A ten-parter by David Brin
Part VIII. The Problem of Gerrymandering:
....Solutions" that just may work.
Reprise: If there is to be any hope, we must be the ones to take responsibility.
This is one problem we are going to have to solve ourselves.
I mean it. There is no political party that will help us to slay the dragon of gerrymandering. No billionaire is going to come to the rescue with a foundation grant. And do not expect Bigtime Journalism to raise this as a cause celebre.
The parties may not be equal -- morally or in policy -- but they do share blame for this problem. A billionaire will invest where the chances of success are better than nil.
And the press? Their contempt for the public has no bottom. (I come from a long line of journalists.) They will look at the sheer complexity of this issue and despair of ever explaining it to all those dolts out there.
So, is there any hope, short of believing that science will someday come to the rescue with brain pills?
Putting utopian dreams aside, what can we do right now, pragmatically, to change the balance of power, even in districts that twist and writhe like serpents, so that the same party may contrive to dominate utterly, and apparently forever?
Sometimes you must seek inspiration in the most unlikely of places.
Go back in time -- sixty years, seventy, eighty -- to the old post-bellum South, that time of "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou," when segregation reigned and the Klan ruled the night. Certainly the land of Faulkner wasn’t all dismal stereotypes. A lot of good and noble things were also going on. But politically it was not the most open and enlightened era. For one thing, a majority of white voters would vote for a "yellow dog" if it were the Democratic nominee.
If Republicans dominated the Union, from the Civil War until FDR, their monopoly on power was nothing compared to the Democratic Party’s lock in the old "Solid South," from Reconstruction until Richard Nixon. In those days, the November election was generally a sham, a mere formality. A coronation of the Democratic nominee, whoever that might be.
A few black citizens who managed to get registered to vote would join some urban intellectuals in casting a smatter of futile dissenting ballots in the fall. Most did not even bother.
Real political fights were reserved for the primaries, when there were sometimes knock down, drag-out battles among candidates for the democratic nomination -- from governor all the way down to mayor or dog catcher. Often local blacks or liberals would seek (when allowed) to re-register as Democrats, so they could vote in the spring, when and where it really counted. When political power was actually apportioned.
Can you see where I am heading with this? Gradually, almost unnoticed, we have been manipulated into becoming a nation of ten thousand little Solid Souths, in almost every state assembly and US Congressional district across the land. Gerrymandering has done to nearly all of America what Jim Crow achieved much earlier, from Texas to the Carolinas. The problem has been seen before. But the past may also tell us what to do.
Thwarted at having anything meaningful to do with their votes, might people find a way to evade this trick of the political pros? The precedent is clear. We have only to follow the wisdom of our ancestors. If we have the guts to rebel against ‘party identity’ and instead maximize our personal access to political power.
Think of it this way. Gerrymandering has given each district a de facto -- if not official -- party of that district. There is no sense whining about it.
If districts have been scornfully reworked in order to make the November general elections worthless, then by all means, everyone in a district should join the party of that district.
Make the primary election the locus of real argument, real campaigning over issues, real voter participation. Real politics.
Clearly, this is the minority's best tactic, when gerrymandered "solid" districts and national division have rendered competitive politics a thing of the past.
==Continue to Part 9
or return to Part 1 of this series