Georgia teens become unlikely warriors in redistricting fight

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At age 13, DJ Horton can’t vote or even drive a car, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a leading voice in Georgia’s redistribution process.

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The middle school student and aspiring politician from Gwynette County testified at two redistribution hearings organized by the state legislature this year. This month, Representative Derrick Jackson, a Democrat from Tyrone, Georgia, quoted him during on the floor remarks about the maps; Horton was invited by his state senator earlier this month to speak at a committee hearing about a proposed state legislature map.

“On behalf of the future young voters of Georgia in this state, I am asking you—indeed, I am begging you—to reconsider the redistribution maps that have been drawn up,” he said at that hearing. “It is not a right or a left issue; It is a matter of right or wrong.”


Horton is one of dozens of teens mobilizing and testifying in Georgia’s redefinition process this year, juggling finals and extra-curriculars with special legislative sessions and winning an unusual level of youth engagement in the typically, insider political routines of to include in

Over the past few years, a surge of interest in redecorating has raised awareness of the effects of gerrymandering and has prompted many states to revamp their map-drawing processes, prompting more young people across the country to get involved. has been done. middle school students in new york created an algorithm to map while North Carolina college students lobbied against gerrymandering split their premises in several districts.

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Youth voting also surged in the 2020 election and led to significant January runoff in Georgia, where Democrats – attended by young voters of color – were able to help swoop over two Senate seats in Georgia.

Horton got his start with the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, a group of progressive students who have begun training each other to be involved in the state’s redistribution process and to tell compelling political stories.

Redistribution is a routine political process necessary to adjust political representation to reflect population growth changes. In Georgia, state legislators in both parties have used redistribution to secure partisan gains, drawing the map quickly and quietly. A decade ago, Republicans took control of the process and pushed the proposed maps out of the Legislature just days after they were released. This year, however, lawmakers have acted to ask for more public input and hosted a series of public hearings across the state.

The alliance, called Students GYJC, has trained at least 70 youths on how to get involved, hosting a Zoom training aimed at preparing students. In one training, group co-founder Alex Ames talks about how to identify students as members of the community (not to mention the political party, volunteer work, and what makes your community different from others). Understood everything. A pitch (write the testimony, make sure it’s short) and how to make a compelling argument (present evidence of harm).

Ames, a 19-year-old public policy major at Georgia Tech University, said the group began working together in 2020, but was officially formed in January as GYJC, with plans to focus on voting rights. It lobbied against the state’s restrictive voting bill, Senate Bill 202, but began to gain momentum during the redistribution cycle, as much of the process took place during the summer recess.

“It was actually very easy to attend as compared to the normal legislative session. We didn’t have to leave school to testify. There were opportunities for a lot of public input across the state,” AIIMS, who now serves as the group’s director of communications, said in an interview. “It made it really easy for the students who had all these frustrations with SB 202 to feel like it took a toll on some.”

He estimates that more than 40 people have spoken this summer and have fallen during the procedure. At the final hearing on the Georgia map Saturday, three of the 13 members of the public who testified were members of the Coalition.

She said they regularly mobilize dozens of students, but their mailing list reaches “thousands.”

“At the end of the day, redistribution is that lynchpin,” said Julian Fortuna, a 19-year-old University of Georgia student and member of the GYJC who led some of the group’s redistribution efforts. “It is whether you are able to make your voice heard as a citizen.”

Fortuna said that he believes students are ready to get involved because of the political issues they are facing every day.

He said, “The youth have no choice but to look away from the political battles of our times. They are being forced upon us, whether it is climate change, whether it is gun violence, whether it is a fully funded public Yes. Education.”

The students are progressive – some of them met by phone-banking for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign – and engage and lobby with the group on partisan issues, but they urge people to refrain from politics when engaging on redistribution. stay away

“Gerrymandering is something that happens on both sides of the aisle, so framing it as a partisan issue is my biggest ‘try not to do it’,” said 17-year-old high school student Yana Batra, who Gives training on how to tell stories well. “The main thing we try to do is not just give people language, but it’s more about equipping them to share the story that they already have.”

Now that Congressional and state legislative maps of Georgia have been approved by the legislature, some teens are turning their attention to local redistribution, attending school board meetings, and engaging in the county-level office redefinition process.

Ken Lawler, president of Fair Districts GA, a nonpartisan redistribution advocacy group, said youth participation in this year’s redistribution cycle has been a “breath of fresh air.”

He said, “They realize that unless you can elect a government that represents the people, you cannot get proper policies. And so they are working on machinery because when the machinery does not work, You don’t get it.” what you need.”

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