By Natalie Hoffman, Napa Valley Register
Alex Shantz, a local political activist and Napa Valley College student, isn’t afraid of doing things a little differently — especially if that means fighting for political causes he believes in.
As the North Bay representative for the Green Party of California Coordinating Committee, Shantz represents the Green parties of Napa, Marin and Sonoma counties on a state level. On campus, he’s the vice president of Napa Valley College’s Student Senate. Shantz, who grew up in St. Helena, said being a voice for the people always makes for meaningful work.
“I have always understood myself as (being) interconnected with those around me,” Shantz said. “So, when I witness an injustice being carried out against someone else, I experience this as an injustice being carried out against me. This is a perspective I was simply born with. And this perspective drives my activism and organizing.”
Most recently, Shantz, a philosophy major, helped to mobilize grassroots “Occupy” rallies downtown and on the Napa Valley College campus.
Modeled after the Occupy Wall Street movement, Occupy Napa, which started drawing a small band of protesters downtown beginning in the fall of 2011, railed against the growing gap between the rich and middle classes, rising unemployment, and corporations’ influence on government policies.
“On a local level, many young people have been getting involved with local politics. Occupy Napa Valley College was supported by half a dozen student organizations,” Shantz said. “I do not think my generation has reached critical mass locally yet. But we have made some very inspiring and progressive steps toward that direction.”
The local Occupy movement, he said, was inspiring in part because it drew people from diverse backgrounds together to work for what protesters deemed the common good. Like many of its kind, the group called for increasing taxes on the rich, ending privately financed election campaigns, “free public higher education” and other changes, Shantz said.
“When Occupy Napa organized Occupy Napa Valley College, we worked in coalition with labor unions, Greens, Democrats, student organizations, and community leaders. … My biggest concern is to see the momentum sustained so we, as a community, can actually construct some concrete political change,” he said.
Some of Shantz’s past efforts include working on behalf of the Wandering Rose, a grassroots arts group promoting Napa’s art scene. He is also a former member of the Napa Valley Dream Act Coalition, a group that promoted the California Dream Act — legislation that increased access to education for undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements.
Shantz also played key roles in several Napa Valley College rallies protesting budget cuts to education.
Finally, he’s passionate about promoting diversity on campus, particularly
when advocating on behalf of “historically marginalized” young people, including undocumented residents, he said.
Shantz, 23, is unabashedly unconventional with his living arrangements. Describing himself as “somewhat transient,” he sometimes makes his home at an undisclosed Napa commune. He also stays at friends’ places. The full-time college student’s community values extend even to the ways he attains life’s necessities.
“When we are able to create a community of people, everyone is able to contribute what they can and take what they need in an equitable manner,” he said, referring to living at the Napa commune. “That is how many of us involved with activism get by.”
Poised to graduate from Napa Valley College in the fall, Shantz plans to transfer to San Francisco State University. His career aspirations include teaching at the college level.
In the meantime, Shantz said he will continue his organizing and activist efforts. There’s nothing like bringing people together to have their voices heard and, hopefully, to inspire change, he said.
“In order to achieve this, we can start by obtaining power locally,” he said, adding that launching ballot initiatives, serving on local commissions, and attending local government meetings are among the ways to do that. “Grassroots politics is a way for us, as ordinary people, to achieve local power and to begin constructing a community that benefits us.”