In the coming months, our city will undertake the once-a-decade process of redistricting our City Council districts.
This process is critical to ensuring that all of our communities and neighborhoods have a fair and equitable voice in local government, and can have a significant impact on the power of a vote.
We must ensure our underserved communities of color do not have their voices or their votes diluted, and we can achieve this by providing a public, transparent and inclusive process for redistricting in San Jose.
Nationally, we are seeing deeply disturbing attempts by President Donald Trump and others in the Republican Party to weaken and outright suppress the votes of communities of color. This effort comes on the heels of a U.S. Census campaign fraught with further exclusionary attempts by this administration that will deleteriously affect these same communities.
These shameful tactics harken back to Jim Crow, and represent exactly what those in the civil rights movement fought to end. This is not what representative democracy looks like, especially not in the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis that are disproportionately impacting our communities of color, both nationally and here in San Jose.
Now, more than ever, our historically underrepresented communities need to be empowered. We owe it to our residents to combat this disturbing trend with a local process that ensures their voices are protected and heard.
What does a public, transparent and inclusive process mean for redistricting in San Jose? It means ensuring community members, neighborhood associations and community organizations will be able to have their voices and concerns heard throughout this process as active participants.
It means any changes and reforms to this process must be vetted by not only the City Council, but by the San Jose Board of Fair Campaign and Political Practices, the commission charged with reviewing and recommending fair and ethical practices relating to our city’s political process.
These changes should focus on inclusivity and greater community engagement, such as ensuring that we have outreach meetings in every one of our council districts, as well as meetings held Spanish and Vietnamese.
We should ensure all the information and data involved in this process are easily available to the public. And we should ensure all communications between commissioners and residents and community groups are transparent and disclosed.
The foundation of public trust involves seeking input from the community and incorporating this input into decision-making. The more inclusive the process, the more trust our communities will have that the city values their concerns as it sets the new district boundaries.
We urge our city leaders to carefully consider the needs and voices of those communities which have historically been excluded from the halls of power, both in San Jose and across our nation, and set forward a redistricting process that will provide all our communities and residents the confidence that their voices are being heard — and matter.
Dr. William T. Armaline is the criminal justice chair of the San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP and director of the San Jose State University Human Rights Collaborative. Yvonne Gonzalez-Duncan is the state director of California LULAC. Serena Alvarez is the California LULAC District 14 director and member of the State Executive Board. Sarita Kohli is president and CEO of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI).