From Oakland to UC Berkeley, this is Our Civil Rights Movement: Why I Run for ASUC Senate

I write this piece today, not only to commemorate the first day of voting for UC Berkeley’s ASUC (Associated Students of the University of California) elections, but to take a moment to appreciate the journey, the people, and the experiences that have taken me to this point. I want to record this next chapter in my growth of being not only a student, but someone who will continue to push for change on our campus and in our society. Let this piece chronicle the story of a kid from a refugee family on the streets of East Oakland becoming a leader at the best public institution of higher education in the world. I am excited about the adventure that awaits me, and invite everyone to partake in this story with me.

My journey starts when I arrived at UC Berkeley. Though UC Berkeley and my home in East Oakland are only 15 miles apart, I quickly realized they were two completely different worlds. From the moment I stepped into my dorm, I realized my experiences growing up were not the same as those of my peers. I always knew how impoverished my neighborhood, schools, and city were, but I never realized the extent to which this inequity affected in my life. However, I soon realized why I was able to enroll in programs like Upward Bound, why Teach for America teachers were constantly cycling through my education, and why even with all these programs vying to prop up a broken education system, it just was not enough to impede the rapidly closing doors to higher education.

More importantly, it was not until I got to Berkeley that I realized the extent to which I am a statistical minority and how unfair it still feels to me. I was extremely frustrated that I did not see a conscious effort by the government to address this inequitable distribution of public education in a sustainable manner. I felt alone in my urge to make sure there are avenues in this country for someone to work out of poverty.

UC Berkeley was a wake up call. This experience propelled me to seek for a solution. My entire academic career has been searching for answers as to how our society got to this point, and how we can work toward a better future. I learned the academic discourses, research, and misguided policies that have brought not just Oakland or California, but our entire society to its knees. I learned how Proposition 13 affected my life and completely changed the trajectory of public education here in California. I learned how the No Child Left Behind Act actually left all children behind. I learned how, even in a post Brown v. Board of Education world, America’s schools have been more segregated than ever. Ultimately, I learned that the current policies being enacted only solved the fruit of the problem, and not the trunk that bore the fruit. These are not just policies on paper or readings required for class. These are the hopes and dreams of countless students, their families, and their communities back home who live these experiences every day.

In addition to learning policy, I also sought a community of like-minded people who are fighting for that more equitable future. At bridges, the Multicultural Resource Center, I learned what a coalition of college students were already doing in their capacity to protect access to higher education. In the Cal Berkeley Democrats, I learned the methods and processes necessary to mobilize and enact change in our state. As a statewide leader in the California College Democrats and California Young Democrats, I have fought for policies that aim to fund public higher education. Looking back now, I have come a long way from that kid on High St. and MacArthur, from that first-year who felt so alone in his urge to fight for social justice. Looking back now, I realize I am be the change I wish to see in the world.

This year, I am ready to bring my experience and skills back to the university that helped jumpstart it all. This is why I run for ASUC Senate: I see the ASUC as more than just a student government, but as a platform to enact social change. We can use the ASUC to empower all students with the tools and resources to be successful in college. More importantly, we can use the ASUC to address and stymie the cultural reproduction of poverty, disenfranchisement, and inequity that runs rampant in our society. With “Hip Hop the Vote 2012″, we can begin to reverse the wheels of historical disenfranchisement in the Asian Pacific-Islander community and begin to build an electoral voice for the future. With “Pipelining for Equity”, we can start to build a tradition of students who are non-traditional undergraduates at UC Berkeley to begin with and promote the idea that graduate and professional degrees are within reach for them too. Finally with “Brave Space 2.0”, we can begin to promote more inclusive language on our campus in an effort to release ourselves from historically oppressive language. By working on these goals next year in ASUC Senate, I truly believe we can build on top of the legacy that the past has given our generation.

Most importantly though, I want to run for that future kid who might also be doubting why he is here, to reiterate how grateful I am to be walking on the path that those before me have paved for me, and to continue to pave paths for those who will come after me. I did not get to UC Berkeley on hard work alone, but rather I was afforded opportunities to succeed because of visionaries of the past who dreamed of better days. Their work is far from over though, but I am proud to partake on this journey they have set for me. I still have a Dream. I sincerely hope that by running and being present in the ASUC Senate, I can continue to work toward my values of equality and equity. This present moment, this time of budget cuts to public higher education and the Great Recession and the 99%, is our time. While those in the media may say that banks are “too big to fail”, I wholeheartedly believe that my dreams are too big to fail. This is our Civil Rights Movement, and with all the love in my heart, I welcome it with open arms.

  • Ngan Pham

    um . LOVE this piece.

    excited to bring your passion of computer science and social causes this spring semester.

    you’re an inspiration Klein!

    –Ngan