community, one Tea Partier shouted, “Speak in English. This is America.”

Commissioners had to take a recess and call in security after the Tea Partiers got “a little too loud and unruly,” according to Commissioner Angelo Ancheta, a law professor at Santa Clara University who specializes in racial discrimination and immigrants’ rights.

“I came to America because I wanted to be an American, not a hyphenated American,” said a Ghana-born immigrant Tea Partier to applause at the San Jose meeting. “The federal Voting Act says you cannot discriminate based on ethnic grounds but it does not say you should choose boundaries based on ethnic grounds.”

Similar scenes have played out in other parts of the state. At one hearing in San Diego County, a woman made a gun gesture with her finger and pointed at a speaker of color who mentioned race, and shook her head and mouthed obscenities when other speakers of color mentioned race, according to a representative of a San Diego-based nonprofit organization who was present at the meeting.

“There are a lot of inarticulate and unsophisticated comments from conservatives about race issues,” admits Salaverry. “We are being very cognizant and don’t want allegations of racism. We tell people, ‘Don’t do anything that will embarrass us,’ but we can’t succeed 100 percent. People are passionate and can step on the other side’s toes.”

Still, Salaverry says, the testimony of “alphabet groups”—as conservatives are calling groups such as MALDEF and the NAACP—shouldn’t carry the same weight because they “aren’t citizens. They are lawyers financed by institutions and they have agendas.”

Since the release of the first set of proposed maps, Tea Partiers have been increasing their attendance at commission meetings, in hopes of persuading the members not to add more Latino-majority districts. They are arriving early to sign up for as many of the first-come-first-served two-minute speaking slots as possible. Salaverry himself is following the commissioners around the state to testify at public input meetings.

In response, civil rights groups urged people of color to set aside their fears and show up at the remaining meetings—including meetings in San Jose on June 25 and San Francisco on June 27—in order to influence the next round of maps, due July 7. “We don’t need to convince the commission why they need to follow the VRA, we just need to give them the political will to do so,” Lee says. “It’s a natural tendency for people to be afraid of criticism.”

The commissioners say they won’t let Tea Party input unduly pressure them. But Commissioner Ancheta also admits some of his fellow commissioners seem to agree with the Tea Partiers about the VRA.

Justine Sharrock

Justine Sharrock

“In most of California we don’t take race into consideration, at least not in a big way,” says Ancheta, “There may be disagreement amongst commissioners as to whether [considering race] is the best way to approach the problem. But everyone is committed to following the law, whether they disagree about the assumptions and necessity. I’m not concerned about rogue commissioners.”

Meanwhile, Ancheta says, there will “most likely be big changes in the final map,” due on August 14, particularly in Los Angeles. “It won’t be exactly what the Latino groups want. I suspect they are pushing it as far as they can go, but there is no doubt there will be some shifting.”

By Justine Sharrock
New America Media

Justine Sharrock is a writer at New America Media and a former Mother Jones staffer. Her latest book is Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things. This was originally published on New America Media.

Republished with permission from New America Media.