The ornate, cream-colored Hindu temple near Brandon sits just outside Mississippi’s capital city, the heart of the Bible Belt. Mississippi’s 3rd congressional district (MS-3), represented by Rep. Michael Guest-R is largely white at 76 percent. Black or African American (22 percent) and other races make up the rest.
Mississippi has three largely White and Republican districts and one Black-majority, Democratic-leaning district. According to the U.S. Census, Mississippi’s Black and White population stands at 38 percent and 59 percent respectively.
In the upcoming general election on November 8, 2022, Rep. Guest will run for U.S. House Mississippi District 3 in newly redistricted Mississippi. But voters of color in his district are unsure they will have adequate representation.
The nation gets just one chance each decade to count its population and ensure that every voter counts. Each voter has a vital stake in redistricting because it determines the composition of districts that elect public officials at every level of government. It ensures that all voices have a seat at the table.
That did not happen in Mississippi.
Redistricting Silenced Voters Of Color
At a August 12 Ethnic News Media briefing, Voting Special Counsel Amir Badat from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, explained. “Almost all of the work that went into producing these maps happened behind closed doors, without the involvement of Mississippi’s Black legislators.”
Republican legislators responsible for proposing redistricting maps “convened the committee, appointed its members, adopted criteria, and adopted maps,” added Badat. Mississippi’s new map retains the GOP advantage.
A tweet from the Center for Voter Information @centervoterinfo stated, “The voting districts to elect judges to the Mississippi Supreme Court are drawn in a way that denies Black voters an equal chance to participate in the political process, according to a lawsuit challenging the voting maps.”
The lawsuit claims the state violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which makes it illegal for states to dilute voting strength of voters of color.
Grassroots Leaders Fight Back
Community leaders in Mississippi are pressing their case for fair political representation at all levels, including county and local.
The 2020 US Census figures documented a 4.3% rise nationwide in the mixed race population from the 2000 Census. According to the World Population Review, Mississippi’s mixed-race population rose by 70% from 2000 to 2012, even though the state’s population did not increase much.
“Voting rights is at the core of any sort of social justice work in Mississippi,” said Nsombi Lambright-Haynes, Executive Director of One Voice, a statewide leadership development and policy advocacy organization.
“When you think about your school board, when you think about your city council, those are the entities that are making decisions that will impact your child’s education, whether or not the pothole on your road is fixed, or whether or not the garbage is being picked up on time,” added Monica McKinnis of One Voice.
“And those are the policies and the issues that really, really have a huge impact on people’s lives. And a lot of people don’t know that those entities are also subject to redistricting.”
When You Don’t Get A Seat At The Table
For instance, Olecia James, a 2018 graduate of Cleveland Central, had her GPA recalculated weeks before graduation, a change she claims was racially motivated to allow a white male to receive the honor instead due to fear of white flight from the school district. Last week a panel of federal appeals judges upheld the ruling that James did not have her civil rights violated in the process of awarding graduation honors.
A crisis makes a community notice and realize the importance of having their own person at the table of power – representation that looks out for the community’s interests.
“I started to open my eyes and see; we really don’t have representation here in Mississippi,” said Pastor Jose Rodriguez of One Voice.
“We have to have someone in the community to step up and be our voice,” said Daniel Le, director, Boat People SOS, representing Asian Americans.
“Even though we may not be demographers, we may not know how to draw maps, we may not have law degrees, but we want to be at those tables because it’s our children who are attending those schools. These are our taxpayer dollars at work and we will be at the table, we will have a voice,” said Lambright-Haynes.