Fremont Students Face Backlash at City Hall Meeting

Emily Liu, Staff Writer

In the Fremont City Hall Meeting on the evening of March 19th, passionate Fremont residents collected to share thoughts on the possible demolition of the obsolete Fire Station no. 6.

A few weeks before the ruling in the city hall meeting, construction workers from Silicon Sage contacted Washington High School senior Zuhair Imaduddin, community organizer and former student board member, explaining their construction plans and asking him to speak on behalf of youth at the city hall meeting, as the plans and ruling would directly affect students around the Centerville area. The debate over Fire Station no. 6 regarded whether to demolish the fire station or keep it, with both plans including renovating the area of the station to build a community center and an area to commemorate Fremont history.

After Open Communication, councilmember Vinnie Bacon remarked, “I am really appalled that the developer has gone to our youth and said ‘We must destroy history in order for you to have a place to hang out.’ And for all these youth to come here and speak like this, I’m sorry, there’s no easy way to say this, I am appalled.”

The irony of Bacon’s statement is that Imaduddin faced this same ethical inner dilemma and did not want to act like a “mobilization of youth” where youth voice was used solely as a political strategy to appeal to the pathos of adult voters. Therefore, he, and many of the students, did their own nonpartisan research in their own personal time to best understand “both sides”. When contacting individual students, Imaduddin made sure to inform them all of the situations and offered them the choice of which side they wished to support, with the end goal ultimately being encouraging students to be civically engaged and involved.

Here, the problem shifts to no longer being about the ruling of the fire station, but the chaotic balance of the lack of, yet encouraged importance of civic engagement within students and youth.

It is insulting to all students for a city councilmember to publicly state his lack of trust and honor for youth voice. It undermines student ability and outright disrespects the personal time of students. It should be expected for students to wish to want to know more about and speak out about issues that concern them, which in this case, was a community center being built for their safety and leisure. Even if the student opinion is believed to be wrongly made or uneducated, it is still not right to completely devalue the effort. Before all else, youth are employed as full-time students. Civic engagement is the job of adults, of those who actually have a legal vote, and nothing more should be expected of either party. If one wishes for students to make more subjectively “educated” choices, perhaps there should be a larger effort to educate youth since it is inevitable that youth will seek information on policies which will affect them. The reason students appreciated Silicon Sage for approaching them in the first place is because they informed them of this policy that concerns youth.

Currently, there are not many active programs in Fremont engaging students in city policy. While Fremont has a Youth Advisory Commission, the commission is most active in discussion and awareness focused projects, such as a winter clothing drive or poetry slam, this past year. According to an Irvington member of the Youth Advisory Commission, the city does not ever really reach out to the commission regarding policy that may affect youth. In this way, ironically, the City of Fremont has also devised a way of politically using youth voice; they create a facade by giving leadership opportunities to youth, but then limit their power to smaller issues, which are mostly unrelated to actual tangible policy.

An issue of modern society in the growing concern that Millennials or Generation Z lack civic engagement, and instead of proactively trying to solve their societal and individual issues, passively complain about them. At the same time, however, Milllenials and following generations radically differ from older generations in terms of culture and therefore, beliefs. With most of the voting and therefore political power, these older voters almost always win with collective efforts, already lowering the importance, potential, or power of youth voice. Often, a younger voice is invalidated as “naive”, and if youth voice is found incorrect, the immediate blame is often put on age. This is basic ageism.

Where is the compromise? How can you get a taste of both worlds? Perhaps younger generations choose to be less civically engaged because it is just so much harder to make validated opinions in this information generation. Perhaps it is because of how easy it is the be criticized for speaking up, especially when their beliefs do not align with those of their critics, and how easy it is to get away with the disrespect those words may carry!