Campaigning for Council

April 15, 2013—For Rashawn Davis (C’14), a major in government is not enough; he wants a career in it, too. Davis is currently running for city council in the west ward of his native Newark, New Jersey.

Davis, who is also a justice and peace studies minor, has been interested in politics since he was a child, when his “politically savvy” uncle exposed him to works by African American luminaries such as Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois.

“In addition to [educating] me about sports and what it means to be an African American man in a 21st-century world, my uncle always made sure I knew everything that was going on in the political sphere,” said Davis, who is co-vice president of the Georgetown NAACP branch.

By the time Davis arrived at Georgetown, he was determined to make a run for city council in his hometown, which struggles with chronic issues of gun violence, underemployment, and undereducation.

According to Davis, the main victims and perpetrators of gun violence in Newark are young African American men. The highest demographic of unemployed residents are African Americans who have not gone to college, and only 14.7 percent of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree.

The 20-year-old Davis was also spurred by the generational disconnect he sensed between council members and constituents: While 30 percent of Newark is between 18 and 30 years of age, the youngest of the city’s representatives is 37 years old.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge quote person. One of my favorite quotes by W.E.B. Du Bois is, ‘Now is the expected time, not some distance future. It’s today that our best work can be done,’” Davis said. “So, when I see some of the issues that my city faces, I can’t help but want to act now.

“Walk up any street in my ward, and on a single block you’re bound to see two liquor stores, a bodega, and a fast food restaurant,” he continued. “People want access to healthy foods. They want to be able to go outside and take a walk without worrying about being harassed. They want jobs. The beautiful thing about Newark is that there isn’t much debate on what the issues are.”

Davis believes one solution to violent crime in Newark is to build mini-police precincts, which would not only put more officers on the street but would also foster a greater personal relationship between officers and the people who live on their beat.

“Right now we have a system where cops will drive by neighborhoods and see Newark through car windows, but we want to make sure that law enforcement is experiencing the same neighborhood dynamic that everyday residents are experiencing,” Davis said.

To fund the creation of these mini-precincts, Davis proposes to reduce the expensive benefits that are allocated to the ward’s city council members for meal subsidies, gas cards, and city-issued cars.

As a full-time student, Davis finds it challenging to work on his campaign. But with help from some friends at Georgetown, he has created a political network that mixes social media—Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr—with personal meet-and-greets.

For two or three weekends every month, Davis is accompanied by campaign treasurer Taylor Doaty (C’14), technology director Seun Oyewole (F’14), and community outreach advisor David Price (C’14) to the west ward, where voters have had different takes on his run for city council.

“There’s a great chunk of people who are excited about the idea of young people taking back their city and getting involved in solution-making, because there seems to be this stereotype that Millennials are politically apathetic. I think we’re refuting that,” Davis said.

“But on the other hand, there are more traditional Newarkers who believe that with age comes wisdom, and they’re going to take a little more convincing than the younger people,” he continued. “We’re okay with that. We’re planning trips to senior citizen homes and day centers.”

Regardless of the outcome of his campaign, which will not be decided until next year, Davis revels in how unique and informative the experience has been.

“I think the greatest thing about this campaign is that we can’t lose,” he said. “Literally, we might not gain a council seat. But in the long run, everyone on my team and the people from Newark win. Not only is everyone learning something, including me, but we are also giving a demographic of Newark a voice that traditionally has not been given a voice.”

—Brittany Coombs