Student Engagement in Local Issues
I wanted to post a guest column I submitted to both campus papers a few days ago relating to the success we had in relation to having a student as a voting member on the Alcohol License Review Committee and also call for continued student engagement in local city issues. The column was printed in both the Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal.
My name is Bryon Eagon — and no, my first name isn’t misspelled. In addition to being a student at UW, I have the privilege of representing the 8th district as an alder on the City Council here in Madison. Technically, we call it the Common Council, but that’s just semantics. Students are the economic, social and cultural engine of Madison and our opinions and ideas are vital to shaping the future of this great city. But my voice is just one among tens of thousands of young people here in Madison; that’s where you come in. I want to know your thoughts, complaints, suggestions and ideas to help inform my priorities and decisions. Why should students care about the micro of micro levels of government when there are more attractive and flashy issues at the state or national level? Let me try to explain.
Have you ever tried crossing Langdon Street at the intersection on Frances? If so, you’ve probably let out a few obscenities over the blind spots and nonresponsive traffic. That intersection is terrible for pedestrians. Who is responsible for making changes to such a vital public safety issue? The U.S. Congress? The Wisconsin State Legislature? Actually, it is the city’s responsibility. While issues at the city level may not garner the appeal of soaring state or national policies, city government makes decisions that affect our day-to-day lives, oftentimes much more than higher levels of government. From trash pickup to public safety, alcohol regulation to stop signs, we see and experience the decisions made in City Hall every day.
You may have read a few days ago the city is adding a member to the Alcohol License Review Committee and because of students’ engagement and participation, the council recommended and the mayor committed to appointing a student voting member to that committee. So what does this mean for students? A voting student member can promote the kinds of establishments that we, as young people, want in the future of campus and downtown. While there are plenty of places for vertical drinking (where people stand around, down drinks and just hit repeat), there are not nearly enough fun, safe, interactive late-night places for students of all ages. During debates on adding a student to the committee, dozens of students came to the Council meeting and demonstrated how informed, engaged and passionate students can make a difference in city government. We saw a coalition of the Herald and the Cardinal, College Democrats and Republicans, as well as ASM, stepping up to the plate to get involved. I don’t know what part of that last list is more encouraging/historic — the papers working together, campus politicos from both sides of the aisle coming together, or the student government renewing interest in local issues. The council, mayor and the at-large Madison community took notice and were impressed. But this student participation should not and cannot stop with this one meeting.
Student engagement on the ALRC student voting member issue can and should serve as a catalyst for student participation on even more issues. Although issues of alcohol are what unite students the most, so many of us have a greater passion for and are better informed about many more issues than just those surrounding alcohol. The city also deals with issues that involve the environment, transportation, business development, public safety, community services, youth programs, homelessness, parks, pools, tenant and landlord regulations and much more. If you want to make a difference on any of these issues, or have a niche idea of your own, let your voice be heard. The future of Madison rests on the ideas and priorities of young people. If we, as students, do not speak up, contribute and participate in local government, the future of our campus, downtown and city will be decided for us. So e-mail your member of congress, call your state legislator and come testify before or serve on a committee over at City Hall, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Who knows? Maybe if enough students get involved, we can get a four-way stop at Langdon and Frances.
Bryon Eagon is a senior majoring in political science and communication arts. He can be reached at email@example.com, 608-335-5091, or in person during his office hours Mondays from 10 to 11 a.m. at Lakefront on Langdon in Memorial Union and Thursdays from 1 to 2 p.m. at Pop’s Club in Gordon Commons.