The summer of 2020 brought many people to the streets to protest for racial justice and cultural change in America. The movement for Black lives was largely reinvigorated by young activists and local leaders — like Juliana Bennett.
As a co-founder of the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition, Bennett is familiar with advocating for marginalized members of the community. Her experiences and interactions with those in positions of power galvanized her to change the course of local government by running for the city of Madison’s District 8 Alder Seat.
"Seeing the movement happen, that's when I knew that we can do better in Madison and we deserve better. I knew we needed to make it happen," said Bennett. "So I co-organized the March on Madison event and later on co-founded the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition."
Growing up in an Illinois suburb in a working class family, Bennett knew from a young age she wanted to attend UW-Madison. Now a junior in the Wisconsin School of Business, she has experienced the struggles many college students go through, such as housing insecurity and financial instability, all while being a Black woman in a predominately white city and university.
Bennett, whose personal hero is Maya Angelou, views herself as an activist more than a politician. Her main goal is to have young advocates and students' voices heard in every step of the political process to create a more just and equitable community and university, especially for those who have been previously neglected by the system.
"Those that are currently in positions of power really aren't centering students and centering our needs," said Bennett.
Bennett's platform is largely influenced by her experiences as a student, activist and community leader. Her main platform issues include affordable housing, reimagining public safety, sustainability, COVID-19 relief, and general student and diversity engagement. Bennett's position with the BIPOC Coalition relies heavily on outreach and connecting with other organizations and students to create a unified voice to streamline initiatives, a passion she hopes to take with her into the alder position.
"I really want to build a unified voice and a strong coalition of civically engaged young people that will be able to build a Madison that is truly diverse, welcoming, inclusive and a place that people can call home. That's my goal in this position, and I plan to do so," said Bennett.
Bennett emphasized the importance of local government reflecting the population it serves — meaning a UW-Madison student should represent District 8, which she describes as a "bubble" around campus. District 8 includes the Capitol, South Campus Property Owners and State-Langdon Neighborhood Associations. Bennett believes UW students are currently viewed as a transient part of the population that comes and goes, when in reality the student population is a permanent and integral part of Madison's culture.
"It's really unfortunate how we've been kind of taken out of the conversation, just because for whatever reason, we're thought of as too young or not knowledgeable enough,” Bennett said. “We are very knowledgeable. We are very well versed, and we should have the right to determine our future.”
Voting for the District 8 Alder Seat will take place during the Madison Common Council election on April 6. Find out more about the Common Council election here.