Will students sufficiently mobilize to overturn the 21-ordinance?


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Next semester, bar patrons after 10 p.m. will have one thing in common: They’ll all be 21 years of age or older. But in all likelihood, that won’t be the case for long.

Now that the Iowa City City Council has passed the student-beleaguering 21-ordinance — which will take effect June 1 — look for dissenters across campus to organize a strong resistance. Steps to overturn the ordinance must begin with petitioners gathering 2,500 signatures from registered Iowa City voters, which isn’t too daunting of a task. UI students will rise to the occasion when it comes to petitioning for a November vote, but they should hurry to do so before summer vacation begins.

It’s true the initiative of UI students to drive Iowa City’s political machine is shallow at best. We’re a far cry from many of our mothers and fathers, who organized in emblazoned droves to protest concerns of the 1960s and ’70s. But remember, students came flocking to the polls in 2007 when faced with a similar ordinance.

As Councilor Regenia Bailey, the only councilor opposed to the ordinance, recently told The Daily Iowan, “Like any political issue, it’s a matter of getting your people out to the polls.”

What about getting our people, the students, out to the polls during the typical City Council or Johnson County election? Won’t happen. The sad truth is that the majority of UI students will swarm to the voting booth only when facing a direct threat — especially when the threat is angled toward drinking or partying. And fear of a diminished nightlife is exactly why the ordinance will face annulment this fall.

This isn’t an argument about the ordinance’s effectiveness, nor is it about the all-too-real dangers of binge drinking and overconsumption in Iowa City. My contention is that UI students will gather the necessary signatures and subsequently show up in November to strike the ordinance from the local code.

— by Michael Dale-Stein


I’ve outlined my contempt in the past for the circumscribed activism on campus, which is typically confined to the 21-ordinance.

So, despite my reservations about the intentions underpinning student engagement, I’m confident students will mobilize in opposition to the ordinance. The question is whether it will be enough.

With many students apoplectic after the City Council’s Tuesday night approval of the 21-ordinance, there’s no shortage of anti-ordinance energy. In addition, next year’s UI Student Government presumptive president and vice president, John Rigby and Erica Hayes, appear to place more weight on fighting the measure than current UISG leaders.

Consequently, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which students and residents failed to collect the relatively minuscule 2,500 signatures needed to place the issue on the ballot.

But there’s a pall of uncertainty come November. For one, it’s unclear whether the new round of University of Iowa freshmen — the vast majority of which will be unacquainted with bars that admit underage patrons — will display the necessary engagement. And will of-age upperclassmen and -women really be motivated to vote against a measure that doesn’t directly affect them? Ideological or empathetic indignance only goes so far; we’re talking about apathetic college students here.

In addition, it’s important to distinguish the 2007 election, when voters first struck down the ordinance, from this November’s election. Unlike in 2007, the candidates on the ballot won’t be just city officials. State and federal candidates will also attract voters, significantly increasing turnout.

With higher percentages of residents voting, students will likely make up a smaller slice of the electorate on Election Day. And unless ordinance opponents can sway resident supporters, that may mean an upheld ordinance.

I could be wrong. But I’m skeptical students will muster a big enough push this November.

— by Shawn Gude

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