An Interview with Arcata City Councilor Jason Kirkpatrick
2010-01-15 from:Democracy Unlimited author:Paul Cienfuegos
Paul: You were elected to the Arcata City Council by a comfortable margin in the November 1994 election. At that time you were still in a minority of one as a Green City Council member. Now you sit on the first Green Party majority City Council in US history. Why did you choose to run?
Jason: I hadn't given it much thought until I visited the European Greens in 1992. I was the national coordinator for the Campus Green Network at the time, and I attended the First International Young Greens Gathering in Stockholm. I took three months off so I could travel around Europe after the Gathering. While traveling and crashing on the floors of Young Greens, I stayed with City Parliamentarians in Sweden and Germany who were 21 and 22 years old. I learned how they became elected and what they were actually getting done as local representatives. These were folks with radical politics, not reformist liberals. Their actions impressed me, and I thought, "Wow, I bet I could do that in Arcata if I was on the city council." When I got back home, I paid a bit more attention to local politics. I became the student liaison to the city council while studying political science at Humboldt State University. I felt that the councilman who was my liaison didn't have any real politics or any creative ideas as to what to do to create a better community. I knew I could do a better job than he could so I decided to run.
P: Once you were elected, what most surprised you about the job?
J: One of the biggest surprises, and something that still amazes me, was the fear that people involved in local government have about trying to find new solutions to old problems. For example, in 1994, I asked folks in the Arcata City government what needed to be done to build a skate park for kids. The response I heard from everyone was, "That can't be done, the insurance costs too much." I was completely frustrated by this. My attitude was, "If we try hard enough, and our community supports it, we can do anything." Sure enough, the skate park construction is being completed just this week (early November) after three years of private fundraising efforts. There are many other examples, such as having a truly sustainable locally focused economy, shifting our priorities from planning for cars to planning for people, and trying to bring natural creeks back above ground all through the town. To counteract the skepticism, I have to go find examples of where these things have been done elsewhere before city staff and council members are willing to examine them.
One of the biggest surprises, and something that still amazes me, was the fear that people involved in local government have about trying to find new solutions to old problems.