For the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community as well as other immigrants in Washington State, the current redistricting process is not just about lines on a map, but about our children’s futures. For too long, politicians have ignored the voices of our people, leaving many of our community members disenfranchised and cynical about our democratic process. There is no better time to demand accountability than today.
Only once every ten years does an opportunity come around to redraw the districts we vote in for elected office, including the Washington State Legislature and U.S. Congress. Thanks to a 14 percent population growth in the last decade, Washington was one of only eight states to be awarded a new congressional district this year. The growth in Washington’s communities of color was most notable, including a 50 percent increase in the number of APIs in the state and another 70 percent increase in the Latino population. Much of this growth occurred in two places – South King County and east of the mountains. As a result of this growth, one in four Washington residents is now a person of color and one in eight is an immigrant.
These changes provide us with opportunities to create a congressional district where the majority of residents are people of color and a state legislative district in Yakima County that is majority people of color by citizens-of-voting-age. Mainstream media and political elites have been openly dismissive of our efforts, believing that redistricting has traditionally been a closed-door negotiation between the two political parties, since the parties appoint the commissioners. OneAmerica set out to ensure that this year would be different.
Undeterred by the status quo of the process, a coalition of civic organizations and leaders under the banner of United for Fair Representation submitted a “unity map” that drew specific districts to maximize representation for people of color, researched legal issues in the Voting Rights Act for the state legislative district in central Washington, and launched a massive education campaign to turn people out to almost all of the 18 public hearings across the state, from Vancouver to Bellingham and Seattle to Pasco. The largest turnout? South Seattle, where multi-racial youth testified about their dreams and how they wanted to vote for representatives who truly understood their lives.
The coalition believes the unity map’s districts would increase the voting power of people of color by forcing political representatives to pay attention to the issues of marginalized communities of color and spurring participation in democracy by energized communities. At that packed hearing in South Seattle, members of the API, Latino, African American and other communities of color testified about the common challenges their communities face, as evidenced by the disparity statistics we know all too well around education, wealth and health care.
At last month’s release of the draft maps, to the surprise of many, three of four commissioners had maps that included a majority people of color congressional district in South King County and at least one state legislative district in Central Washington with a majority of residents who are people of color.
Republican Commissioners Slade Gorton and Tom Huff and Democratic Commissioner Tim Ceis spoke strongly about the communities who participated in the process and their belief that those participants had demanded change. Huff’s map exactly matched our unity map and the commissioner acknowledged he was just following the “will of the people.” While the draft maps were largely positive, our communities have been used as bargaining chips for too long, so we continue to push for representation that is fair and accountable to our communities.
Until the release of the final maps and their passage by the legislature, we will continue to make sure that our voices are at the table. The most important lesson so far for the hundreds of people who continue to demand a voice in our democracy? Their voices do indeed matter. And a glaring lesson for both political parties to take note of is that the party that embraces diversity is the party of the future.
For more information, see our campaign: www.weareoneamerica.org/redrawing-voter-maps .