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Building Hope From The Ground Up

Don’t tell me local politics don’t matter

I’m with her.

Not because I’m particularly excited about Hillary Clinton, but because we cannot live in a country led by Donald Trump. He’s not only outrageously inflammatory and problematic, but he’s also extremely unqualified to be president. I don’t want someone as dangerous as Trump representing my country to the rest of the world.

I am just one of many millennials who, though they respect her and acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is extremely qualified, feel disconnected from her. My political opinions are too left and too progressive compared to Clinton’s official platform for me to feel particularly enthusiastic. To me, she stands for a continuation of the good direction we are headed in, which is fine. But I’m an ambitious college student who wants us to move faster than the slow pace at which we’ve been crawling: I want us to walk and jump and run forward. While Bernie’s influence seems to have affected many of Clinton’s policies, including college affordability, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and more, other policies are still lackluster. For example, Clinton still isn’t calling for a ban on fracking, and while she has shown support for the Fight For $15, which is the progressive standard, her official platform is for a $12 minimum wage.

But contrary to the rest of America, I’m not investing all of my energy in the presidential election. I haven’t picked up a phone or canvassed for any presidential campaign since the Democratic National Convention, which is a huge turnaround to the year prior, during which I spent all of my free time campaigning for Bernie Sanders. Instead I’ve set my sights on local politics.

When I tell people this, many assume this focus means that I don’t care about the presidency and, therefore, the country. But I do care. I care too much. That I care about the direction the U.S. is taking is exactly why I need to campaign for local politics.

I'm a student at the University of California, Berkeley, and I’ve been blown away by how much is happening here statewide and locally. Positions like mayor and those on Berkeley’s City Council and Rent Stabilization Board are at stake, as are issues like campaign finance reform and affordable housing. A large majority of Berkeley’s City Council and city politics at large are more conservative than Berkeley’s progressive reputation, which has, for example, helped stall and push back progressive minimum wage laws for years and allowed us to fall behind the city’s living wage of $16.81 per hour. Our statewide ballot includes propositions regarding the death penalty, marijuana legalization, health care costs, bilingual education, and more.

As the president of the Progressive Student Association at UC Berkeley, I’ve personally worked with several mayoral candidates, the City Council, and the Rent Board. I’ve seen how Jesse Arreguín prioritizes students by meeting with student leaders every week, how candidates for the CALI Rent Board Slate phone bank and post flyers with us, and how City Council candidates like Fred Dodsworth come to our association’s meetings just to talk to students.

This level of commitment makes me and the students I work with feel valued. These candidates listen to what I have to say at student leader meetings and ask questions. They take our input and make adjustments; we build plans together and I know that our voices truly matter to them. At the end of every meeting they always — always — look me in the eye and thank me for the work I’m doing. They make it easy to be so invested in local politics and to care so much.

This is how I’ve learned that politics happens from the ground up. In direct and indirect ways, the results of local and statewide races will affect housing and homelessness, the minimum wage, public education, infrastructure and public transportation, and so much more. While I don’t mean to minimize the impact of the presidential race, it’s undeniable that local and statewide elections will have a more immediate and direct impact on many people’s day-to-day lives. We need local politicians to get the job done when the state or federal government can’t or won’t, and we need a Congress that will actually work with Hillary and future progressives to come. What’s more, the people we vote into City Council will not only decide what to prioritize for our city's future, but will be the candidates in statewide and national elections in the coming years. It’s important that we choose the right people to ascend that ladder now.

I’m working to get smart, progressive students at Berkeley invested in our local politics. In the past year, the Progressive Student Association registered over a thousand people to vote. We’ve worked with two other progressive organizations to publish a voter guide to help students know which candidates we’ve endorsed and the positions we’ve taken on ballot measures and state propositions. And every time I see people sharing our guide or coming out to events, I hope that those who aren’t particularly excited about the presidency will still show up at the polls on Election Day to excitedly vote for local and statewide ballot measures. Even if they don’t become political junkies, I hope that I’m helping more students become educated voters.

At the end of the day, though, I just hope my peers get to the polls out of excitement to vote for something — whether it’s ending the death penalty, keeping Trump away from the White House, or fighting for a living wage. I hope that I won’t go to bed on November 8 with dread in the pit of my stomach.

That’s the thing that keeps me going: hope.

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