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Editorial: Westwood Forward must start promoting student involvement in local government

By Editorial Board

October 21, 2018 11:01 pm

There’s an election this week to determine who will steer the course of Westwood for the next half-year. The race is almost entirely uncontested, but that’s not the troubling part.

Chances are, you didn’t even know there’s an election Thursday.

The North Westwood Neighborhood Council, the newly formed neighborhood council representing Westwood Village and the UCLA area, will be holding a selection this week for its inaugural council members. This selection will determine an interim council to last through May, after which NWWNC elections will align with others throughout the city and take place in May during odd-numbered years.

As temporary as Thursday’s vote might seem, its impact will be rippling.

Westwood Forward, the coalition behind the NWWNC’s formation, framed the council as a way to break away from the restrictive Westwood Neighborhood Council to bring new business to the neighborhood, improve housing prospects in the North Village area and breathe life into a lackluster Village. The coalition, as well as the campus and local community it represents, finally has its first chance to elect community leaders who represent them.

To promote that opportunity, Westwood Forward has treated students to social media posts. And that’s about it.

This lack of promotion is disenfranchising to the many community members who have increased ability to shape the landscape of the neighborhood they live in. If the nascent NWWNC is to be successful, it needs to hear the concerns of its many constituents who have found neighborhood leaders and governance inaccessible. That requires clear and coordinated outreach to disenchanted stakeholders – something Westwood Forward isn’t doing.

Much like with the May ratification vote that established the NWWNC, student and faculty leaders have taken to a last-minute, full-court press strategy to educate community stakeholders about the selection vote. In May, Westwood Forward leaders posted on social media just weeks leading up to the ratification vote, and flyered the day of the election.

It’s likely the same will happen this time around too. That’s in addition to the fact all but two of the candidates running for the new council are members of Westwood Forward.

But the coalition’s unenthusiastic campaigning belies the significance of Thursday’s vote. Michael Skiles, the president of the Graduate Students Association and a founder of Westwood Forward, told The Bruin in May of the many plans he has for the NWWNC in the next six months. These include vying for city and neighborhood policy changes to rekindle business interest in Westwood and lay the groundwork for more expansive changes down the road.

That’s an ambitious game plan that requires a vivacious campaign: flyering along Bruin Walk, promoting the election before lectures – or better yet, finding ways to integrate the fledgling council into campus culture.

That’s not denying how strong even a fraction of the Westwood Forward coalition is. Even though May’s ratification vote only featured 2,004 voters – spare change for a collective student body of nearly 45,000 – the NWWNC was certified. Yet, the council was built to challenge the greatest deficiency of the WWNC: a lack of student participation in local government.

Combating that requires tireless outreach and grassroots activism. Facebook posts alone won’t cut it.

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