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Redrawing of Seattle’s council districts shows equity is possible




The Seattle’s Redistricting Commission has developed its final draft map in the first-ever decennial process of redrawing Seattle’s seven city council districts — and it did a great job. The Redistricting Justice for Seattle coalition is pleased to see the commission equitably centered testimony from people of color, renters and community-based organizations to draw this draft map that successfully protects historically marginalized communities.

However, we know whenever marginalized communities organize, wealthy interests come out in full force to resist progress. This redistricting cycle is no exception. We challenge the Redistricting Commissioners to stand firm behind its final draft map that protects communities of color, young people and renters — and vote to finalize it in November.

People of color, renters and young people have been historically underrepresented on the city council. This was partially a result of the way we use to elect council members in citywide elections. Citywide elections favor candidates with the money to run throughout the whole city and those who appeal to the voting majority: white people. Advocates successfully changed our system to district-based elections, creating more opportunity for diverse representation.

However, the mere existence of districts doesn’t automatically mean marginalized communities get fair representation. Take last year’s state redistricting process in Yakima. Latinos comprise nearly three-quarters of the Yakima Lower Valley, but the State Redistricting Commission caved to white-led special interests to gerrymander Latino communities apart, earning them a Voting Rights Act lawsuit.

That’s why the Redistricting Justice for Seattle coalition formed to mobilize Seattle’s most impacted communities in this redistricting process that uses 2020 census data. We knew renters, youth and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities would be the first to be overlooked. So, for the past five months, we engaged hundreds of Seattleites — mainly from South Seattle, Central District and renter hubs — to participate.

And the redistricting commission listened to our voices. Its final draft map mirrors nearly every priority highlighted in our map proposal.

Namely, communities of color in Beacon Hill, Chinatown International District and Yesler Terrace stayed intact within South Seattle-based District 2. Georgetown was reunited with South Park in one district along the Duwamish River. And crucially, renter-heavy neighborhoods in South Lake Union, Westlake, Uptown and downtown were kept together in District 7.

But now, this community-informed map is being threatened by special interest groups from one of Seattle’s oldest, wealthiest, majority white neighborhoods.

The Magnolia Chamber of Commerce has come out in opposition to the commission’s final draft map because it would split Magnolia between District 6 and 7. While it is a goal of our coalition to keep every neighborhood intact in redistricting, the unfortunate reality of redistricting is that some neighborhoods need to be split between districts. No district can exceed 1% population difference from another. District 7 — composed of downtown, Queen Anne and Magnolia — was by far the fastest growing district since 2010. This means much of the existing District 7 has to change.

Redistricting is a process of compromises. The only way to keep Seattle’s most heavily renter, young and rapidly-diversifying neighborhoods in downtown and South Lake Union intact was to expand District 6 to Magnolia. In its statements, the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce fails to acknowledge how keeping Magnolia whole would drastically split more vulnerable neighborhoods in the district.

We cannot let wealthy special interest groups steamroll this process late in the game after marginalized community leaders spent months thoughtfully engaging in this process. Young people, renters and working-class residents don’t have the same time and resources as wealthy, older interest groups do. The commission must recognize the historic suppression of people of color, young people and renters in this city’s electoral process and listen to public input equitably when making final adjustments to their map.

Downtown-area communities need to stay intact within District 7 for just representation for renters and fast-diversifying neighborhoods near downtown.

Redistricting Justice for Seattle urges the commission to continue centering those historically left out of our electoral process and formalize their final draft map with little to no changes. The commission’s first stab at a final map shows they value equity, but now they must show resilience and stand firm under pressure for our city’s most underserved communities.

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