We live in a world dominated by injustices of all shapes and sizes-inequality at scales never witnessed before, a healthcare system strained by the coronavirus, a planet laboring under the might of the climate crisis. To isolate any single issue and raise it as the peril most deserving of our attention-the one thing that demands change, would be to trivialize all the others. It would severely misjudge the situation that we face, and ignore the one true, resilient agent for change in our society: the American people. If I could change just one thing in this world, it would be to reform our government itself-to strengthen our democracy and empower the American public to devote their full might towards solving the problems of our time.
My home state of Texas- my hometown Houston especially-is a perfect example of the cynical, political dysfunction that has plagued our government and made change hard to achieve. Hunter S. Thompson once called us a ‘shabby, sprawling metropolis’ whose citizens live by the ‘code of the West’ in lieu of zoning laws. It stings-but he’s pretty much right. Just a year ago, a local congresswoman kicked a man out of his own seat on a flight, and won re election, by 75 percent.
This political disorder has many causes, but one in particular stands clear: gerrymandering. Since the first cowboys rode into Texas two hundred years ago, politicians have been finding new, unique ways to draw their own districts, carving up communities like a plate
of brisket. These franken-districts distort the playing field, locking incumbents into certain re election and removing any element of democratic accountability. The end result: nothing gets
done. Why should we expect our government to tackle the issues that affect our lives as long as the same government is not accountable to our views?
This concept is something that’s been painfully aware to me in my own life. The reservoirs that flooded my house during Hurricane Harvey were marked as dilapidated during the Reagan administration, but after being carved into four congressional districts, they went over two decades without receiving a dime of federal funding. When the flood eventually came-it was too late for my family and thousands of others.
The solution, the change that has to be made: non-partisan redistricting. It’s feasible, it’s successful, it’s constitutional, and it’s within our reach. In my spare time, I volunteer my skills with GIS programming (geographic information systems- maps) to help a local activist group, Texans Against Gerrymandering, prepare to tackle this problem as the 2021 redistricting cycle is set into motion. Meshing together Census Bureau data with Texas Legislative Council records might seem arduous (or a wee bit mundane), but the work has a deeper meaning: raising awareness, driving momentum, and building real world solutions. Because while it might be extremely compelling to imagine the societies we want to create, the only way to achieve our goals is to put our values into action.
This fall, when my friends and neighbors testify in front of preliminary redistricting hearings, they’ll be armed with data I compiled, maps that I drew, and their voices-my community’s voice-will be resoundingly heard. Their fears, and their aspirations, will be acknowledged and respected. And if nonpartisan redistricting makes its way into law, then all of Texas will once again, have its voice heard. Although so much in our world demands change, starting off by empowering the people who know how to do it best is a great way to start.