A Seat at the Table
24-year-old Berkeley City Council member moves past the youth vote
News Report // Video, Eming Piansay
YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, Mar 02, 2009
Editor's Note: s the first Latino and the youngest member to be elected to the Berkeley City Council, 24-year-old Arreguin is determined to channel the power of the “youth vote” movement into local government. Eming Piansay is a content producer for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.
In his office on the top floor of the Berkeley’s City Hall, 24-year-old Jesse Arreguin adjusts his glasses before sliding into his seat in front of his computer. Like many politically-motivated Berkeley young people, Arreguin is a strong supporter of social justice and working for change in the community.
But in a year of rampant political change, Arreguin didn’t want to wait on the sidelines.
As the first Latino and the youngest member to be elected to the Berkeley City Council, Arreguin is determined to channel the power of the “youth vote” movement into local government.
YO! caught up with Jesse Arreguin at his office in Berkeley.
According to 510report.org, Berkeley, a California city known for its politically progressive nature, was one of the voting areas on November 4th, 2008 with the highest youth turnout in the state.
But the youth vote is far from becoming a flash in the pan, or a one hit wonder in the category of influential generations.
“I think this election has proven to everyone that young people can make a difference, that they care about what happens in their local community and now we need to take that energy in applying it to some of the problems we have here in Berkeley,” said Arreguin.
Arreguin recalls that his fascination with activism and the desire to fight society’s injustices began at a young age when he heard about the student protestors at Tiananmen Square in 1989. This interest continued and grew, and he remembers staying home from the 1st grade to watch the moment on TV when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
But Arreguin’s interest was rooted in more personal reasons. Being the son and grandson of farm workers, Arreguin learned about the life and work of Cesar Chavez. From Chavez’s example, Arreguin had invested interests in making change in his community.
From that point, Arreguin took part in several activism ventures. At 10 years old he helped get Army Street in San Francisco renamed as Cesar Chavez Street.
“It was an incredible experience in the power of grassroots activism,” said Arreguin. “We won that fight and Cesar Chavez street is still there as a symbol of the incredible work that he has done in his legacy of non-violent social justice.”
From there, Arreguin served on the San Francisco Youth Commission. When he began going to UC Berkeley, Arreguin he held the office of City Affairs Direction of the UC Berkeley student government. Later, he served on the Chancellor’s Joint Oversight Committee on Parking and Transportation and then later joined the Housing Advisory Commission. He also worked as aide to Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington. So even at 24, Arreguin had already had years of administrative experience.
From Arreguin’s point of view, the rush of enthusiasm among voters following Obama’s campaign has created a whole new wave of interest in politics with young people.
“I’ve definitely seen an increase in interest. Certainly the Obama campaign really captivated young people to pay attention and get involved,” said Arreguin. “I think we have an opportunity now to take the energy we had in the Obama campaign and apply it to our local communities. Obama’s election has really sparked an interested. I think it has empowered young people to get involved in making a difference in the community.”
Arreguin realizes that getting input from the youth population is essential in any future political plans.
“We need to get more young people involved. We need to bring our ideas to the table, but first of all we need a seat at the table,” he said.
During his uphill campaign for a seat on the Berkeley city council, all the endorsements went to his opponent -- Gordon Wozniak –- from the leading Democratic clubs to the corporate investors. But by approaching his campaign as a grassroots manner, Arreguin was able to reach out and speak to the people in the community he would be representing.
“Throughout my campaign, I talked to many people about all the issues that we face in our community: affordable housing, the need for solutions to crime. Most of the invocative ideas were ideas from young people -- people in their 20s and 30s and or even younger,” said Arreguin. “I think part of what we need to do is to really get more people engaged and interested, but the next step is to really sit down and think about what we want to bring to the process. Part of it is engagement, institutionalizing the ways young people have a voice in the system. The other part is bringing our ideas bringing our energy to make a difference.”