There is no shortage of issues competing for our time and attention. From the climate crisis, which has a disproportionate impact on coastal regions like ours, to voter suppression to challenging problematic policing, the fight for justice is a perpetual one. From years of work at the Mississippi NAACP, I can attest to the fact that advocates never get to the point where we can say, “We are finished.” There is always one more thing.
And yet, with everything on our plates, we must still find time to focus on redistricting. In fact, of all the issues facing our communities, redistricting is among the most important. Simply put, redistricting is the drawing of state and congressional lines. It happens once every 10 years but has a ripple effect that reverberates for years into the future. That means the people we love and serve feel the impact of redistricting for years to come.
Given its importance, it is unwise to place untested hope in elected leaders. They must hear from voters regularly about the drawing of lines in which elect the people that represent us at levels of government. Without our input, elected officials may draw lines that divide our communities or split apart our neighborhoods. Without our feedback, politicians may create legislative lines that allow politicians to pick their leaders, instead of community members electing the leaders who will represent our interests.
I know it can be tempting to overlook this process and to question how redistricting ties into the bigger issues of our lives especially when many of us are still trying to survive during a pandemic that has stressed our communities and families. However, when legislators draw district lines, their maps influence the resources our communities receive. Legislative maps also influence whether we will be able to elect leaders who truly care about and want to represent our interests. For instance, many conservative legislators around the country have been known to create gerrymandered maps. That means they draw the maps in a way that no amount of organizing, no amount of mobilization and no amount of community engagement can lead to electoral outcomes that would be favorable to marginalized communities.
As someone who has worked at the grassroots level and heard from Mississippians across the state, I know how important it is to have elected leaders who value and want to serve the people. But I also know that when maps are manipulated, the people who most need responsive legislators have little chance of getting what they need.
Many people may wonder whether your involvement and your voice will make a difference. The answer is yes. Your voice and your willingness to participate in the democratic process make a difference. Further, we all must be resolved and committed to a democracy that hears the voices of all Mississippians and not just a few because change does not happen overnight. Change happens when we are all at the table fighting for equity, justice, and liberation.
I encourage all Mississippians to get involved in redistricting process by taking these steps:
- Contact your legislators and share your questions or concerns about the process.
- Work with grassroots groups and organizations such as the Mississippi NAACP, to draft sample maps, and then share those maps with elected leaders.
- Request and go to redistricting hearings.
- Attend redistricting hearings and make sure your voice is heard at the hearings.
- Write your legislators detailing what you want to see in this process.
- Partner with local organizations like Mississippi NAACP branches to host community conversations and educate others on what redistricting is and why you chose to get involved.
The point is that inaction isn’t an option. Inaction results in more of the status quo especially during a time when we need more leaders who will make issues like funding for public education, increasing health care access and making economic opportunity more available a priority. Redistricting is going to happen with or without us, and it should not happen without our input. Your involvement can be as big or as small as you would like. What matters most is that you engage in the process in a way that is comfortable and accessible for you.
As you reflect on how to get involved in the redistricting process, I want to prepare you for what you’ll experience. While your involvement is key, not everyone will welcome your participation. People who have had some degree of power are not always excited about sharing it. Get involved anyway. Politicians should not be permitted to draw districts that allow them to stay in power by silencing your vote. They should not be able to ignore the very people who turn out to vote. The only way they can do that is if we do not engage in the process.
Our communities lose when we do not participate in democratic processes that determine how resources are allocated. Let’s do everything in our power to engage in the redistricting process. Even during this period when we continue to keep our communities and families safe during a pandemic, we must participate in this process that will determine our political representation for the next 10 years. As lawmakers discuss today’s hot topic policy issues, we cannot be distracted. We must remain focused and hold our leaders accountable during the redistricting process. While we are all faced with a lot, we cannot allow critical decisions to be made without our input. Of everything before us, redistricting is indeed key.
Corey Wiggins is the executive director of the Mississippi NAACP.