DAAP presidential candidate Michael Cortez-Mejia seeks to double minority enrollment

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

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While supporters flocked to Sproul Plaza to campaign for the spring ASUC elections, Michael Cortez-Mejia was at a rally in Oakland on Tuesday, marching in solidarity with teachers who were protesting the chartering of public schools.

Cortez-Mejia, a junior transfer student and the Defend Affirmative Action Party’s presidential candidate, said he is running to mobilize the student government against injustice. He sees the ASUC as an organization that can effectively galvanize “the fight to keep the public character of public education” as well as action against racism and sexism.

“Other candidates’ goals seem to revolve around creating more committees and commissions,” Cortez-Mejia said. “We (DAAP) hope to do something a lot bigger.”

In multiple campaign announcements in campus classrooms — his preferred method of campaigning — Cortez-Mejia said that as president, he hopes to oppose planned tuition hikes by advocating for a gradual restoration of the California Master Plan.

“Continuously raising tuition fees puts many students and their families in crippling debt,” said Cortez-Mejia, who has taken out a loan to fund his own education. “With the job market being what it is, it is not fair to ask students to contribute more and more toward what should be a public good.”

In addition, he will demand the adoption of a “10 percent plan” that would guarantee admission into UC Berkeley for Oakland students in the top ten percent of their high school class. He also aims to double black, Latino and Native American student enrollment and increase the number of minority faculty members.

DAAP’s other platforms for this year’s election include the mobilization of “mass militant direct action” to prevent sexual assault on campus, advocating for full citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, replacing Janet Napolitano with a democratically elected UC president and, as has been their historical goal, working toward the institution of affirmative action policies by any means necessary.

These platforms are of particular significance for Cortez-Mejia, who says that as a Muslim Latino growing up in Redwood City, he experienced racism both inside and outside his community.

“I would be pulled over by policemen and stopped and frisked, but even within my community there was this expectation that I have to be a member of one gang or the other,” he said.

Cortez-Mejia, now a sociology major, said he found an academic passion in community college, when he was introduced to sociology. He said it was “the academic version of what I was experiencing day in and day out, and provided the reasons for it.”

His friend, campus senior Angel Gastelum, said Cortez-Mejia is a strong advocate for public education and equality, both on and off campus.

“He’s very active in the community,” Gastelum said. “He really does mean what he has to say.”

Cortez-Mejia began attending the BAMN DeCal this spring, which initiated his involvement with DAAP. Yvette Felarca, organizer with BAMN and campaign manager for DAAP, said she found him to be very honest.

“Michael stands out as someone who is prepared to tell the plain truth about racism and inequality in society,” she said, adding that these qualities prompted the party to request him to run as its presidential candidate.

Cortez-Mejia acknowledges that most of DAAP’s platforms, including the adoption of the 10 percent plan, will likely require action to be taken by regional and national branches of government and cannot be realized independently by the ASUC. But he said this is not an impediment in itself.

“It’s not just lawmakers and judges who make social change – social activists contribute as well,” he said. He added that if the ASUC were to fund buses to take students to Sacramento to demand action, they will have “accomplished something significant.”

Cortez-Mejia said that while he may be willing to work with UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks if he acquiesces to DAAP’s demands of increasing minority enrollment, he refuses to work with UC President Janet Napolitano.

“(Napolitano) was elected to her position by regents who don’t care for our interests,” he said.

If elected, Cortez-Mejia, who is simultaneously running for a seat on the ASUC Senate, would be the first DAAP member to win a seat on the ASUC since 2006. But whether he wins or loses, he said, DAAP will have raised awareness about important issues and shaped discussion on campus.

“We must remember that we all have social agency, and you can’t make a change if you’re too afraid to stand up for what is right,” he said.

The 2015-16 ASUC general elections will take place April 7, 8 and 9.

Contact Ishaan Srivastava at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ishaansriv.