It was a digital learning day, so I was home and still in bed when I heard the news. Overnight, two white legislators had proposed legislation that would racially gerrymander and hijack my school board out of the hands of our community. As a Chinese American student in the largest and most diverse school district in the state of Georgia, this was terrifying. We often talk here in Georgia about how attacks on democracy and attacks on public education are intricately aligned through dark money and white supremacy. Both forces believe voices, votes, and quality education should belong only to the white and wealthy among us – not my community.
In 2020, my school board flipped to all Black trustees. Georgia’s new majority of young and diverse voters changed history, electing change and sending a loud and proud message to our government: we want fully-funded schools and diverse representation. Then came the backlash. Now, the same officials who’ve been defunding schools and pushing privatization for years are also banning ballot dropboxes, criminalizing citizen protests, and banning books. They’re scared of diversity, and they’re scared of democracy.
The proposed legislation I’d woken up to, SB 5EX, targeted Gwinnett’s diverse school board by racially gerrymandering our board to silence Black and brown voters, overriding the choices of nearly a million voters. The more I read, the more horrified I was about what these bills would mean for my county. Legislators wanted to move school board elections from November to May, when turnout would be lower and whiter. Their goal couldn’t have been clearer. In a county of over 70% voters of color, these new maps would manufacture a white, conservative majority. This rushed, racist bill was an attempt to cheat our community out of its voice on the school board.
While the legislators behind these bills had excluded the public from their decisions, my friends and I would not be shut down. The next two weeks were an absolute whirlwind as we mobilized for action, knowing that Gwinnett County teachers and parents knew little about maps that might draw them out of their own school board district. My friends and I spent our evenings calling dozens of Gwinnett students to keep them in the loop, collect their quotes, and compile testimony. I was able to testify for myself and three other students through Zoom at a people’s public hearing. We had less than 48 hours to prepare, mobilize, and recruit. It was incredible to see how moving and powerful the students’ stories were.
While these bills have now been pushed back until January, we now know that these racist attacks on our public schools go much further than just my county. GOP legislators are poised to gerrymander and hijack dozens of counties across the state. This sets a really dangerous precedent that harms families like mine. If all politicians have to do to override democracy and manufacture electoral victories is to cry wolf about a fake emergency, we’re in a lot of trouble. Our schools and our elections should be safe from partisan hate and dark money efforts.
Even though I will graduate from GCPS in less than a year, I fear for my younger peers who will be directly affected by these racist decisions. Growing up, I watched the school board grow into the beautiful, diverse representative body it has become. While members of the board have been ruthlessly attacked and threatened by politicians and local white supremacists, still, they stood for us, the hundreds of thousands of kids and families in our county whose identity too often makes them attack.
I shouldn’t have had to spend hours of my week saving my own school district from politicians’ bigoted lies. Feeling heard and seen by people that look like you and share your experiences is something that every child deserves, in my county and beyond. We won’t let politicians bring their hateful claims and their partisan greed into our schools or our maps. Our community deserves better.
Lily Littrell (she/her) is a senior at Parkview High School in Gwinnett County. She currently works with the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition and their school board redistricting efforts. She has previously helped lead GYJC’s Georgia Students for Democracy Research Team, which focused on state-level elections. Her focus is community outreach and coalition-building within Gwinnett County. She has a twin sister who also attends school in Gwinnett County.