By Frank Portillo
The East Los Angeles College Students for Political Awareness club aims to promote political literacy for students.
Vice president of the club Golden Sheard said that the clubs presence on campus is important in order to try to “demystify” what people’s perceptions of politics are.
She said that trying to have conversations with different people about current politics outside of school, usually results in the other person not wanting to discuss the topics because of a lack of knowledge.
Sheard said she hopes to have a better informed community in order to make better political decisions.
“People lose sight of the importance of having their voices heard. We get so bogged down with living our everyday lives and trying to survive, that we forget that we may not be actively participating in voting, legislation or other politics. Those things are actively working for us or against us regardless of our action. We have a social contact and with that, comes politics,” Sheard said.
She said that the club has fought for longer library hours and has been successful in getting the library to be open longer on weekends.
The club was also responsible for the organization of the walkout that occured on March 14, as ELAC students took part in the national walkouts, which were a response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school shooting.
ESPA was started in 2008 by faculty member Natalina Monteiro, who felt that there should be a club on campus that promotes social justice. Monteiro spoke to students in her Political Science 2 course and they liked her idea, so they started the club.
Monteiro, who has been the advisor for the club since its inception, said that ESPA trains its members to be activists and how to properly engage with the government when it comes legislation.
“It benefits everybody because it teaches (students) how to stand up for themselves because social justice is not just something that political science people do. It should involve (everyone),” Monteiro said.
Sheard credits Monteiro’s passion for political science as the reason for joining the club after taking her Women in Politics Honors course and refers to it as a happy accident.
Monteiro took seven students, including Sheard from the club, to Sacramento last month to teach them how to lobby during a three-day weekend and followed that up by practicing what they learned.
Club members spoke with Eloy Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, to inquire about the recent change to the funding formula of the community colleges.
Aside from being the club advisor, Monteiro is also the political director for the American Federation of Teachers 1521.
She said that AFT has a paid internship program that a lot of the students from the club get. Workshops in topics such as civil disobedience and professional organization for protests are available to students through the internship.
Sheard interned with AFT after being exposed to it as a club member. Through the internship, she won a writing contest that sent her to Memphis, TN to visit the Civil Rights Museum during Spring Break.
“The club has been training students how to active activists in the community. When they see something they don’t like, they know who to go to and how to proceed,” Monteiro said.
Monteiro said that students in the club have gone on to develop professional careers in the political field.
“I’ve seen a lot of students who have gotten jobs working for other unions. They (are working) for politicians. I have a lot of students who have become staffers and all that comes from the club. That’s our mission. That’s our goal: to develop students and teach them how, (since) most of them are political science majors, to work with (these entities),” Monteiro said.
She said that the club also trains students on how to become good leaders since she noticed that a lot of the Associated Students Union presidents were once members of the club.
Club meetings consist of discussing current events, discussing future ambitions of the members and the club and discussing the club’s active involvement in politics.
Currently, the club is actively supporting the Poor People’s Campaign, which is a call to action in defiance of systemic racism.
ESPA also has scholarships to offer students in the club.
“Every Spring, we have between two and three scholarships. Last year, we had two scholarships. One student got $1000 and the other one got $500,” Monteiro said.
She said that the plans are to have three scholarships this time, with each being for $500.
“For the students that are transferring, it will be like a send-off,” Monteiro said.
Sheard said that she hopes for more diversity when it comes to students’ majors in the club to get differing opinions and wants students to learn from each other.
“I think it’s important that not just political science majors join a club like ESPA, but every student because that’s going to give us a platform to talk about the things that are affecting us. For students who are not political science majors, it may be the only opportunity to demystify politics,” Sheard said.
She said that the club has had a huge impact on her life because it keeps her mind on her prize, which is social justice for everyone, and keeps her grounded.
“In wanting to be able to add to discussions at the club meetings, I keep informed about what’s going on in the world. Through that, I feel continually inspired to serve others,” Sheard said.
Despite how she feels about the current state of political knowledge, Sheard is hopeful that the future generation will become more involved and aware.
“I see that a lot more students are interested in politics. I really love the energy that’s happening right now, especially the energy from the students at Marjory Stoneman who are really buzzing out there,” Sheard said.
ESPA meets weekly on Thursdays in F7-217 at 12:15 p.m.. Students interested in joining the club can email Sheard at firstname.lastname@example.org.