SMC's Activist Groups Inspired To Go "Beyond"

Last week, a Santa Monica College campus survey of 250 SMC students revealed that 62 percent were actively involved in student-run clubs, programs and organizations. With a current student population exceeding 30,000, that's an estimated 18,000 motivated voices. This spirit of seemingly ubiquitous altruism – backed by such impressive numbers – is what makes SMC a prime candidate for organizations hoping to teach active students how to become student activists.

Political activism on campus typically falls into one of two groups: large, nationally-orchestrated bodies of students rallying support for or against a social issue, or bands of relatively fewer demonstrators focusing their small-but-mighty numbers on more radical methods of social change.

An example of a larger group with an easily-visible presence on campus is SMC's chapter of the California Public Interests Research Group (CALPRIG). The organization utilizes aggressive recruiting to promote community involvement, while being directed and supported by a national network of lobbies to unify and lead students in campaigns for social change.

"It's like this chain of positive reaction" says Isis Enriquez, SMC's CALPIRG Chapter vice chairperson, reflecting the attitude embraced by CALPIRG's mission of finding issues that directly effect students and galvanizing them into action.

Shauntelle Bodden, who only joined CALPIRG's Hunger and Homelessness campaign last week, explains her reason for joining.

"It offers nine programs to choose from, programs that affect students every day," she says, "like cheaper textbooks, public transportation and getting better student loans."

While their efforts are widely recognized and repeatedly successful, the Students for Social Justice (SSJ) offer a different approach for student activists.

"We organize at a more local level," says SSJ President Cameron Quinn. "We have a lot more leeway on the issues we want to focus on and the tactics we want to use."

SSJ members meet weekly to vote on specific issues they want to pursue, issues that SSJ feels CALPIRG won't address. SSJ also employs methods such as counter-recruiting, aggressively protesting the exploitation of women in advertisements and escorting patients to family planning clinics. Quinn describes SSJ as "more courageous than CALPIRG."

So which issues would be the most beneficial for student activists to pursue?

According to Randy Shaw, learning organizational skills is paramount to any specific issue. "You can have a big heart, you can care about the issues, but you have to know what you're doing with that energy to make change. If you don't come out of college with organizer training…you won't be effective."

Shaw literally wrote the book on activism when he published "The Activist's Handbook" in 1996. On Thursday, The UCLA-alum-turned-lawyer visited the SMC campus to deliver an inspirational speech about "Activism in the Age of Obama." The 11 a.m. dissertation was presented in HSS 165, and while the attendees only filled half of the spacious arena, the electricity of Shaw's motivating words permeated the atmosphere. Attendees were eager to respond not only with questions, but with personal stories recounting the influence a single person can have on social issues.

Shaw claims that it is this feeling of empowerment that motivates people to organize and create change, a theme extensively covered in Shaw's most recent book, "Beyond the Fields." It offers an in-depth analysis of how Obama's aggressive grassroots campaign strategy owes its success to the labor-organizing model of the late-1960s United Farm Workers (UFW). Shaw claims that the UFW's empowering approach of "We'll train you, you train others" is the very essence of successful activism.

"The UFW organized a grassroots campaign that earned their petition over 725,000 signatures in less than a month, and they did it with no cell phones and no computers and living off of five bucks a week" says Shaw, reinforcing his message that activism should create "that commitment to be an incubator, to do more."

Shaw professes that this concept is especially true for college students, who he believes can create these same kinds of profound social changes using the organized activism implemented by the UFW and Obama.

Concerning the SMC organizations dedicated to activism, Shaw says, "There should be more groups dedicated to training skilled organizers," and both the SSJ and CALPIRG agree. While each focuses its specific talents and powers on different issues, they work together to create social change, and that, by definition, is the very purpose of activism.

Over 18,000 SMC students volunteer what little free time they have to creating this social change. For those who haven't yet decided how to help, or where to start, Randy Shaw has a message:

"We can't lose you! You can't afford to be disillusioned or hopeless. When the [issues] seem overwhelming, it's the organizers who have the power to make transformative change."