Diversity and Redistricting
Representing Our Diversity in Redistricting Matters More Than Ever
Last February, I had the honor of meeting with two of the Independent Redistricting Commissioners from California. We had flown them in for our annual Policy Summit, and in typical Colorado fashion, Mother Nature had a few words about that and we had to cancel the event.
Instead, our Executive Director, Amanda Gonzalez and fellow board member, Judith Singleton and I enjoyed a casual breakfast with them while the snow fell outside. We talked about the inaugural independent redistricting process in California ten years ago. I could have easily sat and listened to them talk all day about the various people they met around the state, and how conducting the mandatory public meetings exposed them to communities of interest they otherwise would not have thought about.
They shared about having meetings in wine country, where the winemakers discussed various pieces of legislation that affected their businesses and why it gave them a greater power to be included within the same district. In order to keep the local wine industry moving, they needed to be represented by one voice, not two or three. We heard about how the state has been traditionally divided up more “natural” lines like the I-5 corridor, but how in areas like northern California, that actually created districts with vastly different (and sometimes conflicting) interests.
As they shared the stories of the wide swath of people they met, my wheels started turning. Knowing that our own Independent Commissions would be formed this year in Colorado, I started to think about the many different communities I belong to and how each of them can be best represented in Washington. If there was one thing that I took away from the 2020 election, it’s that the vast majority of us want to heal divides and have our elected officials truly representing us when they arrive at the Capitol. That is why it’s important that we all show up to represent our respective communities at the public hearings to be held across the state over the coming months.
Like many of you, I saw how the pandemic exposed the ugly underbelly of our systems and where we have room for vast improvement. Last year, I wrote about the families in my own neighborhood whose kids would inevitably fall behind due to remote learning—either because of lack of access to Internet, lack of access to parents at home to support them or both. As a solo parent myself, I think about how incredibly fortunate I am to have had a job that was flexible enough for me to provide my daughter the support she needed throughout the day. We have access to affordable healthcare, so I wasn’t terribly worried about what would happen if either of us got sick. We have a stable and safe home and access to food.
I can’t say that for many of my neighbors. I watched them lose jobs. I watched them forced to move to avoid homelessness. I watched my transgender neighbor start as a long-haul team driver and I worried for her safety because of who she is as much as I worried about her getting sick with COVID-19. I watched teenagers struggle with depression and a disconnectedness that is only amplified by their age. We at Common Cause lost a friend and kick-ass organizer to suicide.
On a more positive note, I also watched people who have never bothered to vote get registered and cast their ballots for the first time.
A common thread among all I witnessed in 2020 was how different everyone was. While we were all certainly experiencing the same storm, we were not all in the same boat. From immigrants to natural-born; working parents to furloughed employees; non-disabled to disabled; Black to brown to white and everything in between; conservative to progressive; rural to urban; wealthy to surviving on welfare; young to old—we all did our best to survive everything last year had to throw at us.
And yet, Coloradans as a whole are represented by seven men and two women in Congress, with only one representative of color among all 9. Our state is far more diverse than that.
Our government can’t work for us if they can’t relate to the challenges we face every day, and it is hard to feel adequately represented when you live in a district where the interests of the communities within it are so vastly different. I personally live in district 6, one of the most diverse districts in the state. From race to socioeconomic status, we are a dynamic range of Coloradans. In the fifteen years I have lived in Colorado, I’ve always lived in this district, and I’ve watched it flip from blue to red and back again, which I believe is the natural tug among the diverse residents of our district.
It ultimately doesn’t matter if we are red or blue or purple as long as our elected officials represent the needs and desires of the people in the district. However, it can be a challenge for someone to adequately represent a wide array of people with varying (and sometimes conflicting) interests. I’m certain that someone will always be dissatisfied with the performance of their representatives (which is why we have elections), but what does it look like when we can decide how we want to be grouped together for the purposes of representation?
We now have the power to define the communities the way we best think we should be represented. Gather with the various interest crowds you have in your orbit: friends, parents from school, gender/gender-neutral groups, advocacy groups, political groups, neighbors, Meetup groups, exercise buddies, religious/spiritual groups, work, volunteer groups—the list goes on. Have these conversations within these different groups and find out where the synergies and differences are. Make a plan to attend a public meeting to be a voice for these various groups so that the commissioners can have input from the communities across the state, allowing districts to be divided in a way that best supports the interests of the people within.