In most credible narratives, UC Berkeley senior Solomon Nwoche’s bid to become an ASUC senator would have been met with failure. But the ASUC Senate is the place we now find him.
Intending to get involved in student government immediately upon transferring to UC Berkeley in spring 2012, Nwoche was rejected by all of the campus’s major parties — CalSERVE, Student Action and SQUELCH! — for slating as a senate candidate in the spring 2013 ASUC elections. Without a party or other large student organization forming a clear-cut base of support, winning a senate election in recent history has proven nearly impossible.
But Nwoche was not deterred. During the election, he formed his own party, the Independent Campaign for Common Sense, with only a handful of volunteers. He said he spoke to more than 1,000 students to spread his platform and ideas. When the votes were tallied, Nwoche ranked 15th of the 20 candidates receiving enough votes to become ASUC senators, with 526.
UC Berkeley graduate Joey Lam, Student Action’s party signatory during last year’s election, said Nwoche was not slated as a candidate with Student Action because the party had already selected others from his indicated campus groups and communities.
Although the other parties would not disclose the reasons they rejected Nwoche, he said that he had ideological differences with CalSERVE and that neither Student Action nor SQUELCH! quite fit his campaign style.
Having spent time with both campus Democratic and Republican groups, Nwoche said that he understands the growing need for moderates and independents like himself to have their voices heard and that he created his own party to foster an environment for independent thinking among students from across the political spectrum.
He ran on what he believed to be practical, tangible platforms — such as providing students with up-to-date technological services, improving access to printing and reforming the campus online class registration program, Tele-BEARS — that could be accomplished within a one-year senate term.
“I think I’m sort of the oddball because I don’t have a party backing me,” Nwoche said. “And a lot of times my opinion differs from many people on the senate.”
Nwoche was critical of what he considered the ASUC Senate’s tendency to reach for intangible goals and pass symbolic bills rather than actionable ones, which he equated to ineffectual governance.
After the Sept. 30 campus explosion, Nwoche introduced a bill to the senate that proposed changes to the campus’s emergency response procedures. The bill, however, was thoroughly vetted and stripped of all of its direct policy recommendations. To Nwoche’s chagrin, the bill was transformed into a symbolic piece of legislation that only expressed the ASUC’s solidarity with students affected by the incident.
Nwoche has not shied away from the potential isolation that often accompanies serving as the lone dissenting voice.
In September, when the ASUC Senate considered opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline, Nwoche concluded after conducting his own research that the pipeline would be built whether the ASUC opposed it or not. Although the bill was passed, for Nwoche — who alone voted against the bill — opposing the pipeline was not worth the fuss.
“When he wants to do something, he’ll get it done, hell or high water,” said Jacob Grant, Nwoche’s chief of staff. “And that’s what drew me towards him: that dedication, that hard work, that desire to make positive change.”
Nwoche credits growing up in Inglewood, Calif., with inspiring him to help others through politics. He realized that many of his peers — who he watched drop out of school, get into drugs and join gangs — often did not receive enough support from their families and needed a voice to represent them. Nwoche wanted to be that voice.
“As a doctor, I can save lives,” Nwoche said. “But as a politician, I can change policy so that more doctors can save lives.”
In the remainder of his term, Nwoche hopes to follow through on his campaign platforms, which include improving “common sense resources” on campus, creating a transfer endowment fund that will encourage transfer and re-entry students to complete their degrees, finding ways to combat sexual assault on campus and reforming the room-reservation process for student groups.
After graduating, Nwoche hopes to attend law school. He is unsure of what will become of his Independent Campaign for Common Sense and its other three members, but he hopes its efforts this year will inspire students to remain independent-minded.