Editor’s note: This is one installment in a five-part series on this year’s candidates for ASUC president. Read about the other candidates here.
James Bacon may not be the presidential front runner in the ASUC general elections, but he wants to let his competitors know that if the student body got its way, the ASUC may not even exist anymore — and he’s OK with that.
An undeclared freshman with minimal ASUC experience, Bacon faces several disadvantages in the election, illuminating one of the biggest problems he sees within the ASUC — its inaccessibility to those outside the organization.
Bacon, an independent, believes a prevailing sentiment about student government is that it is “where ASUC people go and do ASUC people things.”
“I really just have one issue, and that is making the ASUC more accessible and more relatable, and less this weird, foreign place,” Bacon said.
According to Bacon, he would aim to achieve greater accessibility to student politics by either abolishing the entire ASUC structure or implementing any reforms desired by students. Whatever the means, Bacon said, he wants to make changes based on a system of direct democracy, which he hopes will encourage students to meaningfully participate in a government that affects them.
Bacon acknowledged the difficulty of creating an entirely new system of student government but said that if students indicate their support for it through democratic process — potentially through polls — abolition of the current ASUC structure can be accomplished.
He would not consider himself a permanent leader, either, but rather a “blank slate” who listens to and implements the changes that students want.
“I’m essentially not running to be president of anything,” Bacon said. “I’m running to get reforms done and then bail.”
Bacon’s freshman suitemate Jesse Stephens said he thinks Bacon’s plan is “pretty bold and pretty ballsy,” but something that just might work if conducted effectively.
“I thought it was crazy when I first heard, (but) it’s something people should be more open toward,” Stephens said. “Sometimes (restructuring is) what actually needs to happen.”
But campus sophomore Pranay Chaurasia — who ran as a third-party candidate with BASED., his own party, in last year’s ASUC presidential election — said he doesn’t think restructuring the ASUC is necessary. Rather, he said, the ASUC needs to focus more on specific issues, such as advocating additional funds for the university so UC Berkeley continues its tradition of “accessible and quality education.”
Bacon believes the current ASUC party system is corrosive, causing individuals to “compromise on what they really believe.” He added that because people feel like they have to be affiliated with either CalSERVE or Student Action to become involved, the party system actually excludes many from joining the ASUC. No third-party or independent presidential candidate has won since 1995.
Additionally, Bacon advocates a more transparent bureaucracy achieved by better educating students about how the ASUC affects them. For example, funding for student groups — which Bacon called the “lion’s share of the ASUC budget” — has a major impact on students, he said.
Bacon also finds issue with some of the ways the ASUC compensates its members. The ASUC president receives a $4,000 yearly stipend — a sum he would either refuse or give away if elected.
“I think we should work toward a system where that isn’t necessary,” Bacon said, adding that the presidential experience itself and the ability to build up a resume are rewards enough.
Partly in an effort to demonstrate his commitment to more efficient funding, Bacon said he refuses to spend a significant amount of money on his presidential campaign.
He also has yet to campaign on Sproul Plaza but said he is “thinking of doing some basic flyering.” His campaigning tactics have thus far revolved around talking to people he already knows and changing his Facebook profile picture to his campaign portrait.
Because the established political parties have so many people working for them, Chaurasia said, success as an independent or third-party candidate takes significant resources and support, although it is “definitely possible.”
“You have to be willing to put in a lot of work, not just on ideas but also how to mobilize a large group of people to achieve those ends,” Chaurasia said.
Proud of his faith, Bacon is a member of UC Berkeley’s chapter of Alpha Gamma Omega, a Christian fraternity, and the student group Berkeley Cru. Campus sophomore Malachi Jackson, Bacon’s fraternity big brother, said that within their fraternity, there is “much support and energy” for Bacon’s campaign.
Bacon’s friends and acquaintances describe him as someone who is “level headed,” passionate about his ideals and cares for the needs of others.
“People underestimate him because he is quiet,” Jackson said.
If he can’t fix everything, Bacon said, he at least thinks that an outsider’s perspective should be heard on campus.
Chaurasia believes third-party and independent candidates are important because they raise issues often neglected in main-party platforms, such as when he and 2015 independent presidential candidate Nicholas Jaber focused on affordable student housing and the ASUC’s budget, respectively, last year.
Devoted to the ideal of a direct student democracy, Bacon presents a goal that is on no other candidate’s platform — one that could end up abolishing the very office each candidate is pursuing.
“(I am) somebody who believes in Berkeley as an idea,” Bacon said, “The idea of a college where you are nourished by the community and college as a whole.”