This month, Deon Jones, Tyler Sadonis and the A Voice 4 U campaign made major progress not just for the AU community, but also for student activism throughout D.C. Although Sadonis’ run ultimately fell short, Jones has (most likely) won and succeeded in finally securing students a seat on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D.
In addition to proving the power of organized students, his January swearing-in will, when taken with Georgetown University’s recently elected commissioner Jake Sticka’s induction to ANC 2E, represent the first time in D.C.’s history that more than one university has been represented within the local ANC system.
We cannot, however, rest upon this achievement. Between AU, Georgetown, George Washington University, Howard University, Catholic University of America, Trinity College, Gallaudet University and the University of D.C., students represent nearly 15 percent of D.C.’s population. Yet even after A Voice 4 U’s efforts, students still only hold two ANC seats — less than 1 percent of the 276 citywide total.
Clearly, a serious underrepresentation of students is at work. Worse, though, is that this issue is not just theoretically problematic. ANCs wield enough power that this underrepresentation results in very practical dilemmas for students District-wide.
ANCs have very publicly abused the campus plan review power allotted to them by Washington’s Office of Planning to force universities into restricting student rights in return for approval of their expansion plans, as AU saw with the recent expansion of its Student Conduct Code. This is a very real problem, and one that can be at least mitigated by the election of student commissioners. However, the visibility of this problem has obscured issues that may in reality be even more pressing.
Among these problems is the existence 61Ds, police resource-draining, resume-wrecking arrest records handed out as citations to first-time offenders for little more than incidental noise. Students are also faced with zoning regulations that result in the empowerment of slumlords and the closing of student-populated eateries and businesses. These skewed public policies are a direct result of our inability as students to have our voice heard within city government.
Although the results of A Voice 4 U will certainly strengthen this voice, there is still work to be done before we are truly heard. It was with this work in mind that our organization, DC Students Speak, came into being.
Founded last year, DC Students Speak aims to connect students throughout the District, find common goals amongst us, and advocate for these objectives within city government. We will become the sustainable, long-term infrastructure that allows students throughout this city to gain the representation they deserve. Our organization, through a variety of initiatives, focuses on the most practical route to gaining that representation: the election of students citywide to ANCs.
Taking A Voice 4 U and 1996’s Campaign Georgetown as models, we have identified 11 ANC single-member districts within D.C. that despite being populated by student majorities are represented by neighbor commissioners. If we ever hope to have fair representation in this city and achieve essential, shared policy goals this cannot remain true.
In order to ensure that it does not, we have begun organizing. Georgetown already has an active chapter of our organization, while chapters at AU, GW, CUA, and Trinity are all in the early stages of development. As A Voice 4 U quickly learned, neighbor commissioners fight hard and can sometimes fight dirty. We can only overcome their power monopoly if we fight smart and fight unified.
With this in mind, we ask today for your help. Check out our website, where we aggregate news from every D.C. school so you can learn about issues affecting students throughout the city. Follow us on Twitter. Fan us on Facebook. Share this article with your friends and come out to the town halls that we are planning on D.C. campuses in the new year.
If we come together now, two years from today we will not be waking up to just two student ANC commissioners, but a broad and representational coalition that stretches from Howard’s Hilltop to Georgetown’s, from American’s Bender to Catholic’s Basilica. With your help, we can achieve our goals and give the D.C. student community the political representation it so desperately needs.
Co-chair of D.C. Students Speak