New York Counts 2020 Presents at Public Interest Law Center Brown Bag Law Seminar
On July 19th, 2018, as part of the Brown Bag Lunch Law Seminars on Civil Rights organized by by the Legal Defense Fund and Legal Momentum, several New York Counts 2020 member organizations presented on a redistricting panel. Held at the offices of LatinoJustice PRLDEF in TriBeca, New York, this panel was attended by interns of NAACP Legal Defense Fund, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, AALDEF, Legal Momentum, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, as well as New York Immigration Coalition.
Moderated by Jorge Vasques, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the panel consisted of Elizabeth R. OuYang, New York Immigration Coalition’s Census Consultant and Coordinator of New York Counts 2020, Jerry Vattamala, Director, Democracy Program at AALDEF, Esmeralda Simmons, Executive Director at Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, and David W. Ford, a healthcare marketing and community relations expert.
OuYang shared her expertise on the relationship between the decennial census and redistricting. She compared statistics of allocated funding regional offices, numbers of partnership specialists, and enumerators hired for Census 2010 with those proposed for the next census, bringing to light the significant decrease in resources. Then, OuYang delivered a sharp and sardonic runthrough of the challenges facing Census 2020, in light of the Citizenship Question.
"Why would a Citizenship Question deter people from completing the census?" OuYang posed, rhetorically. The next slide featured the following list of reasons:
repeal of DACA
ending of TPS for Central American countries, Nepal, and Haiti
separation of children from parents
This drew laughter from the crowd of legal interns, who understood full well the political climate in which the Citizenship Question climate was entrenched.
Handing the mic to New York Counts 2020 interns, Adelaide Zou and Nancy Liang discussed the efforts of New York Counts 2020 during a visit to Washington D.C., where they attended an all-day census conference organized by Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and educated several Congressional members on the need for a fair and accurate count. To capture their interest, conducting research on concerns of representatives and tailoring the conversation to suit their interests was key. For example, Representative Elise Stefanik of NY-21 (R) had focused on Children's Health during her election campaign, so Zou presented statistics on federal allocations to children's wellbeing, based off Census data. Liang spoke about her experience at the office of Daniel Donovan of NY-11 (R). Because she is a constituent in the outskirts of the district, she addressed her concerns about lack of representation from her Congressman as well as the needs of her community that would be negatively impacted by an inaccurate and incomplete count.
Simmons followed explaining the procedures for redistricting state and local voting districts. "Redistricting is by far the most powerful tool used to suppress voting power," she declared. She referenced historic lawsuits addressing voting rights and redistricting and emphasized the need for lawyers to volunteer to litigate future cases regarding the Census and redistricting.
Ford spoke about his experience running for Town Council in Hempstead, NY in 1991. He had gained 40% of the vote, pulling in 50,000 votes, but lost the election due to the drawing of local district lines. This demonstrated the detrimental effects of gerrymandering in local government.
Lastly, Vattamala presented a map of New York City that overlapped New York State Assembly districts with neighborhood lines of Asian-American communities. He demonstrated how the Asian American vote was diluted in neighborhoods that were divided up into 4-6 Assembly districts, while white neighborhoods were kept intact in the same district.
OuYang ended the seminar with a sobering reminder, "As lawyers, we may always think we are up here (litigating), but we also have to be part of the debate down here as well. Public opinion will ultimately shape our values of democracy and full participation."