Ever since Mass. Governor Elbridge Gerry gave us the gerrymander, the lines that determine our voting districts have been manipulated for political gain. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In November 2003, theWatts neighborhood in South Los Angeles weathered a freak storm that dumped more than five inches of rain and hail on the area within just a couple of hours. Storm drains overflowed, homes were drenched with floodwater, and much of the community lost power. Nearly 150 buildings — homes, businesses, schools, and hospitals — were heavily damaged. More than 100,000 residents and businesses lost power in Watts and nearby areas, and 6,000 people sought aid from the county’s emergency center. Firefighters rescued nearly 100 people from waist-deep water. Despite the urgency of the damage, confusion metastasized in the days that followed, and residents struggled to get the answers and help they needed.
Why was the disaster response in Watts so slow? It’s impossible to know for sure, but many people in the community suspected it had something to do with the electoral map.
Two years prior, Watts, a historically Black neighborhood with a growing Latino majority, had been split into three congressional districts and three state senate districts in order to ensure incumbents’ reelection. After the storm, the neighborhood’s leaders hoped to get a state of emergency declared quickly, but they were unsuccessful, and the quest wasn’t made any easier by the fact that they did not have one main representative in Sacramento or Washington to call on.