Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson hosted about 75 people at Lawson State Community College Tuesday night to talk about redistricting of legislative and congressional districts and what citizens can do to affect it.
“This is not a county initiative,” Tyson said. “This is a people initiative.”
The town hall meeting was done to answer questions about redistricting and to let citizens know what they can do to possibly affect how districts are redrawn to account for population shifts documented in the 2020 Census.
Felicia Scalzetti of the Alabama Election Protection Network said persons have until 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, to submit their ideas of how districts should be redrawn.
Alabama State University professor Ramakrishnan “Ram” Alagan, Ph.D., said uneven development, social injustice and prison expansion are realities in Alabama, and state and federal representatives will take actions that influence how those realities play out in the community. There could be actions that trickle down and determine if an area has a grocery store or is a food desert, for instance.
The question, he asked, “What are we going to do about it?”
Scalzetti, a Southern Coalition for Social Justice Crowd fellow, said her primary objective is to engage and empower communities to advocate for themselves. That starts with community education, including the knowledge that they can build and submit their own maps.
“You cannot reach out to people and tell them, ‘Oh, you need to go to this public hearing’ if you don’t know what redistricting is to begin with,” she said. “The fact that people are not aware of the process, I think, has just been a deliberate way to leave people out of how these decisions get made and how these lines are drawn.”
Some in attendance wondered why they had heard little if anything about their opportunity to voice opinions about redrawn state and federal districts.
Scalzetti said she wants to empower people, but she wanted to be clear about the extent of that power.
“I don’t want to lie and say that this is simply a process of just showing up and everything will just fall into place,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure that (state legislators) know that we’re watching and that we’re gonna hold them accountable and that this is what we want them to do.”
Persons attending the town hall were urged to submit their thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. That correspondence goes to Donna Overton, the clerk of the reapportionment committee for the Legislature. Submitters must include their full name and the district on which they are commenting.
Stuart Naifeh and Tonya Farrow Chestnut of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, like Alagan, appeared virtually. Chestnut said watered down votes means watered down impact.