Since 2009, Advancement Project has been at the forefront of increasing the ability of disenfranchised communities of color to be counted, have a say in who elects our representatives, and how elected representatives are chosen.
The State of California and several major foundations asked Advancement Project to develop a web-based tool that allowed community-based organizations to identify and reach out to those people they defined as “hard to count”. This included homeless people, undocumented immigrants, and geographically isolated communities. Even though the funding for outreach in 2010 was very limited, the website helped partner organizations be more effective in their efforts to make sure their communities were counted.
Why is this important? Census counts determine how public and private resources are distributed over the next 10 years. By making sure usually invisible communities were counted, we helped to channel badly-needed funding, services, and programs to the people in those communities.
Reports about the 2010 Census work:
- California Community Foundation Census 2010 Initiative, 2011
- California Counts! 2010 Census Campaign: A Network Approach to Funder Collaboration, by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants & Refugees, 2012
- Beyond the Count: Leveraging the 2010 Census to Build New Capacities for Civic Engagement and Social Change, USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, 2011
Another reason why getting an accurate Census count matters is that voting districts at all levels are drawn using that data. In 2011, we were asked again to provide a web-based tool – ReDrawCA.org – in conjunction with the newly-established CA Redistricting Commission. The Commission brought district line-drawing out of traditional smoky back rooms of political power, and into the realm of public participation.
Again, we partnered with community organizations up and down California to ensure that low-income communities and people of color actively participated in the redistricting process. Local residents and organizations used the data and mapping tools on ReDrawCA.org to experiment with how Congressional, legislative, county supervisors, city councils, and school boards districts could best reflect the people they serve. They could then print the maps and bring them to Commission meetings as part of the public proceedings.
The result was a resounding success. The statewide website hosted nearly 6,000 visitors who used the site nearly 10,000 times. Advancement Project also provided web tools and technical assistance to five locations throughout California. The Commission received public input based on data and from a wide variety of Californians. Residents and community organizations were able to participate in an effective manner. And many of the ways in which political power had been held for decades were overturned, with the result that communities of color have elected representatives that better reflect their values, concerns, and backgrounds.
Following redistricting, we set out to ensure fair political representation for residents in the state’s diverse communities of color using the historic lever provided by the California Voting Right Act (CVRA), which provides a legal process for eliminating unfair at-large election systems.
Since 2013, Advancement Project has been working with coalitions of community-based and legal organizations to improve implementation of the CVRA and ensure that communities of color stand a real chance to elect candidates who will be more responsive to and representative of their communities.
Initially, we identified CVRA “hot spots”. Based on that analysis, our work focused on a few hot spot geographies with solid coalitions of community-based and legal organizations ready to work on CVRA issues.
In 2015 we concentrated on two places:
- Orange County, where coalition work focused on the City of Fullerton. Lawsuits were filed on behalf of Latino and Asian-American residents who were left out of political processes. Settlements included placing the issue of converting to a district-based system on the Fullerton ballot in November 2016 and incorporating community voices into the district line-drawing process, which must be completed before the election. The coalition is currently organizing residents to participate in the line drawing process.
- The Inland Empire (encompassing Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) and specifically with the Inland Empowerment network. Preliminary analysis suggests that there are several areas not in compliance with the CVRA; the coalition is examining which areas should be prioritized for community education and organizing.
CVRA will continue to be a major focus of Political Voice in 2016. We will continue our intensive work in both Orange County and the Inland Empire, as well as support emerging efforts across the state.