By Dorany Pineda
“We are students, we will fight! Education is our right!” was heard through the streets of downtown Los Angeles this weekend, where students and staff from East Los Angeles College marched and chanted alongside others in support of free community college.
Activists, union members, youth and students rallied at Pershing Square Saturday morning, where they began their march to City Hall to urge Governor Jerry Brown to sign Assembly Bill 19.
This bill would provide first-time and full-time students tuition-free education at community colleges throughout California.
“I believe education should be a human right,” Natalina Montero, a political science professor at ELAC and the political director for the L.A. Faculty Guild, said. “[Education] should be something that is guaranteed to everybody, not just K-12.”
Montero said that having a K-12 education is not enough to find a job these days and most require technical training or a university degree.
The high costs of tuition, she said, are not only unfair, but “send a message to people that are not wealthy, like us, that we shouldn’t have access to education.”
Introduced by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago from District 53, AB 19 passed through the California legislature with bipartisan support.
The bill now sits on Governor Brown’s desk, awaiting the signature that will make the bill official.
“The reason we do this is because we care about our future,” Santiago––who marched that day to support his bill––said to the crowd in front of City Hall. “Because we care about what happens in California.”
He talked about the challenges posed under the presidency of Donald Trump, and said that the only way the people will overcome them is to mobilize and “continue the revolution.”
California, he said, has the sixth largest economy in the world, and the fact that the state is not giving away education for free is a big problem.
“That’s what this is about today,” Santiago said. “It’s about organizing people, keeping young people involved, keeping the revolution going and ensuring that we get a free education for every person in the state of California.”
“What we’re doing today is standing up for a very simple concept: that community colleges ought to be free,” Santiago said.
He also said that providing a free year of community college to students would only cost .00025 percent of the entire state budget.
“What we are pushing for here today, what we are urging is for [Governor Brown] to sign AB 19 because we know that in order to break the cycle of poverty in our community, we know that in order to uplift our neighborhoods, and we know that if we are to give dignity to this generation and generations ahead of us, then they ought to have a free education, and we’re going to start with free community colleges,”Santiago said.
Genesys Sanchez, a student at ELAC and the student senator of political activism who is in the process of transferring, marched in defense of what she feels is a necessary bill.
“As a student myself, I’ve seen the challenges students go through to pay their books and classes, and [AB 19] is a bill that really speaks for the people who live here,” Sanchez said.
She also said that this bill will help students in rural parts of the state where support for bills like AB 19 isn’t as active.
If signed, this bill is expected to boost enrollment and graduation rates, increase financial aid access while lowering student debt, and addressing the state’s scarcity of college-educated workers, according to a press release.
Among the organizations who participated in the march were California for Progress, the Bernie Sanders Brigade and the We March Party.