Richmond City Council Can Delay Democracy But They Can’t Stop It.


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Diana Ramirez

Richmond Kids First Youth Leader

August 4, 2016

The Richmond City Council is made up of individuals chosen by the voters of Richmond. One would then expect them to use their power to give those same people the right to participate in the democratic process and place a measure that they support on the ballot.

The complete opposite happened at the July 26th meeting of the Richmond City Council. Five out of seven City Council members  used the power of their elected offices to argue against the merits of the Richmond Kids First campaign instead of fulfilling their duty to pass a motion to put the measure on the November 2016 ballot.

City Council members are not allowed to prevent a measure from getting on the ballot because they do not like it. They can only delay an action if there are concerns that an election regulation was violated in the ballot initiative process. In fact, the campaign didn’t violate any regulations, therefore the City Council did not have any legal reason to prevent it from getting on the ballot. Not only is this obstructing the democratic process but it highlights the abuse of power that elected officials, like Mayor Butt, engage in when they have their own agenda.

Ten years ago, the talk about setting up a fund dedicated to young people in Richmond began. In 2008 it was brought to individuals like former council member Tony Thurmond, who was going to implement a study session to explore the possibility of a children’s fund in Richmond but it never happened. Later in 2009, the RYSE center collaborated with then Mayor, now Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin to find ways to create a fund but once again it fell through because the City said there wasn’t enough money. This happened again in 2010 and twice in 2014.

Meanwhile, young people continue dying of violence and a lack of support and resources and getting addicted to drugs and/or experiencing abuse. Of course, the City Council members don’t have to worry about walking down the street and getting shot or not having a safe place to do simple things like homework or play soccer. After trying and trying, it was time to stop depending on the individuals who, in theory, support young people but when it comes down to it, have not addressed the low quality of living and harm that young people were and still are experiencing.

Thus Richmond Kids First (RKF) was born in 2015. It was born out of need and despair. It was born out of rejections and elected officials failing the youth.  It was born to finally create change since no one else could or would. We decided to put it in the hands of Richmond residents and place a measure on the ballot that they could vote on.

Just like ten years ago, that Tuesday Council meeting wasn’t any different. Our elected officials once again put their own personal agendas before us, the youth in Richmond, and temporarily stopped democracy and our efforts to create a better community. Even though RKF collected enough signatures and turned them in with enough time for them to be validated before the last scheduled City Council meeting before the deadline to place a measure on the ballot, and despite the fact that Richmond Kids First was on the agenda the previous week, the City Council refused to add RKF back to the agenda. Instead they used it to argue against the campaign. This shouldn't have happened because their duty was to pass a motion because 6,476 of the registered voters in Richmond wanted this on the ballot. Yet the opinion of 6 individuals stopped this from happening. They believed their political agenda was much more important than that of 15% of Richmond voters.

Only one member of the council, Jael Myrick, whom I may add, was the only one that actually grew up in Richmond, wanted to uphold the democratic process. He didn’t fully agree with the campaign but knew that the campaign had the right to be put on the November 2016 ballot. Things like this City Council meeting are what turn young people away from engaging with political figures and the political process.

Who in their right mind would talk and talk to someone that continuously rejects and puts young people in boxes that label us as “agressive” and “hostile” when we stand up for ourselves? That is why we took matters into our own hands and pushed this campaign forward. The elected officials have not done enough so we endured things like racism and ageism while canvassing just to be able to get this on the ballot so the residents of Richmond could decide our fate.

Even then, when we turned everything in on time and followed all the rules, we got shut out. From the beginning, we weren’t even allowed to have all our young people and allies stay in the room, then later, Mayor Butt said that we should all just leave after RKF didn’t get on the agenda. All these actions discourage young people and grown ups alike from approaching and asking the City Council for support.

While the lack of support is daunting and discouraging, but we are not going to stop. Though the City Council didn’t let this measure go on the 2016 ballot, it will be on the June 2018 ballot. They are only delaying the inevitable by putting their own agendas forward instead of what their constituents want. This injustice has only added fuel to the burning determination that we the young people of Richmond have.

For a more information on the Richmond Kids First campaign, see our website:

www.richmondkidsfirst.org.

For a more detailed account of the process of building the campaign, writing the measure, canvassing and the struggle with the  City Council and the Mayor, see our Statement of Facts.

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