This Friday marks about two weeks since the end of one of the most historic ASUC elections in our time at Cal. Finally, our student government leaders are back in class, political opponents are hanging out together at Taco Tuesday and exhausted candidates (including myself) have been rejuvenated by that almost mystical Cal Day energy. ASUC life feels back to normal. But before our newly elected class of ASUC officials takes the reins and the entire election cycle begins again, we have a little reflecting to do. The questions must be asked: How can we consciously learn from the results of this historic election to improve our student government? Where do we go from here?
In my eyes, the answer lies in a respect for party differences and increased collaboration both inside and outside the senate chambers. This year’s senate class achieved many notable (even tripartisan) accomplishments; however, it would be naive to ignore the countless times party egos, power struggles and bloc voting inhibited a productive and inclusive conversation and marginalized communities lacking political power. I firmly believe that next year’s class can do better if they read between the lines of the election results and see that this year’s elections were not simply a victory for CalSERVE or a loss for Student Action. This year’s elections were a wake-up call to our entire student government that elected officials should stand for something more than just a party; the ASUC must represent the under-represented, and parties should focus less on the political game and more on the political collaboration that drives tangible results for students.
A record voter turnout, a mixed-party executive cabinet, and a senate in which no major party holds a majority demonstrate that our student body is ready to move beyond pure party politics. Party and community collaboration will not be easy, but to be successful, the incoming executives and senators from all parties must be willing to proactively work with other parties and communities to accomplish their legislative and advocacy goals.
As SQUELCH!’s candidate for ASUC president, I strived to demonstrate my enthusiasm for cross-community collaboration. If elected, I wanted all students on this campus to know my door was open to them regardless of their party and that I was willing to learn about the issues impacting their communities. From the very start of my campaign, I made it a priority to reach beyond my own communities by participating in multiple town halls, meeting with various community leaders and making my campaign an opportunity to learn about the issues facing all communities at Cal, regardless of the parties they traditionally affiliate with. Despite my narrow loss of the ASUC presidential race, I think SQUELCH!’s efforts to change the discourse regarding Cal’s party politics impacted this year’s election for the better. But this impact will only lead to tangible positive change if our newly elected ASUC officials respond with action to the campus’s call for collaboration.
This cross-party collaboration can take on many different forms. For example, elected officials can increase the number of projects that bring communities together, such as the ASUC Perspectives Showcase, and co-author more legislation. They can work together to create and institutionalize a nonpartisan, multicommunity/organization advisory council to the ASUC. And, most importantly, they can simply ensure that senators have mutual respect for one another during contentious conversations. None of this will be possible until all of the involved parties respect each other’s work and recognize the importance of what they each uniquely contribute to the campus and their respective communities.
Furthermore, increased party collaboration opens up new opportunities for senators and executives to engage directly with communities that are not their own – to build partnerships between constituencies traditionally represented by different parties. And, by doing so, commit to making this university a smaller, more closely knit campus. Next year’s leaders should and must seize this moment.
The bottom line is that Cal’s political parties are not going anywhere, and all of them deserve a seat at the table. While Student Action can’t possibly represent “every student, every year,” it does represent thousands of students, holds 10 out of 25 elected positions and has demonstrated strong leadership over the last few years. CalSERVE may be strictly beholden to a progressive political ideology that excludes some students, but the coalition work it does hold our administration and lawmakers accountable to the diverse community that makes Cal the No. 1 public university in the world. And, despite much speculation, SQUELCH! is not trying to “squelch” the big parties. Instead, we strive to provide a third-party perspective to the often two-party-dominated ASUC conversation to remind our student leaders that their responsibility lies with the student body, not a party, and to stand for a more productive ASUC. If we can finally accept that a truly representative ASUC is one that incorporates a combination of Student Action, CalSERVE, SQUELCH! and independents, then we can establish a respectful relationship that allows for a more collaborative and productive ASUC.
The composition of next year’s ASUC is not an accident. The incoming elected officials have a responsibility to recognize that they have been given a unique position to foster a drastically more collaborative and less partisan ASUC that can more effectively serve the entire student body. The rhetoric of one party or one community’s political domination at the expense of another is simply counterproductive and must end. During one of the most pivotal moments in the history of higher education – especially in the history of this institution – now more than ever is the time to come together, realize that we all share a passion for this campus and serving our communities, and do the work we were elected to do.
Jason Bellet is an ASUC senator with the SQUELCH! party.