Wisconsin lawmakers passed new redistricting plans in 2011, resulting in a drastic shift in the partisan bias of the state’s legislative maps. The Republican-leaning maps, while later ruled constitutional, acted as the catalyst for the founding of the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition in 2017.
While Fair Maps garners support through public events and rallies, their efforts would not be as cohesive or meaningful if not for the work from Iuscely Flores and Carlene Bechen, the pair said.
The coalition, made up almost entirely by volunteers, actively works throughout the state to advocate for a nonpartisan redistricting process.
Flores currently holds the position of Fair Maps Organizer, advocating for greater involvement in nonpartisan redistricting efforts for Wisconsin's minority groups. Her predecessor, Bechen, is a former educator who saw the effects of the 2011 redistricting act firsthand.
They switched roles in March 2023, and together have learned immensely from each other’s experiences, they said.
For the past few months, Flores and Bechen have been able to transition their roles while managing to keep the coalition afloat. The Coalition has remained active in speaking out against nonpartisan maps and voter suppression.
Educational impact for Fair Maps
Carlene Bechen became interested in advocating for nonpartisan maps after Act 10 was signed into law in 2011. Act 10, which effectively eliminated bargaining rights for most public workers’ unions, showed Bechen how the public education budget was continuously impacted year after year.
In January 2019, she and a few colleagues came to the conclusion that the majority of problems faced within the school district could all be traced back to the maps.
“We have one school made up of four different districts,” Bechen said.
Without an even distribution of political power, funding to school districts gets consistently chopped up and is falling year by year, according to Bechen.
“We began to see the incredibly detrimental effects of the budget,” Bechen said.
Bechen and others began holding summits, followed by what she described as “action workshops.” These workshops acted as a “how-to” for creating change. .
“At the end of the day, we would have folks make a plan of two or three things they had learned and could implement in their part of the state”.
While Bechen initially began as a volunteer for the Fair Maps Coalition, she later attained the position of “organizer” after her summit’s success. This position provided her with the ability to delegate work within the coalition and organize time with volunteers, she said.
“You can’t have people doing random stuff and gum up the works,” Bechen said.
In other words, the Coalition needed a firm structure, and she was going to grant it just that.
Bechen and the rest of the Fair Maps Coalition worked with the People’s Maps Commission, a nonpartisan, nonstatutory redistricting commission created by Gov. Tony Evers in 2020, to host panels and workshops via Zoom.
These training sessions were designed to teach volunteers how to present themselves and the issues they care about in a limited time period. The ultimate goal was to make the process of demanding legislative change less intimidating and more accessible, according to Bechen.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, Bechen and her team planned a plethora of events, “freezing cold” rallies and hearings with the common goal of elevating the voices of those who are passionate about nonpartisan maps.
This later unraveled in April 2022, when the Wisconsin’s Supreme Court voted to uphold Republican-drawn maps for the next decade.
Despite constant efforts, Bechen and her team saw no changes when it came to redistricting.
“People were really disheartened, and they were also super concerned about the 2022 midterm elections," Bechen said.
After results were finalized, Bechen and Fair Maps were optimistic change could still be made.
Bechen and her team kept working and aimed to let people know their voice still mattered. They released brochures, educating people not on who they should vote for but on the issues they should care about.
Though she is currently retired from the position, Bechen remains involved with Fair Maps and supports the organization. She has given full and absolute support to the woman who has taken over her position: Iucely Flores.
“Before I do something, I like to first think about what Iuscely would do, she brings an entirely new perspective” stated Bechen.
Support Minority Representation
Iuscely Flores, the Fair Maps Coalition’s current organizing director, received nothing but praise from her predecessor.
“I wouldn’t know the world was on fire unless I chose to know the world was on fire,” Bechen said. “Flores has been able to bring a real lived experience to the issue of redistricting, and it’s a breath of fresh air.”
Flores began grassroots activism in college when she advocated for undocumented immigrants to receive IDs. She majored in political science and always had an interest in minority representation within government.
It wasn’t until later in her career that Flores began to take interest in how maps furthered racial injustice within the state.
When it comes to redistricting, lines can be drawn through areas where minority groups are present, eliminating their ability to hold a substantial amount of political power, according to progressive nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice.
Since beginning her position, Flores has educated the public on issues of redistricting in new and creative ways.
Notably, she created a “redistricting loteria” which is an interactive game, similar to bingo, which allows players to become familiar with terminology commonly present in redistricting discourse.
To Flores, educating BIPOC communities about how they are affected by redistricting is an absolutely vital aspect of her position.
“The direct translation of gerrymandering from English to Spanish is ‘falsification of the election,’” Flores said.
Flores began her current position at Fair Maps in spring 2023, but she was not a new face to the organization.
Though her previous focus was on immigrant rights, she later became interested in “minority involvement in advocating for nonpartisan maps”. This eventually led her to her position at Fair Maps, and allowed her to inform voters on the effects of partisan redistricting.
The future of Fair Maps
The Fair Maps Coalition’s future looks bright to Bechen and Flores. The shared knowledge of the two women has already reached various communities in Wisconsin, according to Flores.
“It’s not a narrow issue at all,” Bechen said.
While the issue of gerrymandering and redistricting maps is a tough one to nail down, Fair Maps Coalition said they are able to provide those who know nothing on the topic with tools to educate themselves and one day make their voices heard.
Where Bechen said she was able to devote years of experience to the coalition, giving the structure needed for Fair Maps to prosper for years to come, Flores said she provided a long overdue perspective into communities that may not know there are people out there fighting for them.