Community-College Ties Strengthened by City Council Representation

David Sokoll, OC '10

Dear new and returning Oberlin students,

Crafting this letter, I began as any good student would: I googled “letter to the editor.” It turns out these things are for sharing an opinion on a local issue. Today, the issue I’d like to talk about is our local government, and my opinion is that myself and other young adults are alienated from formal democracy in Oberlin and beyond.

I graduated from Oberlin College in 2010, and while most of my classmates scattered to pursue their dreams, I chose to pursue mine right here in town. Since then, I have been involved in community organizations and non-profits throughout Lorain County. I have worked for food justice by bringing fresh local produce to residents of all incomes through City Fresh and the Winter Farmer’s Market. I spent three years creating a sustainable food program for the Oberlin Early Childhood Center, administered a federal after-school program at Langston Middle School and served on the boards of the Oberlin Underground Railroad Society and the New Agrarian Center. Currently, I serve as the food service manager for Lorain County Head Start, feeding 700 children healthy meals each day.

Despite all of the work I have done in the community, for a long time I felt that government was not an effective way for me to create the social and political change I wanted to see. Why sit on committees dealing with the minutiae of city governance when I could work directly with community organizations to create initiatives and programs based on my values and relationships? Like many current and former college students I have spoken with, I was also wary of meddling in the town’s politics.

However, my views have changed. During my 10 years here, I have grown increasingly concerned about the ways that students and lifelong residents can feel disconnected from each other, even in this small community. Moreover, I am concerned that both groups feel disengaged from our local decision-making structure. I have come to see a rift between, on the one hand, the halls of council and our codified ordinances and, on the other, the network of daily relationships and interactions that make living in Oberlin both a joy and a struggle. The space between the two can get frustrating and loud, but as our First Lady recently said right here in Oberlin: “Run to the noise.”

To that end, I have decided to run for Oberlin City Council to get involved and give back to the town that has given me so much. My work, if elected, will be to create more avenues for the community to understand and influence local politics. And to students, I would like to say that whether you plan to stay in Oberlin beyond your time at the College or not, you are an essential part of that community. You study here, you work here, you volunteer here. Your contributions to this town are important and participating in local government is another way to do what many of you have been doing for years. Whether that means voting, attending council meetings, joining a commission or running for office like me, I encourage you to do what you already do so well: Inform yourself, think carefully and act passionately and responsibly.

There will be ample opportunity to register to vote as groups like the League of Women Voters, Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians and Oberlin College Democrats set up tables at campus events, including the upcoming Community Connections Fair on Tuesday, Sept. 8, from 4:30–6 p.m. You can also attend City Council meetings on the first and third Mondays of the month. Additionally, there are often open seats on local commissions which need the support of young people who are willing to work hard to develop wise policy.

Our community will always need your creativity, curiosity and courage. This is my invitation to show up and be seen.

–David Sokoll

OC ’10