A year ago, you entrusted me to represent you on the Berkeley City Council. Every day since then has affirmed for me how important it was that I ran.
The year since has challenged us, but I close out this chapter more confident than ever that Berkeley is playing a unique role in showing the entire country what progressive, innovative and empathetic governance looks like.
We endearingly refer to the District 7 City Council office as the “Kids’ Corner” at City Hall — my staff, interns and I are usually the youngest people in the building unless someone has brought their children to work. But despite our perceived “inexperience,” we’re bringing a necessary forward-thinking perspective to Berkeley. And it’s making a difference.
This first year, we’ve moved forward a proposal to redesign Telegraph Avenue into a shared street, changed the conversation about zoning reform across the city, crafted an innovative program to make our streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, started the process to revise and improve our affordable housing mitigation fee, made work voluntary for city employees on election day, passed a first-in-the-nation ban on discrimination on the basis of religious headwear, taken a big step toward becoming the first city in the state to adopt the “Idaho Stop” for cyclists, told off Tucker Carlson, all while advancing tangible improvements in Southside neighborhoods and throughout the Telegraph commercial district. In the new year, City Council will look at our proposal to adopt compulsory composting, a policy we’ve co-sponsored with Berkeley Major Jesse Arreguín to ban the box in housing and more.
Through all of this, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned how progressive governance really works, how the budget process shakes out, how constituent concerns become neighborhood improvements. But the most important lesson that I carry with me every day has been this: you can do this too.
Our City Council here in Berkeley is composed of a beautiful diversity of experiences and professions: attorneys, small business owners, teachers, filmmakers, bookkeepers, finance managers, consultants. There’s no essential, universal prerequisite experience required to represent your community. As neighbors, the most important things we can ask for in our elected officials are that they be good listeners, quick learners and willing to fight like hell for us.
Which is to say, they can be just about anyone. They could be you.
Last year’s election was an exciting day for me, but not just because of my own election. That same day, I got to watch as three fellow recent UC Berkeley alumni were elected to local offices in their respective hometowns. Closer to home, I watched a current student get elected alongside me right here in Berkeley.
Caitlin Quinn in Petaluma, Calif. Jocelyn Yow in Eastvale, Calif. Bryan Osorio in Delano, Calif. And Soli Alpert, here on Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board.
In each of their respective cities and races, there were residents and voters waiting for a candidate who spoke to them. They were waiting for a candidate who spoke to their needs, their values, their issues — candidates like Caitlin, Jocelyn, Bryan, Soli or you.
There’s a lot to be frustrated by in politics today. But change will only come if you create it. Young people have an essential role to play in politics, and the more young people begin to see themselves in government, the more government will reflect the needs of the future.
Over the last year, I’ve come to see just how true that is. Next election, you can too.
Rigel Robinson is a Berkeley City Council member who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2018.