By Jackie Bueno
This week, we’re highlighting Romario Conrado, a sophomore at Cal. We sat down with Romario to learn more about his role as Party Co-Chair of CalSERVE, why he got involved with elections, and find out in his own words why CalSERVE is the party he supports.
To learn more about CalSERVE, click this link.
Here’s our interview:
Jackie: Tell me about where you grew up.
Romario: I grew up in the Bay Area my entire life. For the first seven months, I grew up in Richmond, which is in the East Bay. And then I moved to Marin, and that’s where I stayed until I came to Berkeley. I stayed in San Rafael for a little bit, but shoutout to Novato ‘cause that’s where home is.
Jackie: How did you get involved with CalSERVE?
Romario: I actually decided to join CalSERVE after reading Juniperangelica’s Facebook caption, which is a pretty funny story and something I tell the candidates how powerful Facebook captions can be because it’s funny how you’re honestly just launching your campaign on Facebook and other websites of course. So it’s Juniperangelica’s Senate post’s caption that resonated with me. I actually started crying when I read it, and I saw the passion and the love in there, so I was interested.
And then the Chair last year, Zahra Abadin, was a very warm, very kind person on Sproul. Me, being this low freshman, didn’t really feel like I had a place in elections, so CalSERVE was the place for me that made me feel loved, and Idalys Pérez was also integral in getting me involved with phone banking, and one thing led to another. I became an interim Chair for the summer and then Vice Chair and now Co-Chair.
And I love CalSERVE, so I’m excited to talk about it (smiles).
Jackie: What does your current role as Party Chair look like?
Romario: I’m the party signatory. What the party signatory does is they help with the institutional processes of the coalition: finances, attending mandatory elections meetings, and logistical things like that. And, of course, also helping the candidates in their endeavors to become elected.
Jackie: What’s your favorite part about being involved?
Romario: My favorite part, and I tell everyone this, about being part of CalSERVE is that before we’re a political party, we’re a coalition. What being a coalition means is we’re a group of people from different marginalized communities. Our motto is Together, we rise. We take this motto and we hold it to be true in every space we’re in. Any CalSERVE caucus, any interaction we have is always uplifting. It’s never demeaning people’s campaigns or competing with other people.
We realize the power in numbers and being together and knowing together, we rise. I also think that before we’re a coalition, we are a family, and that’s something I love so much. CalSERVE has become a pseudo-social club for me and lot of people in it are my bestest of friends and the people I go to parties with, and the people I want to study with and the people I spend all-nighters with. They’re honestly the loves of my life.
So that’s why going to caucuses doesn’t feel like work; it doesn’t feel like putting in taxing energy. It feels like I’m doing this with my best friends. So my favorite parts about being a part of CalSERVE is the coalition and being part of a family with best friends that just love and support each other.
Jackie: What can you say about the platforms being put forward this year by candidates?
Romario: First off, I just want to address that one of the major anti-CalSERVE rhetoric is that we don’t have the ability to be effective on campus because we run on ideologies. So what I want to say to that is look at the past where our abilities work and the work we’re already accomplishing. Decals - CalSERVE elected officials did that. ASUC central drive - CalSERVE elected officials did that. Consent campaigns - CalSERVE elected officials did that.
This year alone, 2017 to 2018, the work that we’ve already got done includes President AbdulQadir-Morris and her office’s work in making the Chancellor more accessible, Rigel Robinson and his work on-campus lobbying, city lobbying, state lobbying, and pipelining students to meetings with elected officials that resulted in the holding off on a tuition increase. And the removal of a UC Regent.
Quick shoutout to the student organizers and the folks that made lobbying so successful. And Senator Cordova, with her office’s work that includes planning the queer/trans people of color conference, Senator Hussein for her phenomenal work that she’s done for the Black community, including a community screening of Black Panther. Rizza Estacio and all the marvelous work she continues to do for the Pilipinx Community and her drafting of the STARR Referendum that’s working to uplift our communities of color and other communities at Cal.
We truly build on the shoulders of the giants, and I think that’s something I see with CalSERVE because it’s the oldest, existing campus political party, and we have a long track record of success. So in terms of what we’re running on, again our motto Together, we rise, we hold it to be true that we prioritize the uplifting of the most marginalized, because when we uplift those folks, we all rise.
In particular, the #TimesUp campaign, that centers survivor narratives, that centers the idea that people that have experienced egregious acts of sexual assault or sexual violence, need to be in those, at their own capacity, in those institutional spaces and in those boardrooms so that those students get the support they truly need and don’t fall off.
And housing is a major party-wide platform because Berkeley’s housing isn’t accessible. A variety of students have issues with housing, whether it’s finding a group of friends to live with outside of the dorms to find cheap rent, securing a spot in the co-ops, etc. You can see it in our Senate campaigns and Exec campaigns, the push for more affordable housing and other tangible measures aimed at making housing more accessible.
And then again, some of the communities we center are centerpieces in some of our Senate platforms: the queer and trans community (Teddy Lake), the Latinx community (Idalys Pérez), the Pilipinx community (Angelica Santos), and the Black community (Amir Wright).
All of those are just the major campaigns and the major platforms we’re running on. Read more at CalSERVE.org!
Jackie: What is CalSERVE hoping to get out of these elections?
Romario: Hani Hussein truly is the vital Chair. She’s the one with the actual advice that ran a successful campaign, and she’s an amazing person, an amazing advocate, an amazing representative.
I’m more on the logistical side, but I also give advice when I see fit. But I think what we are very intentional about is that we don’t run 15 candidates anymore. We don’t have anyone just to fill in the space. We see the ASUC as a space that is meant for people rooted in community that have the right values and want to put in the work. We pick candidates that don’t see their work in the ASUC as resume builders but as politics of survival. We have our new members with our #7HRIVE senate slate with 7 candidates and Nuha Kalfay joining our coalition who was an Independent Senator but joined the CalSERVE executive slate and being intentional about that because of the work she’s put in the EAVP office and also in the MEMMSA community.
So for now, of course, our number one priority is to get people elected, the people we care about so much. And what that looks like is giving them support, loving them, and never talking down to them.
Shoutout to Teddy Lake, CalSERVE has been having some fire videos lately, and that’s because of our Senate candidate Teddy who’s phenomenal at it, and also our Vice Chair AJ Olvera, who’s also a video editor and also helps with graphic material. And Tiger Fu for launch graphics and Alice Langford for photos!
When April 2nd hits, that’s when we go into high gear: hard campaigning. I’ll probably be on Sproul Monday through Friday, 7:30 A.M to 5 P.M. We are ready to rumble!
Then, beyond elections, we’re campus mobilizers. The previous Chair, Victoria Berdin, when Ben Shapiro came to talk and the University closed down spaces students had fought for in the generations before us, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, the César Chávez Student Center, Eshleman Hall, spaces students and organizers fought tooth and nail for, closed down because we didn’t necessarily agree with a lot of his ideals, so Chair Berdin planned a study-in to hold space and send the message to the University that you don’t own these spaces. These spaces are our spaces.
We’re really intentional in building community and mobilizing and what that also meant is that we didn’t talk about election matters until spring semester, so we focused on supporting bills, passing legislation, uplifting the most marginalized — and knowing Free Speech Week would be a hot topic issue; we ensured that our communities knew our coalition supported, uplifted, and protected them.
Jackie: How do you think RJ can help organizations on campus such as the ASUC resolve issues it faces?
So Restorative Justice, I think I’ve been involved with since sixth grade, as a peer mediator, super microcosmic, but something that I’ve learned since then is the idea that when someone’s sitting in a classroom or a lecture hall, they can’t forget how empty their stomach is, where they’re going to sleep at night, or how uprooted their life is after sexual assault, and so on, so it’s addressing that we can never let go of our experiences.
Something we can do is repair the harm of those communities that help protect them, help benefit them. The biggest thing with Restorative Justice in this campaign is that CalSERVE is offering a Restorative Justice platform. Every year we do. This year, I think it’s the best one yet (I may be a little biased).
And so it’s addressing what we’re offering to Cal is a level playing field for everyone. Yes, you have those experiences, but you also have those platforms, workshops and resources that you can go towards to help you with those. CalSERVE promises to sew the rips and tend to the neglected ends of the Cal community fabric.
Jackie: From interviewing other candidates, they told me that Free Speech Week really shaped the dynamic in the ASUC. Could you speak to that?
Romario: That’s another anti-CalSERVE rhetoric, that we’re anti-Free Speech. To that, I point them to the amount of headaches I left CalSERVE caucus spaces with after so many hours of meaningful discussion and necessary debate.
During that time period, Rizza Estacio, Hani Hussein, and Juniperangelica Cordova were integral in leading those conversations, presenting bills aimed at curbing support that BCR was receiving, because other Registered Student Organizations were not receiving the same amount of support that BCR was handed by the university.
Juniperangelica’s safety platform touches on the following concept, so I want to give a shout out to the work she’s been doing and promises to continue if elected President. It’s acknowledging for some people, police presence makes them feel safe, and for others, it doesn’t. So it’s about addressing diverse opinions and people that have the capacity to be in ASUC spaces tend to be more privileged.
I’m not trying to say that all ASUC Senators or all ASUC people are extremely privileged because they’re not, but it’s about addressing the tendency for people to be in these spaces are people that are in the institution already.
So I think what Juniperangelica, Hani and Rizza were integral in was inserting the voice for people that weren’t heard in decisions made by the Chancellor and oversight committees.
In terms of actual, tangible items, they sponsored various bills asserting that it’s not a Free Speech issue, it’s a campus safety issue, and that some people don’t feel safe in the presence of police and it’s something we have to to address.
Police can be very unsettling for some people and their presence does not put them at ease. And for them to be required to walk through a campus and to have those pressures and to have those triggering messages is very grim and is extremely unfair for those students. So Juniperangelica and her work getting the UCPD Review Task Force, which is all students and being intentional about it not having police there, just to ensure it’s student centered, without the influence of police in making decisions. But also Juniperangelica was intentional about having a diverse task force that includes people who support police presence, people who don’t, or people that are in-between.
So that’s another thing I want to highlight. Again, we’re consistently accused of being anti-Free Speech, when that’s never our intention. Our intention is to ensure every student on campus feels safe. In terms of actual safety platforms, Juniperangelica’s speaks to that.
Also one of our Senate candidates, Amir Wright, who was slated by the Black community, is running on UCPD reform, and the initiative he’s supporting is the curbing of militarization. The curbing of armor and guns and turning the UCPD to more of a peacekeeping task force, less aggressive, less soldier-like, to make sure everyone feels safe.
Also, Amir is running on the elimination of Urban Shield, a police training program that has proven to be discriminatory against Black and Brown bodies and not effective in having equitable work and equitable representation.
Jackie: Why do you think that your party’s message can be misunderstood at times?
Romario: So I got into a Facebook argument with someone (shoutout to Facebook arguments) where this person on Facebook was accusing our party of using tribal politics and being militant, and something I want people to understand is that there’s this constant rhetoric that coalitions which consist of a majority of Black and Brown women as tribal and militant, so I want to address that people have these certain institutional biases growing up in America, living in this world, that have formed your opinion to see Black and Brown women as tribal, militant, aggressive or not having the capacity or the ability to be more than their own thoughts and identity.
People need to know that Juniperangelica, Rizza, Nuha, Hani, Zaynab, Rigel, Amir, Justin, Teddy, Angelica, Tashie, Idalys and Sarah are all about what they say they’re going to accomplish for communities and Cal — they’re unapologetic about that which can be intimidating to some people.
It’s just knowing that there are voices that aren’t being heard and that aren’t uplifted, so us giving those platforms to those thoughts and asserting those platforms.
Jackie: Can you speak to why you think some people identify as allies, but when it comes to shaping these policies and education on these issues you talked about, they only want to implement things that are comfortable for them?
Romario: Something we were intentional about during our candidacy interview was that instead of using the word ally, we used the word accomplices because allies can be passive. What does an ally mean? An ally can just be someone who can be like “Yeah, I support you!” But an accomplice is someone who can go into privileged spaces and institutions and uplift the most marginalized.
Chloe Pan, External VP for UCLA’s student government, has an amazing article that touches on the politics of survival. And I think that yes, you can be an ally and an accomplice, but there’s something very intentional about knowing that struggle, like our candidates do. A formerly homeless student advocating for housing security because they understand what it feels like who doesn’t have a home.
A sexual assault survivor advocating for more conversations and support for survivors and their narratives in ASUC spaces because they understand what it feels like to be left out. A differently abled person advocating for more accessibility because they understand what it’s like to live in a world not built for them. The list goes on.
It’s understanding at the end of the day, some people aren’t as invested in those topics, in those issues because they haven’t experienced them. We need accomplices, but we also need to uplift the narratives of folks directly affected by the issues we seek to fix.
Jackie: Do you think then that people who aren’t marginalized can’t be in positions of leadership and have the ability to fully represent these communities?
Romario: Of course not, of course not. The biggest thing about accomplices is that the best accomplice is someone that knows their privilege, acknowledges it, and uses it to uplift the most marginalized. I don’t want people to take what I said and be like, oh I’m not going to be an accomplice then if I haven’t experienced the struggle.
I’m saying people that have experienced certain traumas know what it’s like to have politics of survival. So yes, people can be accomplices but they need to address their own privileges. So me as a cis, non-Black man, I have my privileges and its asserting that in my own spaces, yes, I fuck up, but I learn from these lessons and I uplift people who I have unintentionally oppressed.
I uplift and not speak for because I will never know what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes, figuratively. I will never talk about the marginalization a Black person faces, because I’ll never know the full force of oppression Black folks experienced and are experiencing while navigating this world, but if there ever is an opportunity or conversation that I am a part of, which Black voices need to be prioritized, I help to ensure their voice and community are empowered and represented. It’s also not just giving them a seat at the table but making sure they have their own table, their own negotiating table, their own conversations.
In terms of my own experience in the queer/trans community, it’s addressing that trans women have been at the forefront of LGBT+/my liberation, particularly Black and Brown trans women. And those trans folks need to be given the outlet and resources to be prioritized.
It’s not about talking over people, but rather talking with people and bringing people into conversations in spaces and ensuring they have their own spaces too.
Jackie Bueno is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Sociology. For further inquiries or if you would like to be featured, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.