Last Tuesday night, some members of the City Council rejected the only redistricting plan that would have significantly increased the chance for a student to be elected to the city council. In doing so, they sent a message to nearly a quarter of the city’s population that politicians, who are only concerned with keeping themselves in power, run this city.
Kriss Worthington, who likes to call students one of his closest political allies, justified voting against those same students by saying the plan wasn’t "practical."
In fact, the plan submitted met every redistricting criteria established by the city. The only criteria it didn’t meet was that it didn’t continue to promote the current undemocratic, disenfranchising status quo.
While Worthington accused other members of the council of paying "lip-service" to the interest of students, his vote sent a message loud and clear that issues students care about – low-income housing, safer streets, and a cleaner city – are not priorities.
Through their actions, the members of the council have essentially disenfranchised 22% of the city for the next ten years. Even more disgraceful, they have argued that students are actually better off divided and diluted among several districts. It is a sad comment that in one of the most progressive cities in country, members of our city council actually feel comfortable using the same arguments that have been used to fight the Voting Rights Act and to disenfranchise racial and ethnic minorities for decades.
The simple truth is, students are just like any other Berkeley neighborhood. We want a chance to have our voice be heard. We want to be kept whole and united. We don’t want special treatment, but we do want fair treatment.
Though individual students come and go from Berkeley, the student commitment to this city has never left. We have to worry about the same tight housing market that forces many to choose between paying the rent and eating dinner. We have to worry about driving on and walking across the same busy streets. We have to worry at night that we may one day become another crime statistic. And just like every other resident in Berkeley, we want to participate in the process of solving these problems.
Hopefully, in the weeks ahead, the council will teach students a better lesson. They will be able to show that politicians can get beyond petty political gamesmanship. They will be able to show that elected officials can learn to put their own interests after those of the citizens who put them into office. And if they don’t, those same officials may have to learn the lesson that those same citizens can vote them out of office too.
As a representative of 31,000 students, and 22,000 members of the Berkeley community, I have been fighting throughout this whole re-districting process for fair representation of students. I only hope that now, members of the city council don’t relinquish their responsibility to represent Berkeley students and citizens too.
University of California, Berkeley