USDA is a threat to a student district

The campaign for a student district is finally in its last stages. As the Dec. 31 deadline for the City Council to complete redistricting approaches, only two maps remain. The fact that both maps were produced by students and contain a student district is a testament to how far this campaign has come.

It is because of the immense dedication and political engagement of both student leaders and the student body that drawing a student district is now legal and that we have successfully convinced the City Council of the necessity of including such a district in its map.

In the next six weeks, the City Council must make a decision about which map it is going to adopt. Some student opponents of the ASUC’s map, who have proposed an alternative map called the United Student District Amendment, have begun saying they will support a referendum of redistricting if the City Council chooses the ASUC’s map over their own. A referendum, in this case, is when signatures from less than 5 percent of the city’s residents can force a vote to delay the implementation of new laws. This strategy is risky and completely irresponsible.

Encouraging students to turn their backs on their own district could cause us to lose everything.
If a referendum is filed and passed, the nation’s first-ever student district would be abandoned, and we would go back to using the old City Council map without a student district.

To reiterate, a successful referendum would kill the student district, and there would be absolutely no guarantee that we would get another.

This strategy is tantamount to playing Russian roulette with the student district. The most likely outcome of this dangerous game is that Berkeley City Council will revert to using the old districts in 2014 and place students back at square one. All the work to improve students’ political standing in Berkeley would be for naught. By holding the student district hostage, supporters of the USDA are willing to risk everything.

The USDA supporters’ pursuit of this dangerous strategy flies in the face of the successful tactics the ASUC has adopted for the past three years. The ASUC has spent three years advocating fair representation for students at the city level. Our campaign has built tremendous and unprecedented consensus among neighborhoods, student groups, political groups and the council about the importance of a student district. It is because of consensus-building and good-faith negotiations that students have been so successful during the redistricting process. Instead of building on the foundation we’ve laid, the supporters of the USDA would have us abandon everything and engage in irresponsible brinkmanship via a referendum — but “it’s our way or the highway” is not a successful or mature strategy for governance.

Even certain officials within the ASUC have bought into this Russian roulette strategy that threatens to derail the campaign for a student district.

A petition circulated on MoveOn.org by the supporters of the USDA has signatories agree that they “will be willing to support a referendum if the USDA plan fails.” This petition has been signed by ASUC Senator Caitlin Quinn, who is seemingly willing to sacrifice the student body’s achievements in pursuit of a reckless and selfish all-or-nothing strategy.

Similarly, ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack has been working to undermine the student community’s achievements by organizing and advocating the rejected USDA proposal in his official capacity as EVP.

One might have excused or ignored his advocacy of the USDA before the ASUC had considered that map. On Sept. 11, however, the ASUC Senate considered a bill to endorse the USDA map, but senators rejected that bill and in doing so kept their previous endorsement of their original map. Pack, though, has appeared at two meetings bearing his official title and advocating the rejected map. It is time that Pack, Quinn and others stop undermining the work of the past three senate classes, whose dedication has made the dream of a student district into reality.

I believe, as Pack himself stated in his Sept. 17 op-ed in The Daily Californian, that the “ASUC Senate is the final legislative and fiscal authority in our student government. It has the ability to take official positions on behalf of the ASUC and direct the executive officers to enforce those decisions. That relationship does not function in reverse.”

It’s time that Pack heed his own advice and respect the decision and direction of the senate. While the EVP is entitled to his own opinions, to explicitly use his title to work in direct opposition to an ASUC position is hypocritical.

As a student community, we are very, very close to achieving something that no other student body in the country has been able to accomplish: the nation’s first-ever student district. We should not allow narrow-minded officials to jeopardize our success by holding the entire process hostage.

The student community should continue to support the map that was created through coalition-building and good-faith negotiations. The student body has invested years of time and effort to gain the council’s support of our map. Right now, the council still supports our map, and we should not let a small group derail our work.

The final vote on the student district will occur on Dec. 3, I hope you’ll join me at that City Council meeting to voice your support for the council’s decision to create the nation’s first-ever student district!

Safeena Mecklai serves as UC Berkeley’s ASUC external affairs vice president.

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