As stealthy Republican lawmakers work to enact a redistricting plan that disenfranchises Black, Brown, and economically impacted people, one really starts to wonder, “What is Power?”
Power is everything. It is so important to some that they will engineer the rules to maintain it. Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers recognize power. They clearly see it for what it is worth and that is why they have presented a redistricting plan that lessens our voting power. On January 24, lawmakers presented an egregious plan that would split Nashville specifically into three separate – and not equal – districts as an effort to dissipate our power and energize theirs.
In Tennessee, as in other parts of the country, Republican map drawers are refusing to create new electoral opportunities for communities of color. They are actively dismantling Black voting power by carving up Black communities in some case or packing Black communities into fewer districts in other places (and employing both tactics in some cases). These manipulative tactics make it harder for voters of color to elect candidates of choice, regardless of turnout or population growth.
Nashville, currently District 5, is largely Democratic. It was a stronghold for Joe Biden and is currently represented by Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper. Cooper has represented the district since 2003 and will not seek re-election due to his district being heavily broken up. Cooper stated, “Despite my strength at the polls, I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville. No one tried harder to keep our city whole. I explored every possible way, including lawsuits, to stop the gerrymandering and to win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville. There’s no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates.”
Redistricting should be fair and equitable. When it is done with discriminatory or partisan intent, it dilutes voting power. This means that communities can enjoy massive voter turnout and still be unable to elect candidates of choice. Unfortunately, redistricting is not the only thing voters must contend with.
Across the country, there has been a wave of restrictive voting laws that have the effect of denying and abridging the right to vote. These repressive voting laws will limit voters’ ability to influence this and future elections. The thing I want people to keep in mind is that it doesn’t take much to make it harder for communities to vote. Turnout in our community is already low – Tennessee ranked 50th out of 51 states in 2016 for voter turnout in the November election. In 2020, the state climbed to 47th after a 59.8% turnout of eligible voters largely due to absentee ballot request. Nearly 2.3 million Tennesseans voted early.
Any effort to restrict who can vote, when they can vote, and where they can vote will adversely impact communities of color. While Biden won District 5 and two others, Trump won the state with 11 electoral votes. But since 2012, Tennessee has some of the most ensuing regressive voting laws of all the states. From laws against using absentee ballots, to requiring a photo ID to vote, to requiring that ID be an in-state driver’s license, to requiring child support be paid in order to vote, these voter ID restrictive laws mostly impact Black, Brown, poor folks and college students.
These efforts are not about making elections safer or more secure; they are about allowing a select group of people to maintain power.
Voting confers power. Voting is also a tool to win back power and impact positive change. Republican leaders would not be working so hard to keep voters from engaging in the process if they didn’t sense our power.
As an activist who is also an artist, I understand what it means to use one’s voice to speak truth to power. Everyone should know this power. That is why our fight must continue. Yes, Republican lawmakers are using redistricting and voting laws to limit our power; but we cannot relent. We can acknowledge the challenges we face, and still vow to push forward. Voting confers power; that is why it is under attack.
No matter our color, background or zip code, most of us believe that voters should pick our leaders, not the other way around. Redistricting determines how funds for schools, hospitals, and other essential services will be allocated. This is power.
I know this. You know this. And the people seeking to maintain power know it as well. In the same way that they are fighting, we too must remain committed to securing the power of the vote, today and every day.
Tameka Greer founded MAC in 2012 with the goal of empowering communities to embrace their identity. She encourages artists and partnering organizations to collaborate and help fulfill community goals.