It's been quite a while since Black groups in Los Angeles forged long-term collaborative efforts on major political, education and economic issues. However, the African American Redistricting Collaborative (AARC) is a potential model of such an effort. Its purpose is "to ensure that the African American community has a voice in California's 2011 redistricting process."
The value of such a collaborative is its potential sustainability and strategic focus on unapologetically protecting the specific rights and interests of Black people. In this case, it's Blacks themselves drawing and submitting maps for Assembly, Senate, Congressional and Board of Equalization districts in California. The founding members of AARC included the Advancement Project, AGENDA, Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, Greenlining Institute and the Ward Economic Corporation. It now includes other community, civil rights and economic development groups.
The complex process of redistricting takes place every ten years, following the Census. This year in California, it involves drawing of political lines for the aforementioned Assembly, Senate, Congressional and Board of Equalization districts. How the lines are drawn affects not only who gets elected to political office, but the lesser known but critically important issue of how much funding (federal dollars especially) such districts receive.
In an effort to minimize political favoritism, (which was the paramount consideration until now- state legislators drew the lines), Californians in 2008 and 2010 voted to pass Propositions 11 and 20 respectively, thereby creating a 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission. The Commission will draw the lines for 53 Congressional, 40 state Senate, 80 Assembly and 4 Board of Equalization districts. It is holding meetings throughout California, " ...to listen to residents describe their communities and neighborhoods and what issues are important to them." The Commission will use this public input to draw district maps and has until August 15, 2011 to approve the final district lines.
The Commission has held several hearings in Los Angeles County and though initially sparse, African American participation has increased considerably; a large number of Blacks attended the Commission's most recent hearing in Culver City last week. AARC has held several community meetings of its own and presented a synthesis of the Black community's recommendations and proposed maps at last week's hearing.
Identifying "communities of interest" is paramount for communities themselves and the Redistricting Commission. This is a very complex but crucial component in determining the lines. Geography and current districts must be taken into account, which requires naming and describing the community, including its prominent geography, effectiveness of current district representatives, institutions, social and economic factors and demographics, such as age, language, failed public policies and practices, race and ethnicity, employment, economic well-being, community identity and civic participation. Culture and community assets are especially important. (In drawing the lines, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act requires that minority strength not be unfairly diluted. This is important and could mitigate a concern of many Blacks about the possibility of unfairly losing political representation because of demographic changes such as the huge increase in California's Latino population.)
AARC is funded by two California foundations, "to ensure that the African American community participates in California's redistricting process to the fullest extent, from providing input regarding the Citizens Redistricting Commission and testifying about our communities to crafting and commenting on proposed maps."
AARC takes on added significance because unlike most other efforts, it unapologetically addresses the specific concerns of the Black community. The Collaborative consists of politically diverse organizations and employs a group- oriented approach- a significant departure from what has become the traditional, single-group orientation of traditional Black leadership. AARC's inclusiveness represents a model for the unity essential for sustainable political and economic progress. Since the 1960s, have there been any notable, successful long term collaborative efforts?
AARC's first concern is about the demographic shifts in California and any possible loss of ability to elect candidates of choice. Of course, the many other substantive issues include race, proper resource allocation and adequate funding for public education, health services and employment opportunities, etc.
The Collaborative is also addressing the issue of "prison-based gerrymandering," i.e., the practice of counting incarcerated persons as residents of their prison communities rather than their home communities. Los Angeles Assemblyman Mike Davis' legislation to correct this archaic policy has passed initial hurdles and is currently moving through the Legislature.
The significance of redistricting cannot be overstated; it bears significantly on virtually every vote by determining how and where the lines are drawn. For African Americans, this is a particularly crucial time, marked with broad apprehension concerning whether Black representation and, therefore, Black power will be diminished because of demographic shifts and a perceived loss of Black population.
AARC represents a model for a unified approach, not only for redistricting, but other pressing political, education and economic challenges. Although many may consider this approach simplistic and too idealistic, I suggest that without the foundational unity it represents, sustainable political and economic progress is virtually impossible. For Blacks, successfully dealing with increasingly complex challenges will require sustainable, Black- focused collaboration.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail