A line runs down the middle of the campus at NC A&T University.
Though invisible, the border affects the political experiences of those residing on the campus, dividing it between the 6th Congressional District and 13th Congressional District.
Former US Attorney General Eric Holder met with students on Thursday to discuss the implications of North Carolina’s lopsided arrangement for determining political representation.
Holder, who served under President Obama, visited A&T to bring awareness to the partisan gerrymandering that engineered this split down the middle of campus, and to the nationwide redistricting process set to take place in 2021. The discussion provided a platform for the predominantly black student body to talk about their concerns and experiences.
Representatives from All On The Line, a group with whom Holder works closely, also attended. Part of the National Redistricting Action Fund, the campaign works to undo gerrymandering and focuses on states like North Carolina, which is widely considered one of the most heavily gerrymandered in the nation.
“What’s going on in North Carolina,” Holder said to students, “is totally inconsistent with what we say how our system of government should work.”
The blatant district line down the middle of A&T’s campus represents a larger issue present the state and country. This line also splits Greensboro, a city that is largely Democratic-leaning, between two Republican-leaning congressional districts. The line is emblematic of how Republican-controlled legislatures in states like North Carolina and Wisconsin have engineered district lines to lock in a political advantage. North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District is represented by Rep. Mark Walker while the 13th Congressional District 13 is represented by Rep. Ted Budd.
“You can come here and see one campus, one community of interest, and yet they are split up into separate parts,” Holder said after the forum. “And it is designed to make sure that these young, African-American voters don’t have the political power that they should have.”
Holder and All On The Line aim to network and advocate with grassroots organizations across the nation about enacting solutions, such as ensuring an accurate census count, and generating higher voter turnout. Holder and All On the Line are preparing for the 2020 Census, which will in turn influence how a new map is drafted in 2021 redistricting. For example, the question of citizenship on the census would exclude immigrants from the Census count, resulting in less representation in the areas they reside.
“If you care about a woman’s right to choose, if you care about sane gun-safety laws, if you care about climate, if you care about protecting employee rights, if you care about criminal-justice reform,” Holder said, “all of these issues are tied to who serves in our state legislatures and who serves in Congress.”
Holder argued that even those without a background in political science should understand how their representatives are chosen.
“I think it’s important to come to North Carolina A&T because this is a school that has produced leaders, that has produced activists,” Holder said afterwards. “I think we need to engage young people in this fight against gerrymandering, against voter suppression.”
Josh Brewer, a senior political science major, said he felt gratified that Holder chose to engage students.
“He could have talked to faculty, staff, community organizers,” Brewer said. “But he chose to talk to students, and that’s a good thing for me.”
Brenda Caldwell, the attorney general for A&T’s Student Government Association, said Holder’s visit builds on significant work by student activists to register new voters and build awareness about the way the campus is split between the two congressional districts.
“It’s our future that’s on the line,” she said.