Photo by Adam Scotti on Flickr.
Something unprecedented is happening at the most grassroots level of DC’s democracy. For the first time ever, 9 college students are choosing to run for seats on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
These candidates represent part of a broader trend of enhanced student engagement in local affairs. Since DC Students Speak launched at Georgetown only 2 years ago, the organization has developed chapters at campuses through the District. Consequently, thousands of students have made the decision to register to vote in DC.
Unfortunately, too often, a heightened level of student engagement has met animosity from a few older residents. David Lehrman, an ANC commissioner in Foggy Bottom’s ANC 2A01 who is facing a student challenger, recently told the Current that students “should be thinking about dating the prettiest girl and getting into the best graduate program,” rather than focus on local government, and accused his challenger, GWU junior Patrick Kennedy, of running for “resume-enhancing” purposes.
This “soft bigotry of low expectations” often deters so many of my peers to become involved in civic affairs. The reality is that not only is a more aware college student population better for students, it is also in the best interest of the District.
There are almost 85,000 college students in the District of Columbia, who make up a substantial portion of the overall population. The District does itself a disservice by not engaging this large chunk of the populace. Having college students being more civically aware means more college students volunteering for non-profits, and pushing for reforms necessary to the District’s vitality.
A major element of increasing the level of civic engagement is having college students run for local office. It demonstrates that students have a stake in local affairs, and are an actual political constituency. Washingtonians have to move beyond debates about who is a “native,” and recognize that regardless of whether one is here for 4 years, or has been here for 40 years, everyone should be welcome in civic life.
Thankfully, after years of hard work, the interests of college students are gaining more recognition. For instance, when Councilmember Jack Evans (ward 2) came to campus at Georgetown recently, he told a meeting of DC Students Speak that college students completely have the right to live off campus, and that they should be encouraged to run for office. This is definitely a change in tone in Evans’ rhetoric from only a few years ago.
Left to right: Patrick Kennedy, Jackson Carnes, Peter Prindiville, and Craig Cassey.
3 students are running at George Washington University: Peter Sacco, Jackson Carnes, and Patrick Kennedy. Sacco and Carnes are running uncontested, with Carnes on the ballot in 2A07 and Sacco as a write-in for 2A08, while the race between Kennedy and long-term incumbent David Lehrman has turned out to be a very competitive race in a district, 2A01, that contains many students and non-students.
Nicole Goines, who is also an American University student, is running for ANC in Brentwood’s ANC 5C05. Connell Wise, a student at Marymount University, is running in 6E07, in the Mount Vernon Triangle.
Having so many students run for office represents major progress, but there is still much work yet to be done. What is at stake is more than just 9 college students running for local office, but how to get all groups of residents to participate in the civic life of this great city.