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What a Fourth of July Parade Can Teach You

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Opinion: What a Fourth of July Parade Can Teach You

Congresswoman Judy Chu

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Local Fourth of July parades are supposed to be about fun and celebrating freedom, but they're also about government.

If you're scratching your head, think of this: where else do you get to see all your elected officials in one place?

The thought occurred as I watched the Fourth of July in the San Gabriel Valley city where I moved late last year. I had met one of my local councilmen, but hadn't laid eyes on any elected officials. But there they were: the mayor, the council, the school board, and a host of other non-electeds, led by the police chief.

There was even a surprise. Early in the parade, Congresswoman Judy Chu appeared on the back of a classic car. I'd interviewed her a couple of times while covering labor for the LA Times, but what was she doing here? I was pretty sure Adam Schiff was my congressman.

He was. But he won't be after the November elections, because of redistricting. Chu is running in a newly formed district that includes my neighborhood. As a proud non-voter in June's elections (I'm in the 80 percent of eligible-to-vote Californians who didn't cast a ballot), I hadn't seen the ballot with Chu's name on it, or otherwise picked up on the shift.

Such confusion is a profoundly American experience. We persist in dividing up our communities and cities into single-member districts of the same population (other more democratic places have multiple member districts that fit whole cities and regions, and divide up representation proportionally). As a result, it's hard to know what legislative districts you're in unless you're paying close attention.

Which is another reason it's wonderful that we have a holiday -- the Fourth of July -- and a tradition of parades to remind us who our representatives are.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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