As communities of color face major challenges and threats in the wake of redistricting in Georgia, activists are focusing their efforts on the fight for voting maps that will determine political representation and fair access to resources over the next ten years.
For Susanna Scott of the Georgia Redistricting Alliance, a transparent redistricting process is fundamental to a good democracy.
He made this point during a press conference organized by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Ethnic Media Serviceswhere he stressed that "when voters have faith in the redistricting process and believe that it has been carried out fairly, they feel more committed to the political process and have faith in the government".
"It is incumbent upon us to speak out against the flaws in the redistricting process and demand better from our legislators!" he pointed out.
For her part, Poy Winichakul, a staff attorney for voting rights at the Southern Poverty Law Center, noted that this is the first redistricting cycle in which Georgia has not been covered by the Voting Rights Act, following the 2013 repeal of the protections of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which previously would have required the Department of Justice to take a second look at all types of maps, including at the county level.
"What we're seeing right now is that the drawing of the districts has not been transparent, has not had a public hearing or public input: it's being usurped by the state legislature drawing the district lines even without much input from local elected officials, in order to make sure they get the maps they want."
She also said she was concerned about how quickly things are moving forward on redistricting in Georgia, and how little the public has had a chance to weigh in on these maps that have a lasting impact at the local level for the next decade.
Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause, said that democracy can only work if everyone is fully and equally represented, regardless of race, party affiliation, or zip code, among many other aspects.
"The attacks on our right to vote have not stopped at our ballot box, they are unfolding in our local redistricting process. State legislators want to control our communities from the kitchen table to garbage collection to how our local representatives are elected," he emphasized.
"We need federal and state protection, but also a legislature that really works for the community and the people, and not for its own interests," he added.
Laura Judge, a Cobb County resident and parent, said she was disappointed by several actions of the Cobb County School Board, which she said, most of the time, seems to just check boxes and doesn't try to help students.
"Every time we have gone to the School Board to make our voices heard, we seem to have hit a wall. They don't respond to public testimony, and some Board members have argued with other members as when they ask important questions."
He added that the chairman of the Cobb County School Board recently changed the rule requiring a majority for a measure to be presented for consideration.
In that regard, he noted that the State Legislature has presented a map for the Cobb County School Board that defends the current majority at the expense of fair representation for African American community votes.
"State legislatures are rushing their maps while refusing to listen to the community. Our children are forced to live in a toxic environment when parents don't have a fair voice to advocate for their needs and interests."
Literacy rates across Georgia, he stressed, have been falling after elected board members attempt to introduce an overhaul to literacy instruction, "and when we tried to update our methods, it wasn't even considered because of school board rules."
Add to that problems of anti-Semitism,and discrimination against children with learning differences, "it gives the feeling that diversity, equity and inclusion are not being addressed at all," he said. "Our voices are not being heard as we continue to pay taxes to the school board and see our money squandered."
Finally, Laura Judge strongly urged all Georgians "to stand up against this attempt to diminish our voice," to be actively involved, standing up to politicians and the approval of redistricting maps in Georgia that disenfranchise their community, as well as to "redouble efforts to mobilize members of their community in the face of this attack on our voice."
Finally, Maariya Sheikh and Sadie McIntyre, students and activists with the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, raised their voices in favor of a fair redistricting in Georgia that takes into account the voice of all.
"We are the future, and the future is a diverse, multiracial democracy - drawing maps that suppress local control and silence communities of color is a threat to that future," said Maariya, an American Muslim living in Cobb County.
Sadie, for her part, said that "redistricting determined whether people received civil rights protections or fully funded schools, and that ?whether you live in Powder Springs, Athens, or Lawrenceville, you deserve to choose your leaders instead of them choosing you?"
Despite efforts by politicians in the state legislature to diminish their voices, activists in Georgia communities are committed to continuing to advocate for fair representation.
Hundreds of new redistricting maps in Georgia, which will be ready for the 2022 elections, are awaiting the Governor's signature. Candidate filing for the 2022 primary election in Georgia begins March 7.
You may be interested in: Latinos in Florida seek to overturn district maps that do not represent them