Protest on Campus: The half-dozen student march hits the quad

At 10:30 a.m. yesterday, seven activists participating in the Million Student March, a nationally organized protest for free college, gathered on the thoroughfare of the Main Campus quad. They came wearing shirts advocating for a $15 an hour minimum wage, carrying signs demanding debt relief for college students and attempted to drum up interest with chants like, “Public space for education – Now to stop these corporations.” Nick Neuville, a 20-year-old leader of the SMC rally and Computer Science major, said of the group’s intent, “The easiest explanation I can give is that millions of students across the United States are sick of being burdened with debt that they cannot pay off and they want to raise awareness about it. They want to say something about it.”

Unlike many of the similar protests using the “Million Student March” name across the country, Neuville denied that this protest was in solidarity with the ongoing protests at the University of Missouri and others across the country, saying “I think it’s very important that we stay on the topic of student debt.”

Despite the name and Neuville’s gusto, if the attendance at the SMC branch was anything to go by, then “millions of students” marching in solidarity across the 110 campuses expected to participate in the national event would definitely be an exaggeration. Turnout was quite low at SMC, especially as this was intended to be a student rally and only three of the seven protesters at the SMC were current students, with only two actually attending SMC.

Sanders Fabares, a graduate of the Art Institute of California San Diego was there as part of the Debt Collective, an advocacy group spun-off of Occupy Wall Street, while Edgar Mauricio Gonzalez, the primary leader of the group, was there as an organizer from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 721. Three of the protesters, Muffy Sunde, Kimberly Alvarado, and Samwell Quintaro, were part of Freedom Socialist Party, a “socialist, feminist, Trotskyist organization that was founded in the 1960’s” according to Sunde. Alvarado, a student from El Camino Community College in Torrance, pitched socialism to SMC students, “[Socialism] can bring balance. The capitalism, patriarchy, all of that is what's keeping us dependent. It shouldn't be that way. We should just be able to work all in one union, not with someone above us.”

After an hour attempting to engage with SMC students passing by and finding few takers, the group occupied the steps leading to the library where they stood their ground and began chanting again. Most of the protesters claimed justification based on the belief that California used to have free higher education, which is almost true. California public colleges did not have tuition fees and had very low registration fees all the way up to 1982, when a budget crisis caused the legislature and then Governor George Deukmejian to begin a slow but steady increase on the fees students must pay to attend state schools.

Although there was little traction gained by the group with SMC student body in either location during their protest on campus, they enjoyed their time and remained positive about their message. “I strongly believe that you're either part of the solution or part of the problem” said Neuville, “Even if this is all it amounts to, at least I tried."