New voices in student govt: CCASA pushes for free ride

It’s the kind of thing that only happens in movies: a clandestine group meets in darkened offices, lit up by hundreds of computer screens, for a backroom meeting with the objective of influencing politics and changing the world. Such a group met on the night of Thursday, March 3 in the offices of Inhance Digital, a multimedia company located in an easily missed corner of West Hollywood. But unlike in the movies, this meeting wasn’t filled with shadowy super villains planning to defeat James Bond, but rather, members of student government associations from across the Los Angeles County Community College system.

This is a meeting of the Community College Association for Student Advocacy (CCASA), a brand new voice in the LA County student government scene only recently incorporated on February 1. Their "master plan?" To make public transportation on LA Metro buses free for college students across the county.

“We've been [petitioning] for about four days, and we have somewhere around 300 to 350 signatures,” said Filipp Krasovsky, founding member of CCASA and Santa Monica College student, to the gathered crowd at the second ever meeting for the group. Krasovsky was updating two dozen CCASA members about the beginning of their efforts to support Move LA, the public transit political organization currently preparing bills for local and state legislatures to make fares for students using the LA Metro system either free or subsidized to the point of negligible cost.

Krasovsky continued, “When College students show up to these things, usually Metro caves in because college students almost never vote, never participate, never go to board meetings. So even if we get this group — I'm not talking about 90 people protesting — if WE show up, they'll probably listen.”

The attending CCASA members who listened to Krasovsky explain campaign strategy were an all-star team of students from honor societies, debate teams, and Associated Students (AS) boards from community colleges across the county. They came from SMC, East LA College, South West College, LA Valley College, LA City College, Harbor City College and LA Mission College, all to discuss bills to support and achieve their goal of free public transport for students. That night it included SMC's AS President Jesse Randel and AS Director of Student Assistance Johnathon Hughes.

“It's a splinter group because, clearly, I'm not the only one who sees problems,” said Randel after the meeting when asked if CCASA organization represents a break from the officially sanctioned student government organizations he and other attendees already participated in. He said, “SMC is the most represented [at CCASA], but it's spreading. It'll get bigger. My hope is that a little competition might make the SSCCC get their shit together."

The SSCCC mentioned by Randel is the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, and one of the main reasons CCASA exists.

Most members of CCASA that spoke to The Corsair felt the SSCCC was unwieldy, inefficient, and did a poor job of representing students in LA County specifically. Randel went on to explain perceived inefficiencies that had occurred at the last SSCCC Assembly he had attended. He said, “. . . we had an hour on a Saturday night scheduled to go over resolutions, and that's supposed to be the entirety of what you do there. But they had filled it with guest speakers. They hired former SSCCC members to come back and speak, which is just unethical.”

“For [CCASA], for me it's more legit and we're actually getting things done. This is our second meeting and we're already signing up to sponsor bills that have a first-hand effect on actual people," said Alfredo Gama, the SMC student who helped to found the Debate Club in 2014.

Gama went on to express frustration with student government at SMC saying, “Yeah [AS] hold events in the quad, but they don't go into classes and talk to students. That's something that we're doing, something that should be happening but not happening."

CCASA is the brainchild of Isaac Medeiros, the former Inter-Club Council (ICC) Communications Officer who recently vacated his position on the ICC and the SMC AS Board of Directors in January after not being able to meet unit requirements. Medeiros insisted that his formation of CCASA along with three other SMC students — Krasovsky, Yana Demeshko, and Gerson Liahut-Sanchez (who also attends East LA College) — had little to do with his unit requirement troubles, as the idea had been formed two months prior.

“I was drunk with buddies," Medeiros said, "and I was like, 'Wait a second, why isn't there a better organization representing LA students?' I saw this kind of void. You know how an entrepreneur comes in and he sees a need for something that doesn't exist? That's what I saw. So I just picked people that I thought were passionate. I picked people that I loved and thought would be great for this organization at first, and then I opened it up to other people that were interested.”

Medeiros admitted that CCASA has no funding, describing the actual dollar amount as "zero," but said that they did have a lot of passion and the ability to mobilize students from all across the county thanks to their collective influence on so many campuses. He also admitted that their mission to assist Move LA in making public transportation free for college students was going to be difficult, but that it was important considering the often low incomes of many community college students.

If successful, such a measure would have a major impact on SMC, especially the AS Board of Directors, which spends roughly $700,000 of its yearly budget on subsidizing the Big Blue Bus to provide free service to SMC students.

Finally, when asked about the seemingly shadowy setting of their meeting, Medeiros laughed and explained that it was simply convenient: the building was owned by his stepfather who provided it for CCASA’s use. Madeiros said, “It's a back room meeting, yes, but we're all just passionate people who want to make a difference.”