Radical. From the latin word “radix,” or root. Square a number, and the number it came from is the root. Let’s liken squared numbers to the lack of public confidence in the government to serve our best interests. How about 25 — only roughly a quarter of Americans in a January 2013 Pew Poll trusted the government to do the right thing always or most of the time. Arguably, at the root of this problem (it’s not five) is the corrupting influence of money in politics that cripples the participation and proper functioning of our democracy. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizen’s United has become the bratty poster child of this rooted problem, as it allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money to persuade people to vote for their favored candidate.
The passage of the People’s Right referendum in the ASUC elections this past spring made UC Berkeley the first student body in the nation to have taken an official stance against Citizens United, setting the stage for other universities in the nation to take similar action.
Members of the UC Berkeley chapters of Common Cause and Rootstrikers as well as a member of the student body senate collaborated to write the referendum in opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United, the decision that has enabled corporations to funnel limitless amounts of money toward political candidates on the grounds that money is speech. The referendum now mandates that the presidents of the student body and Graduate Assembly send letters to President Obama, Gov. Brown and other elected officials, urging them to push for an amendment to the Constitution that would overturn or eradicate the Citizens United ruling.
As a Rootstriker myself, I believe that the People’s Right referendum was a powerful assertion of student power in working toward a more politically equitable world. Even before its passage, the “Face the Corruption” campaign served to inform students from all corners of campus, regardless of political ideologies, of the corrupting influence of money in politics and the relevance of the referendum. The process of passing the referendum was an opportunity for students who otherwise may have not heard of Citizens United to connect that ruling (as well as the broader issue of money in politics) to the integrity of our democracy and public education. It is especially important for these conversations to occur on college campuses, because public education and research are crucial pieces of any meaningful democracy. It is precisely our democracy — compromised by powerful interests’ dominating presence in campaign financing — that undermines students’ voices to advocate for sound public education institutions.
The movement to close the gap between the weight of the public voice and that of powerful interests in political funding has emerged. It will continue to grow as conversations surrounding the corrupting influence of money in politics spread among the young people that will inherit, shape and restore our nation’s democracy. I’m proud that our student body passed the People’s Right referendum. Its passage gives new meaning to our university’s proud history of radicalism in movements for positive social change.
Liz Fairweather is a recent UC Berkeley graduate.