For the women who couldn’t: A reflection on losing the ASUC presidency

Beverly Pan/Staff

Thinking back, we were not meant to win. For Rizza and I to have won the executive slate, the student body would have had to put its energy and faith behind two outspoken bitches who were coming for the throats of the institution. Ha, I admit — it was a long shot. But it was a long shot that I do not regret attempting.

From the beginning of our terms, it was clear that our goals were too far ahead of the ASUC’s capacity. To truly transform this campus into a place that supports the educational endeavors of every student, every year, leaders would have to take the risks our peers within senate refused to entertain. Yet we still followed through with our promises and acted upon our goals, and we succeeded. Rizza and I raised the money, allocated the resources, launched programming and influenced policy. We stacked up accomplishments and still worked our asses off to stay connected to the communities that elected us. But it wasn’t enough.

In an article The Daily Californian wrote about my presidential candidacy, the paper quoted ASUC Senator Taehan Lee, who described me as “hostile and harsh.” This kind of messaging, looking back, was our sinking ship throughout this race.

If you were on Facebook, you read as my opponents insinuated this one message: Juniperangelica is a threat to the institution because she is too … straightforward. She focuses on the common narratives of Black and brown students, and therefore she could not represent all students. She is too aggressive and therefore cannot listen to all perspectives.

What my opposition did was strategic. They did not focus on the imbalance of qualifications or experience between opponents, but rather, they focused on my vocal tendencies. They framed me as a danger.

When women of color are put into this rhetorical frame, there are not many options. From the launch of my campaign, my language was centered on the ways in which my qualifications and experience exceeded those of my opponents. I highlighted the list of office accomplishments under my name, from raising the most money for student communities out of the senate class, to influencing policy on the nine committees I sat on, to the programming and initiatives I launched. I focused on how I hosted a statewide conference in the midst of election season and created mental health initiatives for marginalized student communities.

But how could I argue against being too aggressive without being exactly that — aggressive? Better yet, why would I combat that reputation when it resulted in a clear track record of “getting shit done”?

Thinking past the perception of our tone, I believe our executive slate understood the need to keep our campaign focused on the work we had accomplished and push forward the agenda our students needed.

From my perspective, the ASUC has historically refused to tackle systemic issues of our student body at their root causes, leaving students who are experiencing institutional violence to fight for themselves, both against the initial aggressor and also the spectating commentators.

During “Free Speech Week,” conversations within senate focused on the protester reactions to white supremacy rather than focusing fully on the allowance of white supremacy on campus itself. Throughout the year, Black students confronted the senate and questioned our lack of commitment to the safety of Black students against police violence. The senators, in response to this, seemed to focus on how aggressive these students’ comments toward us were, in my perspective. When the chancellor spoke to the senate multiple times and used language that I believe dehumanized homeless people within the community, I, as someone who was homeless for years before UC Berkeley, called her out for her fucked-up words. My peers shamed me for my interactions with the powerful woman.

What I learned was, regardless of the facts that I present in my argument, challenging the accepted norm of communication and respectability politics to get a point across will always be read as aggressive.

And frankly, yes, it’s bullshit. Students who are elected from communities that do not see student government as a form of survival stand on soapboxes and publish hollow statements instead of actually implementing change. For the elected officials who view their terms as resume-builders or sources of self-validation, confronting the campus’s relationship with white supremacy, capitalism and toxic patriarchy is too far of a reach — too aggressive of an agenda.

I was too far of a reach to actually win support for my presidential campaign. I am too much of a threat to the institutions that allow my peers to pat themselves on the back.

Reflecting on my six weeks of campaigning, it is difficult to accept the position I allowed myself to enter. I allowed myself to be outspoken throughout my senatorial term and built a reputation some vocalized as “a strong, no-bullshit leader who asks hard-hitting questions of administrators and doesn’t back down.” Others pointed to my reputation as demonstrative of why I should not be trusted. I read emails that were sent out by leadership of the Interfraternity Council that warned students that the only way to protect their “way of life (they’d) grown to love” was to vote for Student Action. I read emails from the Berkeley College Republicans that stated that the club “couldn’t afford a Juniperangelica presidency.”

But what can we expect from the frat boys and the Republicans?

What can we expect from the student government structure, which some of us fight like hell to get a seat in and do the work we had promised, only to be pushed out a year later?

Losing this election was a smack in the face and a reset of my reality.

This election demonstrated that coalitions such as CalSERVE still do not have the numbers to go up against bigger communities of Greek and Republican students. It demonstrated that Student Action is willing to use coded language to present leaders who frame fixing the disparities of the communities of color, and nontraditional students, as not doing enough for the “rest of the student body”. It demonstrated that communities such as the Interfraternity Council view accountability of sexual misconduct as threats to their ways of life. It clarified that these races are really not about qualifications and potentials.

It demonstrated that we have a lot more work to do as a campus to actually say the ASUC is a place for all students.

Thank you to the generations of organizers who have shaped our politics and have shaped our ability to even have a chance at winning these positions. Thank you to everyone who has supported the vision of CalSERVE and were down for the power of fearless women. Thank you to all Black women for existing and embodying what resilience can look like for brown girls. Thank you to my family, who loved me before, during and after this election.

Thank you to Rizza Estacio for joining me on this journey. They weren’t ready for us.

Go Bears.

Juniperangelica Cordova is an ASUC senator and an organizer with the Transgender Law Center. She is a UC Berkeley junior studying Ethnic Studies.