EDITOR'S NOTE: After a NAM-organized meeting on June 21, to discuss redistricting in New Orleans, ethnic media organizations prepared this open letter to the Times Picayune and the Press Club of New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS—As spokespersons for the New Orleans ethnic media sector and the communities we serve, we urge you, our media peers, to join us in full and fair exploration of the various alternative redistricting proposals under consideration by the City Council.
We are concerned that, in a city whose population is over 60 percent communities of color, a City Council plan perpetuating the status quo will restrict the opportunity of those communities and neighborhoods to elect representatives of their choice over the next decade.
One of these alternative maps would increase the number of single-member districts on the City Council to seven from the current five, thus reducing the size of each district. This plan would also eliminate the two at-large council members. The ethnic media sector supports this proposal for a number of reasons.
We are all well aware of the population loss of our city since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Comparisons of New Orleans with cities of comparable population make a compelling argument for reducing the size of council members’ districts. Smaller districts, by definition, will yield a more representative democracy for New Orleans. How could they not? Whether the result is seven, eight, or even nine districts, the goal is laudable and overdue.
We understand that drawing smaller council districts would require amending the city’s charter, but the process of thinking and planning should begin now. We are convinced that perpetuating the current system and city charter will tend toward reinforcing the structural disenfranchisement of a post-Reconstruction past and sow seeds of bitterness that will take decades to reverse. For all the distance we have traveled in our city’s history, to consign certain neighborhoods and communities to a condition that approaches vassalage is morally unacceptable.
Our role as media should be to foster increased public education and discussion about redistricting beyond its definition of merely determining political boundaries. How can New Orleans, long one of the most diverse cities in the country and the region’s economic and cultural hub, find ways to meld its long-time residents with its more recent arrivals from Latin America and Asia?
Although these are questions fundamental to our sense of what it means to be an American, the answers have an impact not just on our ideals, but on our daily lives. How far will a resident of one section of the city – where community needs have been marginalized -- have to travel to reach a hospital during a medical crisis? How do we answer a 14-year-old Latina who asks, “What does redistricting mean for me,” as occurred during a meeting on the topic only days ago?
We understand that incumbents, who will determine and submit the city’s new redistricting map to the Department of Justice, are not obliged under the Voting Rights Act to improve on past plans. Their legal obligation is to draw lines that leave residents no worse off. We argue that such an approach is short-sighted and violates the spirit and intent of the Constitution to have each vote count in a way that matters.
We emphatically disagree with those who argue that adding new districts is merely a disguised attempt to produce race-based outcomes; that the sole objective of such a plan is to “guarantee” that a candidate will be of a certain race. However, we do believe, at its essence, that redistricting belongs to communities, and, as is often said, should be a process that enables people to select their representatives, not one where the representatives select their people.
As leaders, it is media’s responsibility— ours and yours— to encourage our elected officials to find ways to best utilize our collective human assets. Redistricting is an opportunity to expand civic engagement; the process of changing the city’s charter to achieve that goal does not even rise to the level of sacrifice. We are seeking your assistance to use the power of our collective media voice to envision and demand something greater for our city than preservation of the status quo.
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