Tag Archives: gerrymandering

Layered Reality

Layered Reality   —by Jinny Batterson

Sometimes, despite fairly consistent efforts to broaden my circle of friends and acquaintances, it seems as if I’m stuck in an ever-shrinking bubble, quarantined in my own little “liberal-urban-retiree” silo. Recently I had a chance to spend a week with our out-of-town grandchildren, exploring a couple of stunning U.S. national parks via outdoor hikes. My guess is that our son and daughter-in-law had carefully coached the kids to humor grandma and grandpa by not overusing their “screens.” We watched a fair number of breakfast-time morning cartoons, but mostly we wandered outside, free from earbuds, television, or other screens. Cell phone coverage was minimal or nonexistent.

Much of our political and cultural life these days, including mine when not hiking with the grandkids, gets mediated by screens. Screen life can often seem tasteless, colorless, instantaneous, disconnected. I realize I’m getting old and slow, but I doubt this is the only cause for our disconnectedness.

I remember a story my rural sister told me. Typically apolitical, Sal had gotten sufficiently exercised in our recent hyper-charged society that she decided to become more politically active. In 2018, she campaigned for a candidate for U.S. congress in the Maryland district where she lives. She and I live in mirrored political entities—both North Carolina, where I live, and Maryland, where Sal resides, are “poster child states” for extreme political gerrymandering. I live in one of a few districts carved out to the benefit of NC’s minority party (in this case, the Democrats). Sal lives in the one district in Maryland that has been allocated to its minority party (in this case, the Republicans). Though our NC polling sites during early voting and on election day fairly consistently have longish lines, the precinct where Sal stood with her candidate’s literature wasn’t busy. Dribbles of voters came by the area where campaigners were allowed, leaving lots of down time. My sister is nothing if not gregarious, so before long she was talking with the two campaigners for the majority party candidate. Carefully sidestepping the merits of their respective candidates, Sal probed for possible common ground. Pretty soon, the three of them were discussing the uncertainty of sale prices for soybeans; the availability of rental drones for quicker, more thorough analysis of field conditions; the best area bulls for improving dairy herds; the impact of changes in agricultural regulations on small-scale farmers. Although there were certainly political opinions where the three of them likely disagreed, they found a good many areas where their interests overlapped and they could be both civil and informative. Their reality was layered with interspersed agreement and disagreement.

Last year about this time, I was in an area of rural France where human habitation goes back hundreds of thousands of years. I got a tour of an archeological site with over a dozen layers of excavation, ranging from about 40,000 to about 15,000 years ago. Now inactive, the site had been carefully dug during a human generation or so, some layers yielding little in the way of artifacts or information, others rich with both. I believe we need to remember that our social and political realities are rarely either/or, much more often layered with both conflict and agreement. Likewise, we are both independent and interdependent.  Please let’s take a bit more effort toward excavating beyond the tweets and the sound bites—our neighbors may be more layered than we know.

Voting with Our Feet (and other essential body parts)

Voting with Our Feet (and other essential body parts)   —by Jinny Batterson

Recent retirees like me get a lot of health-related information—mailers, email reminders, targeted Internet advertising.  Fairly often, these messages tout the benefits of regular exercise. Walking gets mentioned a lot—helps our circulation, requires little special equipment, can be done anywhere, anytime. So, even in the heat of summer, I try to keep up a regular walking routine. Over the past several seasons, I’ve been doing a good bit of more targeted walking, too, participating in protest marches and fundraisers for causes I think are important.  One of those is global climate change; another is voting.

Last September, I joined hundreds of thousands in New York City to draw global attention both to the problems we’re creating with our profligate use of fossil fuels and to possible alternatives, including the low-tech, available-to-nearly-everyone switch to walking more and using our vehicles less. I got a walker’s high moving along with the varied and huge crowd around me, most in comfortable shoes, some with banners, others with slogans on their clothing, some coasting beside us on skates or bicycles, a few in wheelchairs.

This past week, I joined a smaller, more localized crowd in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to draw attention to the start of a federal court case considering the constitutionality of several restrictive 2013 changes in my home state’s voting laws. The weather was sultry—July in North Carolina can wilt even the most stalwart. However, organizers had ordered thousands of bottles of cool water, and we guzzled it down as we listened to speeches and songs before taking to the streets. We wanted to help reinforce the message that the U.S. Constitution has been repeatedly amended to expand, rather than constrict, the franchise. The 15th amendment gave the vote to male former slaves; the 19th enfranchised women; the 26th, ratified in 1971, reduced the voting age from 21 to 18, giving the ballot to 18 to 20 year olds, including young men subject to military conscription.

I’m most grateful that my tramps have so far been voluntary. Nowadays, a huge number of people are walking for more distressing reasons—the number of international refugees and internally displaced persons has reached a level not seen since World War II. In 2014, nearly 60 million people, about 1 in every 125, were in refugee camps or temporary shelters due to wars and ethnic conflicts around the globe. When armed conflict breaks out, many vote with their feet just to survive.

In Isabel Wilkerson’s 2011 award-winning saga, The Warmth of Other Suns, I read that nearly 6 million African-Americans voted with their feet during the period between 1915 and 1970. These participants in the “great migration” left the Jim Crow south for points north and west, pushed out by fear and discrimination, and/or pulled away by the lure of better opportunities and less blatant oppression.

During my lifetime so far, I have not been forced to vote with my feet because of wars or oppression. However, voting with a ballot is a right I no longer take for granted. Recent quantum leaps in the sophistication and prevalence of gerrymandering make it more difficult for me to cast a meaningful vote, as do both subtle and more blatant attempts at voter suppression. Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have made “voting with money” more prevalent, an emphasis I find distressing. The problem has gotten too big for any single citizen, candidate or political party to solve on its own.

At the New York City march, some carried placards proclaiming: “There is no Planet B.”  On a less global level, I wonder, if we destroy our country’s democracy, what “plan B’s” await us? Our union has become considerably less perfect over the past decade or so. Perhaps we can reverse the trend—some of us may have to vote repeatedly with our feet in protest marches. We’ll also need to engage our heads, our hearts, our hands, having serious debates about vital issues, registering and voting, resisting demagoguery and pat answers, listening to each other, working together. Let’s keep walking…