Runners and walkers planning to take part in a 5K race in Asheville early next month might do better with a compass — a well-tuned political compass, that is.
As lawyers, judges and redistricting experts spend hours in a federal courtroom in Greensboro this week discussing the latest North Carolina redistricting lawsuit, the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County and others were planning an event meant to give people interested in North Carolina politics a ground-level view of how gerrymandering looks.
On Nov. 4, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the league is holding the Gerrymander 5K run and walk that tracks the dividing line between the state’s 10th and 11th congressional districts, which have elected two Republicans to represent the largely Democratic city.
“It’s a fun way to bring attention to gerrymandering and kind of say, ‘This is dividing our neighbors,’” said Alana Pierce, board president of the Buncombe-Asheville league chapter.
The event starts at the Admiral restaurant on Haywood Road, a main street through west Asheville, and ends at the West Asheville Lounge and Kitchen, or WALK, another eatery and bar on Haywood Road.
Asheville, one of the larger urban areas in the western part of the state and a city that typically votes overwhelmingly for Democrats, is split between the two U.S. congressional districts.
At one point, the dividing line runs through west Asheville along Haywood Road. But the boundary between the two districts zigs to the left and zigs to the right, picking up some neighborhoods or, in some cases, just a few households. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from Denver in Lincoln County, represents the 10th district which includes all or parts of eight counties in western North Carolina. Mark Meadows of Asheville, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the 11th district, which was redrawn in 2011 and went from having a slight Republican lean to overwhelmingly Republican.
J.P. Kennedy, an artist, musician and documentarian who lives and works in Black Mountain with his wife Cinnamon Kennedy, a writer and musician, had not paid a lot of attention to all the political talk about gerrymandered districts until House Bill 2 was adopted in 2016.
“I was so outraged that we were treating our transgender community this way,” Kennedy said in a phone interview this week. “I was like ‘Who’s my representative?’ That’s when I started seeing how crazy our North Carolina maps were.”
That started Kennedy’s creative juices flowing, and he decided to build on an art project that his friend Eve Mosher had done to exhibit rising sea levels on coastal cities.
Kennedy’s wife then suggested another twist to the project that led to the genesis of the Gerrymander 5K.
In 2016, the Kennedys, their children and about two dozen of their friends got a bucket of sidewalk chalk and began their trek to show anyone interested how Republican lawmakers had draw new congressional lines in 2011 in what challengers to those maps have described as an attempt by legislators to choose their voters instead of allowing voters to elect their representatives.
“You can see it,” Kennedy explained this week. “Someone was saying, ‘We’re going to choose this block and not this block.’”
Though the Kennedys tried to hold a race last year, they said they started too late and could not afford to pay for police to block off certain intersections along the path..
“Asheville was very supportive, but the cost was too much,” Kennedy said.
So they took their concept to the League of Women Voters Asheville-Buncombe County and watched it grow from there.
“I love this,” Kennedy said about the event next month. “I hate gerrymandering. I hate kind of this illusion of democracy. It’s so un-American.”