Juliana Bennett, a third-year student at UW-Madison and the co-founder of UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition, has thrown her hat into the ring to join the Madison Common Council in District 8 to bring an important BIPOC voice to the Madison Common Council.
With Alder Max Prestigiacomo choosing not to run for reelection in the 8th Aldermanic District, there will be an open seat in District 8, the “campus-area district” that encompasses a majority of the UW-Madison campus. Ayomi Obuseh has also announced her candidacy for the seat.
“In District 8, as an alder, you are representing primarily the student voice, the young people’s voice,” Bennett said. “But I want to make it a point to not only represent, but also bring students — especially BIPOC students, BIPOC young people, people of historically marginalized backgrounds — into the conversation.
“I have grown really frustrated with our local government, having been following it over the past year. And my values, and the values of our community, and the needs of our community are not being met by those in power,” Bennett continued.
Bennett noted that her current platform has three areas of focus: “reimagining public safety, creating affordable and guaranteed housing, and really bringing in the BIPOC student voice and student voices and holding university administration accountable and holding city council members accountable.”
Part of Bennett’s plan to restructure public safety will include the implementation of crisis assistance programs resembling the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Street (CAHOOTS), which provides trained professionals who can respond to mental health crises instead of police officers.
“It provides a blueprint for what it means to provide the actual care that people need for the crises that they’re experiencing,” Bennett said. “For example, if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, we’ll have somebody that is actually trained in mental health services to respond to the event, rather than just throwing a police officer at that. Or, if someone experiences sexual assault, we have a great crisis unit that is there to help as well. Or in cases of domestic violence, you have a domestic violence specialist on the scene to help the victim.
“You should want the person that is specialized, the person that is best able to help in a certain situation to be on the scene to help them out the situation. And quite frankly, the police are not a catch-all for that,” she added.
Bennett is currently working at the student council level to implement the CAHOOTS model to the UW-Madison campus.
In June of this year, the Madison Common Council approved and established a task force to build a pilot program of a similar nature.
In the wake of a series of victories for BIPOC candidates across the state, Bennett emphasized the importance of electing BIPOC to public office, noting that until 2019, with the election of Avra Reddy, the District 8 position has not been filled by a BIPOC woman in 26 years.
“I would like to and be honored to have the opportunity to continue in that legacy, and even possibly being like one of the first Black women in this position,” Bennett said.
Bennett further explained that she is “not gonna apologize for” her identity as a Black woman.
“I do believe it’s important to have a strong Black woman running for alder, I see that as an asset,” Bennett continued. “And I think it, in general, I would like to see more young people, BIPOC young people, and any person of historically marginalized backgrounds run for office because it should just be normal at this point.
“I know that we can do better. And if not me, then who? If not now, then when?”