The Hangover, 2014 Edition. Or: Gerrymandering and You. Or: Why My Non-Voting Friends Are Smarter Than Me.
I'm gonna tell you a story, then I'm gonna tell you how I voted.
After this is done, I'm going to need everyone to stop badgering people for NOT voting. It'll be long, but it'll be worth it.
Have you ever wondered why the House of Representatives has 435 members? It's not a magic number. It was a number arrived at via legislation. The Constitution requires Congress to apportion Representatives according to each state's population (counted every 10 years in the census), and they did precisely that until 1913, when the number was fixed at 435. That number was made permanent in 1929.
I don't need to tell you (or maybe I do?) that when it comes to counting bodies in this nation, we have had...well, a hard time. Chief among the reasons for the 1929 law was the concern that states with cities in them (i.e. large urban populations) would out-proportion and out-balance states that were rural.
Do I need to tell you who inhabited the cities in increasing numbers in 1929? Do I need to remind you what kind of atmosphere this nation presented for our citizens of color in 1929?
The Constitution provided little guidance as to how to proportion Representatives, except for two major provisions: 1) that the number could not exceed one Representative for every 30,000 citizens, AND, 2) we could only count 3/5 of the slave population of a given state. We've given up on even approaching 30,000 citizens per Representative. The 14th Amendment (1865) now requires us to count every citizen equally in the census. But, if you think we've quit thinking about race as we apportion legislators, I heartily welcome you to Fantasyland.
In New York State, where I live, the process of gerrymandering is alive and well. Every 10 years, the states are subject to a mathematical formula to determine how many House seats they receive out of the available, set-by-law, 435 seats. Gerrymandering is the process by which a party in power draws the district boundaries to consolidate their party's power. In a two-party system, it's a pretty effective way to guarantee that a desirable Representative stays in his seat for a long time. In practice, district lines have been drawn in a way to maintain separate constituencies based on race, class, ethnicity...and socioeconomic status, of course. Rich people don't mix with the brokeasses, and such.
I need for you all to understand exactly where you are living. I need for you all to realize that we have literally been reduced to a situation in which people select colors (red and blue), and listen to well-paid and corporate-funded experts, to tell us--NOT what to vote for, but how the people in this system EXPECT YOU TO VOTE. And I need you to understand that the system you're voting into is largely rigged. And it's been that way since the founding of the Republic.
If you watched CNN last night (I did), you received a treatise on political strategy. Not actual politics, mind you. Every person on the network panels has bought into the mentality that created the current, permanent condition of the House of Representatives, and the local legislatures, and the White House. The anger on "the issues" could only be discussed in context with who and why is holding power. The voices of people like you and me, who are drowning in bills and suffering the hangover of a nation built on separating people, are lost.
Obamacare sucks not because the idea is bad, but because an industry, and the money it pours into this beast, could not, at any cost, be inconvenienced in its implementation. So, in order to express its discontent, an electorate was forced by habit into choosing the Other. That's not democracy. That's robotics. And if you think it doesn't work the other way around, consider that in order to vote out a warmongering party, liberals were forced to vote in another warmongering party, twice.
As for New York's gerrymandering habit, Governor Cuomo has come out hard against it. He's outraged, and he put a measure on the ballot to change things, in the only place he felt he could: within his own state. Legislators can't be trusted to redraw their own districts every ten years. So he proposes a solution.
Instead of state legislators choosing districts, an independent committee will draw them. That committee will be chosen by—state legislators. Half from the Red Party, and half from the Blue Party.
Despite the logical sense it made for me NOT to participate in this farce, I actually voted yesterday. I voted Green. Another unfortunate color choice, but at least this is the unrepentant socialist color choice. I was one of 1000 people in my county who did this. And I'll do it again.
But, for those of you who did not vote, you will receive no judgment from me. I get your frustration. The only thing I'll say is, you should learn to articulate your frustrations. Get educated. Get pissed. Understand where you live, and shake some shit up with your precisely worded dissent.
The rest of you, who are currently badgering the non-voters and shouting down the Republican Party, I'm really gonna need you to shut up. Because, really, who did you show up for? Do you really feel GOOD about who you voted for? Do you actually think any of these candidates are willing to shake this system to its core? If you believe they will, call into CNN and let the panel know, since they now speak for you.
Rich Villar is the author of the poetry collection Comprehending Forever (Willow Books, 2014). He directs Acentos, an organization fostering audiences and community around Latino/a literature, and he has been quoted on Latino literature and culture by The New York Times and the Daily News.