On a cold day in January day of 2009, people from across the world gathered to witness the election of the nation’s first Black President. We all stood on the Capitol Mall that frigid day, tears streaming down our cheeks. We were awestruck, witnessing an event many of us thought we would never live to see. But while we were out in the cold crying, our opposition was tucked away, huddled in warm rooms – plotting and planning. Our opposition is like a virus. They don’t go away, they mutate. While we’re playing checkers, they’re playing chess. And once we started playing chess, they’ve moved on to three-dimensional chess.
That day Republicans began laying the foundation for Operation Red-Map; a brilliant but sinister right wing plan built on the premise that if you control Congress, it doesn’t matter who’s President because you can pin them down for eight years. If you control the legislative bodies that draw the lines, you can ensure that Congress (and that control) is yours for the next decade. But they didn’t stop there. Controlling legislative chambers was just the beginning. Republicans started taking over municipal offices at every level; effectively controlling the people who make the laws, interpret the laws – and enforce the laws. It was like a bad scene from one of those old movies, where an unfortunate driver’s car breaks down in some small backwater town. And the mayor, the mechanic, the owner of the hotel you’re staying at, and the magistrate who hears the case for the speeding ticket you got while blowing out your engine in the middle of nowhere – are all related.
The board had been set. And the game for our movement was, if not over, seriously hobbled for the next decade.
The past several elections we’ve seen the fruits of Operation Red-Map. And like a bad dream, this is only the beginning. Our opponents saved their bests tricks for when they thought we wouldn’t be looking. They’re plotting and playing hard in the South; a place they’re most scared will turn blue and coincidentally, the place where the progressive movement stands to elect the nation’s first black woman as governor – Georgia.
Why the South? In the deepest, reddest parts of the nation there is a steady rise in the number of people of color — and conservatives have noticed. What we should notice is that this is where they are spending the most time dreaming up new ways to suppress the vote. They are doubling down on voter suppression in the places where they are strongest, because they see their grip on power slipping. They can’t stop this trend, but they can pump the brakes. Demographics are against them. But demography isn’t destiny. Especially since they’re already playing three-level chess. Take a look at the Southern Elections Fund report, The Battle to Protect the Vote, for more on why the South is the new political battleground.
The same legislators who masterminded the redistricting slight of hand of Operation Red-map, are now creating separate municipalities. Wealthy white residents who are the minority in suburban counties (as small as 5%) apply for cityhood for their elite communities, taking over a third of the tax revenue with them. The results — starving the browning and blackening communities they seek to separate themselves from and leave behind.
Exhibit one — Henry County, a suburban enclave in Southern Georgia with the city of Stockbridge nestled in its center. Stockbridge has gone from 72% to 29% white in the short span of ten years, creating a population that is 60% Black, and a city that — like so many others the census forecasts to shift – has become a majority minority municipality. In the city of Stockbridge there is an elite wealthy golf community that is 60% white. It is that community – which represents only 5% of the city but carries with it 35% of the tax revenue – that has applied for cityhood. A trend that, if successful, will quickly spread to urban centers like Atlanta, where the affluent neighborhood of Buckhead (the Rodeo Drive of the ATL) is positioning itself to do the same; effectively starving Atlanta and its growing communities of color of essential tax revenue.
This is history repeating itself. This is our opposition quietly changing the map – again.
To be continued…
Marvin Randolph is the President of Southern Elections Fund, a c4 organization fiscally sponsored by PowerPAC.org working to expand the electorate in the South. A nationally recognized expert in voter registration, voter contact, and GOTV operations, Marvin has worked on 120 campaigns in 31 states.