The city of Oakland, Calif. recently went though the decennial process of redrawing the boundaries for its eight city council districts.
During that process, the community-run Oakland Wiki served as a rich source of information about how redistricting works, highlighting a tool that would help residents identity their district and reminding them that “it’s really important to know what City Council District you’re in to help you make decisions about who to vote for during City Council elections.”
To help out a bit, James Halliday, a figure in the local programming community better known as “substack,” designed and posted unofficial emblems for each of the seven Oakland city council districts and one more for the at-large seat.
The Oakland emblems are based on iconography from the The Hunger Games film series, wherein logos are used to differentiate the 12 districts of Panem after a devastating civil war, such as a shovel, hammer and bin representing Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark’s coal-mining District 12, or the ear of corn that symbolizes Rue’s agricultural District 11, or the sweeping architecture of the Capitol, or District 1. These logos are used to not only identify but also to promote the individual tributes during the course of their brutal trials in the gaming arena.
Right, back to Oakland. The district emblems are all in good fun, and Halliday says that he designed them in that spirit. Each is meant to evoke something of the character of its district without defaulting to icons like landmark buildings. Halliday’s own District 5 is a taco truck. District 1 features the logo of the Black Panther Party, founded in Oakland in the 1960s. District 2 is, for now, an ambulance, but Halliday says that he will rework it to represent a local Chinese dragon mural.
But there’s something to be said for the idea that not knowing our political boundaries can damper civic participation. One point of friction in voting, for example, is that we often don’t know the precinct or district in which we live, which can make showing up at the ballot box informed a challenge. Emblems like these are one way to start us thinking about how we might get a better working knowledge of our political geographies.
Nancy Scola is a Washington, DC-based journalist whose work tends to focus on the intersections of technology, politics, and public policy. Shortly after returning from Havana she started as a tech reporter at POLITICO.