Students Rally and Occupy City Hall
On Thursday Sept. 7, DACA students gathered together in front of the Santa Monica College library to protest against the Trump administration's decision to end the “Dream” program in six months. Edgar Gonzalez, the Associated Students Vice President, organized the event and made the opening speech. Chanting, “Undocumented unafraid, Stand up, Fight back!”, Edgar Gonzalez addressed the crowd with a sense of pride and compassion, but fiercely delivered the speech. “DACA affects the community. As a student leader, my responsibility is to speak up against any injustices that students are concerned with such as DACA," said Gonzalez.
The rally addressed topics such as low transfer rates for minorities at SMC, provisions of food and shelter for homeless students, and the push to hire minorities as SMC faculty. SMC students impacted by the White House's decision spoke out against removing the program, stating that the added stress of their changing immigration statuses in addition to working hard to provide for their families makes it difficult to focus on their studies. Meanwhile, organizers made it clear that unification was the main objective as they incorporated Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Peoples, and the LGBT communities into their stand against injustice.
The large congregation of demonstrators proceeded to march from the library towards Santa Monica City Hall through Pico Boulevard. Protestors attached stamps of purple butterflies, a symbol of solidarity and unity, to their arms. The diverse mass of demonstrators peacefully passed through, chanting heartfelt mantras like, “Education, No Deportation!”, “People United Will Never Be Divided!”, and “Sí, se puede!”
The police overlooked the procession of demonstrators, blocking cross streets to allow the group to proceed smoothly without incident. Johnnie Adams, Chief of SMC's Police Department, received very late notice of the rally and march, causing for a scramble to ensure the safety of the rally participants. "Sometimes organizers get caught up in planning, and forget the most important things. Hopefully, it won't happen next time," Chief Adams said while commenting on Thursday's miscommunication.
Estaphanie Guardado and Edgar Gonzalez made it known that students lead this protest by pointedly alerting Chief Adams of what was going to occur and when rather than asking him about how he wants the event to play out. Due to the leaders of SEMILLIA coordinating the event proficiently, campus police did not get heavily involved in the rally.
Once at City Hall, protesters gathered on the front steps and rally leaders affirmed their message; They operate as one group and are here to support each other in their movement. They also expect SMC to institutionally protect its varied student population. Notably, members of SMC administration attended in the march to show their support. Participants were encouraged to present to the audience their thoughts and experiences.
Concluding the march, the group proceeded to occupy City Hall, drawing the attention of the various personnel inside.
Serving on the board of education and founder of the Pico Youth & Family Center (PYFC) in Santa Monica, Oscar De La Torre came forth with a call to action. He restated his repeated phrase that it is not logical to threaten deporting people who are, by ancestry, indigenous to these lands - threatened nonetheless by people who are immigrants themselves.
In a climactic finale of the rally, De La Torre brought the audience's attention to a mural painted on the inside of City Hall. The mural depicted indigenous men without eyes, kneeling before an oppressive Spanish knight and priest. Illustrated across on the opposite wall was in contrast the portrait of an “ideal” Santa Monica; a group of Caucasian men and women playing tennis, playing polo, a friendly dog playing alongside them.
The coalition of protesters called for this mural to be removed, for it has no purpose being inside of a government facility. De La Torre denounced the mural as a “blatant and institutionalized form of racism.”
As the event was ending, organizers told the community they will continue the protests, asking them to march again on Monday, September 11 from the Pico Youth & Family Center to City Hall, a reminder that their concerns will continue to be told.