You may not be aware, but this month the City of San Antonio initiated the public input phase of the local redistricting process. Why may you not be aware? Well from what local residents are saying, few people are aware of the ongoing process, let alone how it impacts them or why it’s important.
The first public meeting held at the Downtown Public Library on June 12 sparked heated conversations about whether the current process was inclusive and accessible enough for broad participation throughout the city. The set process continued however, with the final public hearing for districts 3, 4, and 5 wrapping up last night. But one thing was certain- San Antonio residents are not apathetic. Busy or tired? Maybe. Uninformed or disempowered? Yes. But not apathetic.
To the majority of people who aren’t familiar with it, redistricting is the unsexy process that readjusts political boundary lines for every elected office at the state, county, and municipal level where candidates run in specific districts. That means that just like the state level redistricting process that redrew congressional and house districts earlier this year, the City of San Antonio’s City Council districts will be redrawn.
Redistricting usually happens every 10 years after the new census data is released to ensure that all districts have roughly the same amount of people. Remember when the census workers came knocking at your door? Well, this is one of the things they do with that data. In theory..wait, I mean by law (the 14th Amendment to be exact) the vote of each person should carry about the same weight or value (I’m not even going to get into the barriers that prevent the electorate from reflecting the actual population in a given district). Thus, districts should have the same number of people in them. Additionally, under the Voting Rights Act the redistricting process must allow for equal participation by minority voters. And community has the right to give input in all phases of the process.
So why should you want to have input in this process? Well, while some may not feel directly affected by changes in office at the state or national level, local policymakers have a direct impact on your daily life: Will Wal-Mart be allowed to move into your neighborhood? Will your energy bill go up next month? Will those potholes be fixed? If you’re a city employee, have your benefits been extended to your domestic partner? As a community resident, do you want to be the object of these policies or the architect?
Redistricting affects what communities and voters are in a district, and thus what city council person is elected to represent it, and what policy gets passed. District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, faced with the criticism and concern of residents at recent meetings, committed to expanding the community input phase and engaging community organizations in the process. Aside from expanding outreach, the City needs to expand both the time and methods for the public to provide input as well as provide more education in conjunction with the meetings. Instead of hoping for a quick and trouble free process, the City should take this opportunity to engage with community organizations, organizers, leaders, and youth to make the process more participatory. If not, we’ll make it participatory anyways. Southwest Workers Union will be working to ensure a more community friendly redistricting process that spurs understanding, dialogue and suggestions, and potentially our own community map if folks are not satisfied with the current illustrative map produced by the City.
If you have questions about the current process, want to get involved, or are interested in education opportunities, contact us at 210.299.2666, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . And follow us on facebook and twitter to keep up with our work!
We want more grassroots architects of policy. So don’t let policymakers move forward without you. Share with us what matters in your community and why redistricting is important to you. Please comment, share, and spread the redistricting word!