"Anyone got a minute to talk about gerrymandering?" Laura Moser, a candidate running for the 7th Congressional District seat in Texas, asked her Twitter followers on Dec. 3, 2017.

Candidate Laura Moser. Photo courtesy of Laura Moser for Congress.

Gerrymandering may sound like a silly term coined in an episode of "Seinfeld," but as Moser explained, it's anything but.


In a fiery tweet thread following her initial question, Moser spelled out why gerrymandering is, to be frank, the absolute worst.

Moser's district in Houston — like many across the U.S. — has been heavily gerrymandered. That's why its voting boundaries look like this:

To be sure, as Moser pointed out, there are even more bizarrely shaped districts across the country. Take this one in Chicago, for example.

Then there's the entire state of North Carolina, which gerrymandering's turned into the weirdest blue-and-red jigsaw puzzle imaginable.

But Moser's own 7th District in Texas is still pretty bad.

Not every odd-looking boundary is suspicious, of course. Naturally formed borders like rivers may alter district boundaries a bit, Moser explained.

But when specific blocks within neighborhoods have been redrawn to conveniently slip into different districts? It makes you wonder, she tweeted, "Why ... is one block of Linkwood Drive excluded from the district?"

"Or here, in my neighborhood of West University: why are half of Pemberton and Fenwood in a different district?" she asked.

Like, honestly, Houstonians, what is happening with Jersey Village? As Moser pointed out, things there are getting "pretty baroque."

Nope, a drunk guy didn't map out the 7th District in Houston (or any of these other districts).

"If it seems like whoever drew these lines must have been drunk, think again: this is part of a very calculated campaign," Moser tweeted.

And race (read: racism) has a lot to do with it.

Gerrymandering has the potential to significantly dampen the political power of neighborhoods of color (or those that are poor or younger).

This is how it works:

Basically, gerrymandering is the manipulation of voting district boundaries by politicians to give their party an advantage on Election Day. In other words, politicians can quietly redraw district lines to consolidate or split up certain voting blocs — based on race, religion, socioeconomic status, education level, etc. — to favor their own candidacy or party.

Both parties are guilty of applying this trickery. But the GOP has held majorities across most state legislatures where district boundaries are decided since 2010, and they've abused this ethically challenged privilege far more than their Democrat counterparts.

Take Wisconsin, for example. After Republicans in control there redrew district lines in 2011 — packing left-leaning voters into certain areas when it was politically advantageous, then spreading them out when it wasn't — a court ruled the actions were an attempt to cement an electoral infrastructure favorable to the GOP.

The proof's in the pudding, after all: In the Wisconsin election held after the new district lines went into effect, Republicans won just 48.6% of votes for the state assembly, yet still earned a 60-to-39 seat majority.

The Supreme Court heard arguments for the case in October 2017. The court's decision will likely affect gerrymandering laws for decades to come.

In Houston, Moser argues, "minority" voters are being corralled into districts to give Republicans a larger advantage.

"But WE ARE THE MAJORITY. In Texas and in the nation," she wrote. "The majority of decent Americans who believes in fairness, in treating people with respect."

Her Twitter thread struck a chord with many voters concerned about how gerrymandering will affect votes in Houston — and the rest of the country. As of this writing, the thread has been retweeted nearly 17,000 times.

Moser credits the tweet's virality to people waking up to an increasingly rigged system.

"I hope we can start fighting for the most basic of principles, one that everyone, regardless of party or region, race or income, can agree on: every American should have an equal vote," she says. "If we want citizens to get involved in our democracy, we better make sure it really is a democracy."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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