What a Fourth of July Parade Can Teach You

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).

Send us your thoughts via Twitter @PropZero or add your comment to our Facebook page.

Contact Us