If we’re ever going to get the city we want, if we’re ever going to fix the system, we must repair the foundation.
That means making sure we take the time to count the Black and Brown people who historically are ignored on the South and West sides. That means making sure we take the time to create districts that make sense for the people who live in marginalized and underserved neighborhoods.
After the census comes redistricting. Not just congressional—state Senate and state House redistricting. Next year, every county and municipal government in the state also will need to redraw their districts to reflect the census and shifts in population that will last another 10 years. Political maps are the foundation for our representation and our elections. And when they’re drawn without the input of the people, everyone suffers.
Chicago wards have been drawn to practically guarantee re-election for most aldermen and, occasionally, to punish those who don’t follow the unwritten rules. In 2012, 41 aldermen approved a map with no input from the people living in Chicago. Aldermanic interests and political self-preservation come first. That’s been the Chicago Way for decades. The result?
Englewood has six wards. Logan Square has seven. Back of the Yards, six. Little Village, five. Austin, five. Lakeview, four. So does Avondale. Uptown has three wards and Chinatown, two.
When neighborhoods and communities are splintered and split up this way, the people who live there are left with little to no representation. They don’t know who to turn to and who they can count on to advocate for them if the streets aren’t plowed for days in winter, if they want to know whether that nearby development project will include affordable housing or if they need some help navigating the zoning process for opening a new storefront.
Even the most politically savvy among us couldn’t easily navigate a situation like that.
What the people might want or what might best serve them is the last thing considered, if at all.
And that is why now is the time for people to rise up and demand better all over Illinois. In Chicago, aldermen and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are about to begin debating a budget for the next year. Where’s the discussion about how new wards will be mapped? Where’s the funding set aside to make sure residents are front and center in the process that should serve them?
This is the time of year when we always hear that budgets are a reflection of the values of the people who propose and adopt them. So will we let officials get away with only valuing themselves? Or will it truly be a new day, where Chicagoans demand that ward remapping must be different this time? There should be money in the city budget dedicated to meaningful resident participation in the ward drawing that will happen next year.
And what about the rest of our counties and towns all over Illinois? What about at the state level, where congressional and General Assembly districts are drawn?
Illinoisans should continue demanding to be involved, that we have transparent, accountable, people-first remapping at every level of government.
If you’re feeling like the systems in place aren’t working for you, complete the census. Vote. Weigh in on wanting a say in what your political districts look like, including Chicago wards. Call all six of the aldermen who have a piece of your neighborhood and tell them you expect to be heard on ward remapping. The days of backroom deals, when aldermen pick their voters and your interests are ignored, must end. That was part of the promise of Lightfoot’s campaign and election. Fixing the foundations of our democracy. Let’s all rally around that.
Madeleine Doubek is the executive director of Change Illinois, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for ethical and efficient government.