Students on this campus have a lot to be proud of in the action taken at Tuesday's Common Council meeting.
More students showed up and voiced their concerns on the issue of a student voting member on the Alcohol License Review Committee than on any city issue in recent memory.
An overwhelming majority of the city alders approved a plan to increase the size of the influential ALRC, with one new seat for an alder and a new citizen seat. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has stated that he intends to appoint a student to the new citizen seat for a three-year term.
What is even more impressive was how close students came to having a permanent voting seat on the ALRC. With 10 alders supporting it and nine opposing, the measure fell just one vote short of passing. This is a closer outcome than many were expecting, and we believe the number of students at the meeting had a major impact on the final vote.
The level of student engagement on this issue has shown to city officials that students can advocate for themselves and are mature enough to handle the complex issues that need solving in the city. We applaud Ald. Bridget Maniaci, District 2, for forcing the permanent student voting seat proposal to a vote and making other alders go on record about the issue of student representation.
Students make up a significant portion of the city's population and a majority of downtown residents, and we feel they do deserve a permanent role in city affairs.
However, we do feel there was a victory for students in the final outcome. Although we will continue to urge the mayor and alders to work toward a permanent student seat, students will still have a voting seat in the near future, a reality not considered feasible even last spring.
We do take issue with the idea presented by some at the Common Council meeting that students are just another interest group in the city. Students, unlike the university administration or the Madison-Dane County Tavern League, are not businesses in a specific industry or an educational institution. Students are a dynamic and thriving community of 40,000-plus people who are impacted every day by policies set by the ALRC and other city committees.
The Tavern League and other interest groups are advocating for their own economic well-being, but students are a diverse group of individuals who are residents and have not been represented proportionally to the effect they have on city life.
As noted by some supporters of the permanent student seat, no two students are the same. We believe that a student voting member on the ALRC would not vote in a knee-jerk manner or approve every new bar, but deal with issues in a responsible, rational manner that listens to the full range of student viewpoints.
One final message that must be taken from Tuesday's meeting is that students cannot disengage from city affairs. The only reason a student voting seat is now a reality is because students, from a broad set of campus groups, worked to show how seriously they take city policies.
When we allow alders or businesses to think students are not paying attention, policies with little regard for our viewpoints are allowed to continue. With the coming debate on the renewal of the city's Alcohol License Density Plan, an issue that again impacts how students live, students must not settle for lip-service acknowledgements or dismissals. Recent events have shown students still wield influence in the city; we must not allow the mayor or alders to forget it.