The Berkeley Student District Campaign is not a victory for all students. The BSDC map’s proponents have attempted to rewrite history by portraying it as the ideal result of an inclusive process. This couldn’t be further from the truth. From the project’s inception, proponents of the BSDC map have used secrecy, misinformation and rhetorical scare tactics to move the map forward without doing the hard but necessary work of securing community input. Three years’ worth of external affairs vice presidents — Joey Freeman, Shahryar Abbasi and Safeena Mecklai, all Student Action — have squandered an opportunity to reach out directly to residential communities and draw a collaborative, inclusive map.
It is relevant to note that, even without the BSDC map, District 7 already has a student supermajority (70 percent). We should question whether we need a new district — as opposed to a good candidate — to get a student elected to City Council, especially because Northside’s voice is being sacrificed in this proposal. During the last round of redistricting, members of the Berkeley Student Cooperative fought hard to win inclusion for Northside co-ops in District 7. Rather than building on this work, BSDC proponents reversed it by developing a map that cuts out all Northside co-op houses and three Northside residence halls. As Mecklai and her predecessors hide behind talking points, asserting that there were “good faith negotiations” and “17 town halls,” the fact remains that key stakeholders were consistently excluded throughout the process.
Backroom discussions with some — but not all — council members are not “good faith negotiations.” In fact, former EAVP Abbasi’s report to the ASUC Senate on Feb. 20 reveals that Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson were not consulted until after the BSDC map was finalized, if at all. Excluding the very council members whose districts are most affected shows that good faith, inclusion and transparency were low on the list of priorities for BSDC supporters.
Perhaps even worse, the Berkeley Student Cooperative and the Residence Hall Assembly were not consulted in drawing the map, and their constituents have been negatively affected by the outcome. They were never even given the option of endorsing the final map. “Town halls” without BSC and RHA leadership present are not a substitute for engaging with the groups elected to represent student housing communities. Any EAVP could and should have proactively taken redistricting proposals to the BSC and RHA for discussion, input and a vote of confidence at the earliest possible stages. In lieu of meaningful stakeholder input, BSDC supporters point to the vote of the the 2012-2013 ASUC Senate class that favors their map. The senate was pressured into endorsing the BSDC map in February, before other proposals were even publicly available. Instead of a choice, the senate was fed the same “all or nothing” rhetoric that Mecklai used throughout the United Student District Amendment map vs. BSDC map debate this fall.
More than anything, the BSDC campaign has been a disappointment. It represents a lost opportunity to build solidarity and promote inclusion. It represents the perspective and influence of a small and insular group of student government officials who have, through their actions, clearly stated that the Northside cooperative community and residence halls are simply less important than political expediency. Their narrowly focused interests have needlessly undermined the voice of many students in this new student district, and for that, many students are rightfully frustrated. The BSC, RHA and other groups that were systematically ignored throughout this process have been asked to bear the burden of having their members excluded from a district they could and should have been a part of. These students are owed an apology.
Though it is only fair that students who have been snubbed in a process that could have been inclusive receive an apology, this is highly unlikely. Rather than acknowledging the shortcomings of the BSDC map and the processes used to create it, Mecklai and other proponents celebrate Berkeley City Council’s divided vote and the completion of their own flawed campaign. While an apology is generally the first step on the road toward forgiveness, co-opers, residence hall members and other Northside students who have been drawn out of District 7 may never get this reconciliation. It is easy to harbor resentment toward those who are responsible, but these feelings must be redirected toward something worthwhile. We can and should begin the process of forgiving the negligence that has led to this outcome, but we must do so without resigning ourselves to the inevitability of Northside exclusion.
Starting Tuesday, Berkeley residents will have 30 days to sign a petition to keep Northside student residents in the student district. We do not need to reverse years of hard work and settle for divided communities just to elect a student representative. Political organizing and strong candidates win elections. With or without the BSDC map, we’re confident that Berkeley will elect a student to City Council in 2014.
Nolan Pack is ASUC Executive Vice President and Jorge Pacheco is a former ASUC Senator.