ASUC External Affairs Vice President Rallies for Change

Photo: Ricardo Gomez, the ASUC External Affairs Vice President, has personally changed the emphasis of his office from lobbying at the state level to protesting for change on campus.
Evan Walbridge/Photo
Ricardo Gomez, the ASUC External Affairs Vice President, has personally changed the emphasis of his office from lobbying at the state level to protesting for change on campus.


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Ricardo Gomez does not want to be a politician.

Though he has been involved in student government since becoming an intern three years ago in the office he now runs, the ASUC External Affairs Vice President said the job has convinced him not to remain on the political track. For him, the bureaucracy of the political process is too great a detractor from his ability to create tangible change.

But that does not prevent him from engaging in a different brand of political involvement by using his office as a means of organizing around various direct action campaigns.

Instead of keeping focus on lobbying legislators, Gomez prefers to help students and workers raise awareness about social issues and plan days of action, such as Oct. 7, 2010 and March 2. He reserves equipment, helps design fliers, distributes Disorientation Guides and often participates in protests.

His unrelenting mantra has seen him arrested twice since taking office in August - at the October 2010 Blum Poverty Center sit-in and the protests at the UC Board of Regents' meeting in November. He stresses the fact that he does not act as an ASUC executive when his efforts take him so far, though he had never been arrested before coming to the position.

For three years, Gomez saw the external affairs office maintain its traditional lobbying focus, which he viewed as an ineffective strategy in light of ongoing budget cuts.

Then the university announced a 32 percent systemwide fee increase in November 2009, and Gomez saw results.

After demonstrators occupied Wheeler Hall and thousands protested on Sproul Plaza, he saw then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger present a budget with a $370 million funding increase for the UC from the year before.

"I attuned to a different kind of organizing that wasn't just 'let's go talk to legislators,' it was 'lets do something about what's going on here,'" he said.

It was a time when thousands of students across the state were mobilized in protest. The efforts at UC Berkeley resonated with Gomez as issues he had cared about were thrust to the forefront, prompting him to channel the spirit of the Free Speech Movement - a time when he said student government leaders were more directly engaged with social issues.

"What I saw was that there is this effective realm of political organizing that the ASUC is sort of ignoring or hasn't been as engaged with and that it doesn't have to be that way because it hasn't always been that way," Gomez said. "It really motivated me to see the ASUC in a different light."

Gomez is quick to point out that he does not take sole credit for any of the activist efforts he has been a part of - his philosophy centers around being a "coalition partner" in a collaborative effort for change.

His predecessor Dani Haber, however, approached the position differently. For Haber - and many before her - it was about lobbying for student interests at the state level and advocating on their behalf to campus administrators when necessary.

"When there were x-amount of students in Wheeler, I was out there with a bullhorn," Haber said. "And then when the big decisions were being made ... I was in the room because I had good relationships with (the administrators)."

The attention Gomez has devoted to organizing has meant he has developed less of a relationship with the campus administration than Haber had while in office. Gomez referred to his dealings with administrators as a "rough area" because, for the most part, he said he only communicates with them after students' rights have been violated.

"You have to give your administrators, and your peers in general, a certain amount of respect in order to receive it," Haber said. "What he fails to understand is how you can leverage your power in your relationships and that building strong, powerful relationships is the best way to get what you want in life."

The relationships Gomez has instead opted to build are with fellow organizers and others in the activism community. Marco Amaral, a sophomore and campus activist who was most recently arrested along with 16 others for the March 2 sit-in at Wheeler Hall, said he sees Gomez as a brother.

"I think that being part of the people, being with the people, being a person of the people is what matters, not just hiding behind a desk," Amaral said. "That's something I really admire about him."

But for now at least, Gomez is keeping a low profile.

He said that after being arrested for his civil disobedience twice before, a less visible role is necessary for fear of charges from the district attorney.

On March 2 and 3, while protesters were staging sit-ins inside and on the fourth-floor ledge of Wheeler Hall, he remained a background figure, moving equipment and letting others have their turn at the bullhorn - in most respects, appearing to be just another member of the crowd. But he is integrated into the movement as well as the ASUC, and though the campus met some of the protesters' demands, he said his fight is not yet over.

"I don't think we've ever been anywhere near a point where students should be satisfied," he said. "No matter what, we have to keep on mobilizing, but I do think that these were victories and I do think that it shows that direct action works."

Tags: UC BOARD OF REGENTS, RICARDO GOMEZ, ASUC


J.D. Morris covers student government. Contact him at [email protected]



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