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A Seat at the Table

Young Council Person Moves Beyond Youth Vote

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia , News Feature//Video, Eming Piansay Posted: Feb 13, 2009

Editor's Note: As the first Latino and the youngest member to be elected to the Berkeley City Council, 24-year-old Jesse Arreguin is determined to channel the power of the youth voter movement into local government. Eming Piansay is a content producer for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

BERKELEY, Calif. -- In his office on the top floor of Berkeleys City Hall, Jesse Arreguin adjusts his glasses before sliding into his seat in front of his computer. Like many politically minded 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, 24, didnt want to wait on the sidelines.

On Nov. 4, Arreguin became the first Latino and the youngest member to be elected to the Berkeley City Council, He said he is determined to channel the power of the youth voter movement into local government.

YO! caught up with Jesse Arreguin at his office in Berkeley.

According to 510report.org, a news website, Berkeley is known for its politically progressive nature and on Election Day, it enjoyed one of the highest youth voter turnouts 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, the councilman said.

Arreguin recalls that his fascination with activism and the desire to fight societys injustices began at a young age when he heard about the student protestors at Tiananmen Square in 1989. This interest grew and he remembers staying home from the firtst grade to watch the moment on TV when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

But Arreguins 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 Chavezs example, Arreguin had vested interests in making change in his community, he said.

From that point, Arreguin took part in several causes. At the age of 10, Arreguin took part in a movement that helped get Army Street in San Francisco renamed Cesar Chavez Street.

It was an incredible experience in the power of grassroots activism, Arreguin said. 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.

After that victory, Arreguin served on the San Francisco Youth Commission. In addition, as a UC Berkeley student, he held the office of City Affairs Direction of the UC Berkeley student government. Later, he served on the Chancellors Joint Oversight Committee on Parking and Transportation. Later he joined the Housing Advisory Commission. He also worked as an aide to Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington. So even at 24, Arreguin already had years of administrative experience.

From Arreguins point of view, the rush of enthusiasm among voters following Obamas campaign has created a whole new wave of interest in politics with young people.

Ive definitely seen an increase in interest. Certainly the Obama campaign really captivated young people to pay attention and get involved, Arreguin said. I think we have an opportunity now to take the energy we had in the Obama campaign and apply it to our local communities. Obamas election has really sparked an interest. 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 campaign.

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 in a grassroots manner, Arreguin was able to reach out and speak to the people in the community.

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 innovative ideas were ideas from young people -- people in their 20s and 30s and or even younger, he said. 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.

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