La Paz Not sure that we were doing the right thing since many of our Organizers’ Forum delegation were still shaky with the altitude transition, before 9 AM we embarked on a different kind of experience – a walking tour from El Alto down to La Paz with La Paz on Foot for four hours. It actually worked out great, largely because we took cabs to the top and walked down, but hey, that’s not as easy as you think either when you are dropping a 1000 feet or more.
El Alto is an interesting city that 80 years ago essentially did not exist as little more than an airfield but now with almost 10% per year growth has surpassed a million people. La Paz with a couple of million is below El Alton in the valleys built on what once were more than 30 rivers, originally where gold was found, a Sacramento of the Andes.
El Alto has an interesting tactical position vis a vis all of Bolivia and can cordon off La Paz. We heard stories of various issues between the communities and that El Alto was able to win by blocking off all outside access to the country by bus or by air or highways. When people hit the streets in El Alton the country knows about it.
We walked down long staircases and drainage tunnels which are huge public improvements. ACORN Peru had fought for 5 years in San Juan Laragancho to win ones just like these. El Alto had brought water, lights, and even gas to many of their barrio districts which was quite impressive.
So were the very stark notices of the rough justice that would await burglars who might be caught in these barrios. From the hanging effigies it was clear there would be no waiting for the police!
La Paz We flew overnight via Miami to La Paz, Bolivia for the 10th consecutive International Dialogue with the Organizers’ Forum. We came at a good time. Forty-eight hours earlier, we would have been stuck in the small airport there as striking miners blocked all of the highways coming into the city in a dispute that seems to involve trying to prevent privatization of the mines. In the pre-dawn, the city was serene and beautiful. The airport at 13,000 feet drops you down to 11,000 odd feet in the city, still the highest capital of any country in the world. We could see peaks emerging from the clouds and sweeping vistas of brick houses rising in browns and reds up the mountains around us.
We all hoped to get here early to acclimate a bit to the altitude, though we’ve already beaten a path to the pharmacy for reinforcements. In between naps and cups of hot water with coca leaves floating in them, which is the recommended local cure, I would wake up to continue reading a sobering and somewhat shocking tale even in these jaded political times by Robert Draper in the current issue of The Atlantic called the “League of Dangerous Mapmakers.” I was especially horrified to read a story probably well-known in Texas, but still amazing in its ham fisted transparent voter manipulation.
The U.S. Census every ten years counts the country. Where there has been growth there, maybe new Congressional seats, especially in Texas and Florida, and where there have been losses in the Midwest and in Katrina-ravished Louisiana, there may also be losses of seats. Legislatures are responsible for the redistricting, so where Republican control has increased, once again in states like Florida and Louisiana, fairness can be an issue. The Voting Rights Act fortunately still places some obstacles for Republican legislatures if there is blatant racial discrimination to suppress the representation of African-Americans and Hispancis.
Draper pulls the curtains open in Texas though:
…Texas, which was granted a whopping four. But on the other hand, most of each state’s new residents are African Americans and (especially) Hispanics. In Texas, the population has swelled by 4.3 million over the past decade. Of those new residents, 2.8 million are Hispanic and more than half a million are African Americans. While those groups grew at a rate of 42 percent and 22 percent, respectively, the growth in white Texans was a merger 4.2 percent. In other words: without the minority growth, Texas – now officially a majority-minority state – would not have received a single new district. The possibility that a GOP map-drawer would use all those historically Democratic leaning transplants as a means of gaining Republican seats might strike a redistricting naïf as undemocratic. And yet that’s exactly what the Texas redistricting bosses did last year.
It kind of took my breath away, which was the theme of the day for me. The courts refused to allow in some of cases so they didn’t totally get away with it, but they mostly got away with it, and Draper makes it clear that if they hadn’t been some stubbornly stupid about the way they did it, they likely would have succeeded altogether as they did in North Carolina and elsewhere.
Hard ball politics is one thing, but when it is this undemocratic and meant to do little more than rob citizens of representation and voice, there’s no excuse.