Is this Gerry Mandering’s Fault? – Natasha Bajema

Is this Gerry Mandering’s Fault?

How could this happen? How could we take such a big step backwards, away from the values of our country, away from the guarantees found in the U.S. Constitution. I think it might be, at least in part, due to false perceptions of majority versus minority groups facilitated by the practice of gerrymandering.

As we enter a dark period in American politics, in which it has become acceptable to speak words of hate at the highest levels of political office, it’s becoming apparent to me that we are going to have to fight for our democracy. It’s not just our rights that are at stake, but the very system that was stood up to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. The alternatives are unthinkable. And this is #whyIMarch on 21 January 2017 in the Women’s March on Washington in solidarity with women, African-Americans, LGTBQ community and Muslim Americans and anyone who has experienced discrimination and unequal treatment.

The U.S. Constitution promises that all people, irrespective of race or gender, are guaranteed unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This week, I’ve been thinking about how far we’ve come as a nation in respecting the rights of all, regardless of gender, color and religion. On Monday, we honored Dr. Martin Luther King for his steadfast commitment to fighting for civil rights for African-Americans in our country. I think about his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered in 1963 at the historic March on Washington in defense of the citizen rights of all African Americans.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a nation, there’s profound evidence of our progress. This month, we are saying goodbye to Barack Obama, our country’s first African-American President. Whatever you think of the accomplishments and/or failures of the Obama administration, you can’t deny that Barack and Michelle have inspired many people and proven to all generations that it is possible to reach the highest office in the land, even if you’re not a white man.

As we celebrate this achievement, however, I acknowledge how far we still need to go on all fronts. We are not close to being done fighting for the rights of African-Americans, women, the LGTBQ community and Muslim Americans. We must continue to fight for our rights as previous generations have done. This is no time for normalization of hate speech or for turning a blind eye to racist and misogynist rhetoric. If we put our heads down, the writing is on the wall.

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tran­quilizing drugg of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like many of you, I’m a mere observer of American politics. I’m not an expert on U.S. politics, political parties or political institutions (I studied international relations and national security). But I’m still trying to make sense of how we got here. How did we become so divided as a nation? How is it that our future as a democracy hangs in the balance?

And in seeking some answers, I’ve been wondering if it’s Gerry Mandering’s fault. Okay, gerrymandering is not a person, it’s a political tactic used by both parties when they gain power in State legislatures to redraw congressional districts to give one party a numeric advantage over their opponents. In some districts, the lines are drawn so squiggly, it seems possible that one household in a neighborhood might end up in a district while the neighbors are in another.

Essentially, the process creates false majorities and allows politicians to choose their voters rather than the other way around. Representatives to the House are elected based on these false majorities and represent those views. When Representives have a particularly comfortable false majority in their favor, they may not feel inclined to address the needs of all of their constituents even if the other party is the real majority. And so, by drawing boundaries so that one party always wins, a group of people becomes disenfranchised. Maybe that’s why there’s so much confusion in this country about who is being discriminated against.

Feeling like you have no say in what happens in your neighborhood or local community is very frustrating and can make you feel hopeless. I live in D.C., so I know what it’s like to pay federal taxes and not have a vote. We don’t even have control over our own budget. Year after year, Congress denies us statehood because it would favor one party over the other. And so, more than 600,000 tax-paying Americans do not live in the democracy promised to us by the Constitution. We will continue to fight for our freedom.

I’m trying to understand how we got here. I’ve been thinking about the consequences of gerrymandering beyond the obvious. False majorities can lead to misperceptions about who is being disenfranchised by whom. Maybe in part, that misperception leads white, men to feel like they can’t get ahead anymore, like the American dream is no longer available to them. I emphasize with their feelings of hopelessness, but their blame is misplaced. The forces behind the shrinking opportunities for advancement in this country are complex and multi-dimensional.

There’s the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. Why do CEOs get to pocket millions of dollars when they say they can’t pay minimum wage? There’s the escalating costs of higher education. How can anyone pay off the loans with stagnating salaries? There’s sending jobs overseas for lower wages. FYI, we are not getting those jobs back no matter what someone says. If they come back, they will be filled by robots.

There is one thing, however, that is not to blame for your sense of hopelessness and shrinking paychecks. Granting equal rights to all groups–African-Americans, women, Muslim Americans, LGTBQ–in this country is good for everyone. As a nation, we will only have the chance to truly prosper when we are all FREE. We all deserve a chance at the American dream. That was the vision of our founding fathers. These are the guarantees in the U.S. Constitution. This is worth fighting for. We will fight.

Tomorrow, we will march in the Women’s March on Washington. This is #whyIMarch.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.


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