CALPIRG Launches With Spring Meeting, Crowd Exceeds Expectations

Over 260 people were crammed into Santa Monica College's Cayton Center on Tuesday, March 7, where illustrated posters stated, "Act Now to Change the Future" and "Make Cheaper Textbooks."

The California Public Interest Research Group began what Lead Organizer Margaret Howe termed "the week of action," with the SMC spring semester kick-off. CALPIRG is a statewide non-profit advocacy organization that addresses global, community, and student issues.

According to SMC Trustee Louise Jaffe, the keynote speaker who addressed a standing-room only crowd, SMC is the first community college with a CALPIRG chapter, even though in California more than 70% of all college students attend a community college. "Making change is difficult. It takes hard work and thoughtfulness, but don't give up. People are willing to listen and we have a lot to say," Jaffe said.

With the chapter SMC joined the ranks of many of the University of California campuses and the University of Southern California, and also obtained an organized and efficient way to advocate for public support and funds.

The meeting marks the second semester the CALPIRG chapter has been active on campus. Its presence can be particularly attributed to the time and energy of the Associated Student President, Cameron Henton, who advocated for its installation. CALPIRG is funded through a portion of the $19 AS tuition fee.

The chapter chair and Oceans committee intern, Kevin Kurtzman, explained CALPIRG's mind-set with Margaret Mead's powerful quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

When students in the audience began to name their specific concerns, including healthcare and the environment, Isis Enriquez, a Higher Education intern, rallied the crowd by stating, "We've got solutions! That's what we're full of."

During the meeting, in an effort to help pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, the audience was urged to take immediate action by calling Senator Barbara Boxer. Simultaneously the students called in. They tied up the phone lines but also demonstrated that each student can be part of the solution. The SMC CALPIRG chapter was responsible for more phone calls than any other chapter in the state.

Through eight different committees led by student interns, CALPIRG offers students the opportunity "to make the change that we talk about, that we say we're going to do," said Enriquez. Large numbers of students signed up the intern with the committees for Hunger and Homelessness, Global Warming, and Higher Education.

The spirited student committee interns discussed the progress made for the academic school year, and enumerated the future short and long-term goals for their committee. According to Kurtzman CALPIRG will, "provide as many opportunities possible to offer and promote advocacy at all levels."

For example, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act 2009 is one of CALPIRG's most important issues. By increasing funding to students through Pell Grants, awarded to low-income students based on need, SAFRA aims to make college more accessible. With the help of CALPIRG, SAFRA was passed in the House of Representatives in September, and is now waiting for a senate vote.

Towards the end of the meeting students gathered in groups with their committee of choice to sign up as volunteers and decide on their Week of Action event.

Allisan Poland and Yodit Yazdinian, CALPRIG Hunger and Homelessness interns, said, "You see results."

As promised, pizza was served.

A smaller second meeting was held last Wednesday, March 3, bringing 23 more volunteer sign-ups.


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