By Salewa Ogunmefun
Throughout the legislative reallocation process, we at Pennsylvania Voice, along with our statewide partner organizations, have consistently advocated for new state legislative maps that will determine who will hold political power in Pennsylvania. for the next ten years be drawn with racial equity as a central consideration. .
In fact, our commitment to this issue predates the redistribution process itself. In 2020, we implemented a coordinated statewide Get Out the Count plan to engage Pennsylvania households that we identified as most at risk of not being counted in the census. 2020.
We and our partners have volunteered to testify at several public hearings held by the Legislative Redistribution Commission, and I have also been invited by the LRC to testify again on the community mapping efforts we have undertaken with our partners. .
On the premise that no one can draw the boundaries of our world better than us, and that community voices must be included for the new set of legislative maps to be truly fair, we embarked on a process of developing a series of Plans. In order to produce these maps, we solicited input from over 700 BIPOC community members across Pennsylvania to produce proposed maps for eight districts in five Commonwealth counties, and we presented the maps with a rally on Capitol Hill.
Prior to that, Pennsylvania Voice, led by our partners, advocated for an end to the sinister practice known as “prison gerrymandering” which deprives communities of color of the resources and power they deserve by counting incarcerated individuals, who are disproportionately BIPOC communities. , in the largely white areas where state prisons are located instead of their home communities. We argued that this process was deeply unfair and contributed to generational cycles of poverty, and the LRC largely ended this discriminatory practice.
After all of this vital work, the LRC released draft maps that demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that Pennsylvania’s rapidly growing Black, Latin American and Asian populations had a greater opportunity to elect candidates who truly represent them in the world. over the next ten years.
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These communities have accounted for almost all of the population growth in the Commonwealth over the past decade. Pennsylvania’s Asian population grew 46% between 2010 and 2020, according to U.S. Census data, and its Hispanic and Latino population grew by 45%. Additionally, these communities make up 27.5% of Pennsylvania’s total population, and in 2018 its highest legislative body – the General Assembly – was 89% white.
It was disheartening to see House Republicans spuriously attacking committee chairman Mark Nordenberg by suggesting, without any evidence, that he drew these cards to favor the Democrats in retaliation against them. Partisanship was not factored into the wide participation of Pennsylvania Voice partners to ensure that the LRC prioritizes these growing communities and this serves as a distraction to suggest that this was a key factor in the creation of these new districts.
As Nordenberg himself put it in connection with these patently false allegations, “usually when people resort to arguments of this type it means that they have little say in the substance of the dispute” and “the card itself is a card that favors Republicans. It doesn’t favor them as much as the current map, but it is the product of changing demographics.
We applaud Nordenberg for faithfully serving as a neutral arbiter instead of playing politics with the immense responsibility entrusted to him.
We are nearing the end of this critically important process, but there is still time for Pennsylvanians to make their voices heard to ensure that voters can choose their elected officials, instead of the other way around. The process for submitting comments on the proposed maps is open until January 18, and we encourage all Pennsylvanians to do so.
For more than 30 years, Pennsylvania’s legislative maps have unjustly denied the BIPOC communities of the Commonwealth of Nations the power to elect the representation to which they are entitled, and we at Pennsylvania Voice, along with our partners, will continue to advocate for fairness. fundamental which must be the foundation of any true democracy to the end.
Salewa Ogunmefun is the Executive Director of PA Voice, a partnership of more than 44 organizations working together to expand the power of Blacks, Indigenous people and communities of color across the Commonwealth.