On the importance of representation

I have been to countless teach-ins, attended numerous lectures and day-long conferences, been enrolled in how many Ethnic Studies classes that all emphasize how important it is for underrepresented and marginalized groups to participate in the electoral process, to politicize themselves if they wish to see change. And though I knew how important this was, I never fully understood and felt its importance until this past Thursday morning at 3:30am, after an extremely long Associated Students of the University of California- Berkeley (ASUC-Berkeley) Senate meeting. At this meeting, after a number of motions, recesses, and debates made by the frustrated and exhausted senators of ASUC, it was decided that the student organization’s, Chicanos/Latinos in Health Education (CHE), funding for their 15th Annual Dia De Los Muertos Conference (which would expose underrepresented communities, mainly Chicanos/Latinos, to opportunities in health education) would be cut from $1500 to $1050, with the possibility of it being cut even further at Monday night’s Financial Committee of ASUC meeting.

At this meeting, I was witness to the real life disadvantages of being underrepresented in a governmental setting. The senate bill that was compromised at Wednesday night/Thursday morning’s Senate meeting was this close to passing at $1500 funding, as one of the senators mistakenly pulled the wrong bill from the consent calendar thinking that it was the CHE funding bill. As members of CHE and other community supporters started to walk out of the Senate chambers with high hopes at about 1am, we were suddenly stopped and told to stay because a group of senators realized their mistake and were researching the actions they could take to revisit the consent calendar and pull out the right bill to compromise. This action required challenging the Chair and arguing that she did not hold the floor long enough for objections during their visit with the consent calendar. Because the group that wanted to revisit the CHE bill and cut the student group’s funding was more represented than the group of senators that wanted to keep the funding at $1500, the action to overrule the Chair, though completely ridiculous in my opinion, was actually argued and consented by the majority of senate, even though it was clear that the Chair did hold the floor for objections and that it was at the fault of one senators that pulled the wrong bill.

The overrepresented group of senators managed to reverse this seemingly legal act of moving forward from the consent calendar once there were no objections, to revisiting it and pulling the CHE bill from the calendar. (By the way, one of the senators almost pulled the wrong bill yet again, which goes to show that the group of senators opposed to giving CHE $1500 worth of funding probably did not even look at the bill in its entirety and just wanted to cut, cut, cut the funding.) And regardless of how ridiculous I think their actions were, I can’t help but be overcome with the realization that things like this probably happen all the time in local, state, and federal governmental meetings. That even though an action obviously seems wrong and illegal, what really matters is who is represented in the meeting.

It is an understatement to say I was a little disheartened by the results of that Senate meeting. No, I was incredibly frustrated and broken-hearted. And I am not ashamed to admit that I even cried from all the frustration I felt after that meeting. (Proof that I would never be a good politician, but that’s a different story.) I thought about how naive I have become from being an Ethnic Studies major, in a bubble where people can openly and safely talk about how everything is racially motivated. (And I would argue that cutting the funding for CHE’s bill was racially motivated, but that again, is a different story, and my own personal opinion before people start attacking {m}aganda.) I could not believe my ears when senators kept on saying things like, “It’s not about the cause. We believe in the cause 100 per cent. This is a matter of financial support.” That people can still throw out arguments like these and think them sufficient is beyond me.

But I don’t want to be the bringer of bad news. If this situation has taught me anything, it is that our communities and our leaders are beautiful and can do beautiful things as long as they have the support. At 3am, amidst midterm exams and papers, people stayed in the room to see to it that CHE’s funding not be cut. Our senators, though sorely outnumbered, spoke their piece and held their ground even though they were exhausted and wanted to get the meeting over with. If this meeting has done anything for me, it has reaffirmed the fact that I have mentioned above: if we really wish to see change in our society, then we not only have to put ourselves out there and be community leaders, we have to participate in electing those people who want to help us. As I saw in that Senate meeting, our elected officials have to deal with so much– being outnumbered, being constrained by legal vernacular (Can you please ask the previous speaker…), dealing with the burden of representation, among other things. The best that we can do is vote for them.

Or no, I have one better. We can be them.



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