Census and Redistricting
Southern Echo’s work around the decennial census count and political redistricting has been a cornerstone of our efforts to empower grassroots low-wealth African American communities in Mississippi. This work began in Mississippi in the early 1960s around the fight to enforce the right to register and to vote. Southern Echo was formed at the end of 1989 and began its work in 1990. It has had an impact on multiple levels:
- The work toward an accurate census count in 1990 and the community organizing work on the political redistricting in 1991-1992 focused on providing training and technical assistance to grassroots African American communities for the first time and assisted them to build new broad-based community organizations in the Mississippi Delta, the east central and southwestern parts of the state that brought community people onto the playing field.
- The consciousness-raising and skills development during this process led to a huge African American community turnout to vote in the regular 1991 state and county elections and in the special 1992 court-ordered election for the state legislature. As a result, the African American voters won approximately 30% of the county supervisor seats statewide, and significantly increased the number of African American elected to other county positions, boards of alderpersons and county school boards.
- In addition, the Legislative Black Caucus doubled in size from 21 in 1991 to 42 in 1993. There are 174 state legislators. The Caucus increased again in 1995 to 45, in 1999 to 47, in 2007 to 50. In 2007 the Caucus in the House provided the Speaker with 56.5% of his votes for re-election to the top spot.
- In 1991-1992 participation of community people from across the Delta prevented the state legislature from diluting black voting strength in the 2nd congressional district in the Mississippi Delta region from 58% black voting age population to 52% black voting age population.
As an outgrowth of this process the African American community has been able to provide significant leadership at the state and local levels on substantive policy issues and to create safe space for emerging moderate white leadership and organizations. For example:
- In 1995 Mississippi ratified the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This symbolic gesture (in a state rooted in symbolism) demonstrated that the Caucus had the capacity to generate and succeed in moving progressive legislation.
- From 1995 through 1997 the Caucus, with active assistance from community, successfully resisted legislation, referenda and constitutional amendments pushed by the Republican Party and the MS Economic Council who were attempting to force a new redistricting of the state legislature and all county boards of supervisors, and to change the political process to eliminate the recognizable role of political parties in elections.
- In 1997 the Republican Governor vetoed the MS Adequate Education Program which authorized the appropriation of $650 million new dollars to public education over five years. The Legislative Black Caucus led the fight to override the veto, which succeeded in the House by 3 votes and in the Senate by 1 vote. The MS Adequate Education Program is now the basic formula for funding Mississippi public education. In 1997 and 1998 the legislature also voted major increases in teacher salaries, which ranked lowest in the southeast region. This brought the total appropriations of new money for public education to $1.2 billion. This could not have happened without the significant increase in the size of the Caucus and the active on-the-ground participation of hundreds of community people working to hold their legislative representatives accountable on this issue.
- In 2003 this process led to the creation, across the traditional barriers of race, class and geography, of the MS Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse and resulted in the passage of the 2004 and 2005 Juvenile Justice Reform Acts.
- In 2004 this process led to the creation of the Education Stakeholders Alliance, which built bridges across the traditional barriers of race, class, gender, political affiliation, geography and status. The work of the Alliance has resulted in the full funding of the MS Adequate Education Program in 2007 and 2008, funding for a statewide Dropout Prevention Program, High School Re-Design, and Early Childhood Learning Pilot Programs.
5-year census and redistricting program of work: 2008 – 2013
With this background in mind, Southern Echo is undertaking a 5-year plan from 2008 through 2012 with regard to the 2010 census and the redistricting process that will begin when the census data is released in early 2011.
2008 — During 2008 Southern Echo will focus on the design of the training and technical assistance programs.
2009 – During 2009 Southern Echo will train a cadre of community people from each of the Mississippi Delta counties in the rules and regulations, tools and skills of census data collection, with particular reference to the complexity of the new demographic classifications. The goal is to ensure an accurate count of persons as a foundation for a fair redistricting process and accurate voter registration rolls. The census count (and therefore, the degree of accuracy of the count) will establish benchmarks against which the issue of black vote dilution and one person-one vote issues will be assessed.
2010 — During 2010 Southern Echo, working through the Mississippi Demography Group, will train an intergenerational cadre of demographers from different parts of the Mississippi Delta region. The training participants will learn:
- the fundamental tools and skills of the redistricting process,
- how to apply key constitutional and legal principles to census data to draw fair and viable redistricting plans,
- how to understand and interpret the significance of census data as it impacts redistricting issues
- how to work with grassroots community groups to understand local community priorities and how to utilize local community knowledge and expertise about the context in which the redistricting is being done,
- how to use GIS software to draw redistricting plans, and
- training participants will be assigned to assist specific communities at the county, school district, or municipal levels in the redistricting process and will receive on-going technical assistance from Southern Echo to support them in this work.
In addition, Southern Echo will hold workshops throughout the state with local grassroots community groups and public officials on:
- how the redistricting process works,
- the applicable legal principles that will govern the redistricting process in light of the most recent US Supreme Court decisions, and
- how to create plans that reflect the needs and interests of local grassroots communities.
2011 – 2013 – From 2011 through 2013 Southern Echo will provide further training and technical assistance to the demographers and grassroots community groups at the state, county, school district and municipal levels:
- to assist them with the use of the new census data to create redistricting plans,
- to present plans to the appropriate governing bodies,
- to evaluate redistricting plans proposed by other demographers,
- to assess whether plans proposed to or adopted by governing bodies violate the rules regarding dilution of black voting strength or one person-one vote, and
- to make presentations to the US Department of Justice whenever that may become necessary.
Throughout the 5-year process Southern Echo will also work with low-wealth African American, Latino, and Native American grassroots community organizations to provide this training process and technical assistance on census and redistricting in a number of states in the south and the southwest.