Mending Town-Gown Divide Begins with Council Elections

Sam Price, Contributing Writer

While at Oberlin, I have met students who are extremely passionate about issues concerning social justice and grassroots activism. People regularly attend meetings, rally against discrimination that occurs on campus and post passionate statements online. Yet when I attended the Oberlin Community Candidates Night on Monday, Oct. 26, I was baffled by the lack of Oberlin students present. After the candidates answered various questions, I talked to community members and handed out fliers to promote a project that other Oberlin students and I created: a series of environmentally-based auditory interviews with City Council candidates. The purpose of these interviews is to help the Oberlin community become aware of the various positions each candidate has on how environmentalism plays into their roles as candidates. As I handed out fliers, numerous community members thanked me and lamented that not enough students are involved with the Oberlin community.

This lack of engagement can be partially attributed to the large divide that exists between between the town of Oberlin and the College. Students at Oberlin are isolated from the town, which alienates us from important issues that community members face daily. Oberlin students should reach out to the community and start a dialogue. We should work to break down the barriers that separate us and work with community members to combat the problems that affect the town of Oberlin. Many of the obstacles and disputes that need addressing are at the center of the City Council elections. During the auditory interviews that students and I conducted, candidates told us how they plan to tackle raising the standard of living and provide aid for low-income families, create environmentally-sustainable investments and find ways to stimulate local business. Through renewable energy credits, the town of Oberlin is sitting on roughly $1.5 million. This money can be invested into sustainable projects, returned to the citizens or even used to provide free insulation for low-income families.

The first step to working with the community is participating in the City Council elections. By having a say in the future of the town, we are showing Oberlin that we as students want to take the time to learn about the important issues and realities that community members face. We can vote for City Council candidates and hold them accountable for promises they made during their campaign. The political process is not always the best route to enact change. It is often tiresome and exhausting to go through bureaucratic channels. I am an avid supporter of grassroots organizations, peaceful protests and other alternative forms of activism. However, utilizing the right to vote is a fundamental avenue for achieving progress, and by voting, we can support and uplift the narratives of community members.

This is a long and difficult process, but it starts by learning about City Council candidates. I urge students to go to the polls on Nov. 3 and vote for Oberlin’s next City Council members. There are 14 different candidates, and learning about each candidate will aid in making an informed decision. Currently, the list of candidates are as follows: David Ashenhurst, Scott Broadwell, Don Bryant, Bryan Burgess, Peter Comings, Eugene Matthews, Elizabeth Meadows, Jeanne McKibben, Sharon Pearson, Ronnie Rimbert, Kelley Singleton, Linda Slocum, Dave Sokoll and Sharon Fairchild-Soucy. Students can start to learn about each candidate’s platform by listening to auditory interviews on SoundCloud.