It’s that time once again. In back rooms, behind closed doors, maps sprawl the tables of political offices. Census data, population shifts, and racial blocks are being analyzed as pols carve out a piece of our community to best protect their posts. Redistricting. It should be a time when boundaries are established that provide the most equitable representation for residents. But this is rarely the case. Rather than utilizing this time as a chance to lay the groundwork for true acknowledgement of the difficulties facing people in their day-to-day lives, redistricting is too often carried out to achieve a means that can only be described as anti-democratic.
Our campaign fought for those who could not fight for themselves. We spoke for those without a voice and for the most vulnerable: the children, the sick, the homeless, the victims of crime and the unemployed. We held the banner in this election of our core principles of fairness, honesty, dignity, and justice. By taking your citizenship seriously enough to participate in this process, you have done your part to protect our democracy.
During my service as an Illinois State Representative, along with State Senator Richard Newhouse, I led an effort to put an end to the detrimental practices that are often in play as politicians put themselves before the people they represent. The good ‘ol boys in Springfield were marginalizing the African American community to the point of non-representation. Self-interest and outshined public service. Political cabals muscled community rights. A stance had to be taken, for when pols defer to party lines in the face of fairness and democracy, gerrymandering is one of the degrading results. We won victories. Progress was made. But without continued pressure and sustained efforts, the “separate-but-equal” adherents remain.
The fight continues. I congratulate State Senator Kwame Raoul for his efforts to bring lasting reform to the redistricting process. His sponsoring of the Illinois Voter’s Right Act is an important step in the right direction. His championing of this issue exposes the dire need of such initiative in Springfield. I also congratulate Governor Quinn for his support for reform by addressing this pressing issue. This month he raised awareness to Illinois’ gerrymandering-jones by signing into law the Voter’s Right Act to better protect the interest of minorities in a way that federal law doesn’t specify. The federal Voting Rights Act requires map drawers to give special protection to districts that contain mostly minorities. The Illinois law also requires state-wide hearings concerning the redistricting process. These are important steps in the right direction. But these are still just steps in a long path that can only be trekked with cooperation and dedication.
Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood serves as a prime example of politicians’ divide-and-conquer philosophy. There, thousands of Asian voters are divided into three state Senate districts, four state House districts, and three congressional districts, even as the community saw a population growth from about 18,000 in 2000 to about 28,000 in 2010. A similar situation is faced by the Indian/Pakistani American population on the far north side, particularly the Devon Desi corridor. Currently Devon is divided up by Illinois representative districts 13, 14, 15, and a large contingent in the 16th district. Their voices are diluted to the point of whispers. Instead of empowerment, we see disenfranchisement. Instead of representation, we see marginalization. Instead of democracy, we see decrees of fiefdoms proclaimed from the ivory tower above. When Abraham Lincoln spoke of divided houses, he spoke of the importance of unity for accession. When politicians divide our communities to promote their own self-interests, not only does it adversely impact our communities, it scorches our neighborhoods from allowing real democracy to take root. Actual progress is a whim degraded below the point of rhetoric. But at every level of government, victory is always a fight away. Continued effort, dedication to fairness, and confidence in the cause are necessary ingredients for democracy. Until politicians are held accountable for promotion of democracy in redistricting, true representation will be cut off at the knees. Our houses must be mended.