By Yesenia Martinez
Students that are angry with fee hikes and cutting of classes and the budget are taking action by occupying East Los Angeles College to ensure a fair and free education for all.
The purpose of Occupy ELAC is to achieve the goal of getting student voices across to Governor Jerry Brown about the education crisis. They want affordable education for all students and to stop budget cuts that affect classes during the summer and winter sessions. They also demand to know where the school’s budget is being spent, they want greater access to student services on campus, such as the school library.
“I think it’s not beneficial to anyone who’s taking a course here at ELAC and I think it goes back to a very important point of getting the students in here and most importantly getting them out. By raising your graduation rates and lowering your retention rate that illustrates that ELAC is indeed being productive in using its resources as it becomes available,” Mike Sanchez said on not having enough tutors to help students.
Students marched around campus, until they arrived at the main entrance of the school on Monday, carrying a casket that represented the death of public education. Students carried signs in an attempt to get their fellow students involved that read “We’re an investment, not an entitlement” and “Higher prices equals fewer college degrees.”
They are telling students that this is their chance to get their voices heard, if they have ever felt they were not being heard. Protesting students plan on occupying ELAC until the contract that the club leaders signed with the school is up. Their last day will be on Jan. 1, when, at that time, they would have to vacate the premises.
“We want our classes back. We are their future. We need their attention. They need to give us what we need,”said Feminist Club president Angie Rincon. This year alone, California Community Colleges have lost $400 million in funding. Approximately 200,000 students will lose the classes they need.
ELAC, along with other schools, have experienced budget cuts and tuition increase. During this semester the tuition was raised from $26 per unit to $36. Students are afraid that it will increase even more in the upcoming year. Students are not able to pay for classes or even obtain classes they need. During the first days of the semester, classes are filled with students trying to add.
Rosa Mavizca, ELAC student, said “It is difficult for us to become someone in life.” Students are taught that in order to gain success, they are supposed to be educated. “How do they expect us to be educated, if they don’t give us what we need – dedication,” said Rincon.
Adriana Aguilar, said she was there to represent AB 540 students, who due to life circumstances, were not able to get state-funded financial aid. Due to the cuts, Aguilar, who is an AB 540 student herself, had to delay her transfer by three years. “Today, I am not only here as a student but also as a member of East L.A., telling Jerry Brown to stop budget cuts and class cuts,” Aguilar said.
Legislative officials that represent ELAC were invited, said Herlim Li, member of Fighting Intensively for Resources in Education club. They did not attend. “We need to organize, come together and make our voices heard so they know that we mean business,” said Li.
Li said that there are 2.4 million students in the California community college system and if students come together, they will become a powerful force to reckon with. “We are an investment. If they want someone to solve the economic crisis, then fund education,” said Li.
Li said that in order for students to give back to their communities, classes need to be available. Students need to go beyond community colleges and attend four-year universities. “It has to be a little bit easier for students to do that,” said Li.
Alumnus, Carlos Montes, who attended ELAC in 1967, found out about Occupy ELAC through Facebook. “I have to support students and their education,” said Montes. He was there to demand not only more classes and lower tuition but free public education for all. “They do it in other countries. Why can’t they do it in United States, the richest country in the world?” said Montes.
“Students are not trying to get educated and also be in debt. That does not help anybody, it only creates more debt,” said Luz Juan. Protesters want to eliminate student debt. Juan said that capitalism is not the way to live and that there needs to be a better social welfare for everybody, not just for the ones here right now but for whoever is going to be here in the future. “This country was established by immigrants. There is a big hypocrisy,” said Juan.
Rincon said that they took ideas from United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, UFCW, a labor-union that represents million of workers in many industries. She said that UFCW were organized and had their demands and they used the ideas of the occupy movements to create a foundation for Occupy ELAC.
Li said that with all these cuts and not being able to get classes a two-year institution has now become a four-year institution. He said that he wants students and people to be aware of what is going on. That instead of talking about “Jersey Shore” or “Two and a Half Men” to talk about what really matters. “We want people to know our suffering,” said Li.
Food donations are being taken at the gazebo located at the ELAC letters. Food that is being donated must be wrapped. Esperanza Ortega, president of ELAC78 Students for Political Awareness, said that Shakey’s, Carl’s Jr. and McDonald’s would be donating food to students.
Campus sheriffs will be with students throughout their stay on campus. Students are to report any suspicious activities to them. Occupy ELAC organizers are trying to plan for clubs on campus to sponsor tents. One of the biggest problems facing Occupy ELAC is how to keep people at the campsite during the weekend. Other members, such as Marcos Bautista and Mike Sanchez did not agree to this idea.
Rincon said it was in the best interest of everyone, but Sanchez said it wasn’t because everyone goes to sleep at the same time and also many students at the campsite use the time in the night to study. On Nov. 7, students will be fund raising in order to send an elected ELAC student representative to Sacramento.
The Occupy Los Angeles movement started with a few tents, says Rincon. She hopes that Occupy ELAC grows bigger within time. At the end of Monday night there were 10 tents in total. Rincon said that they would be having workshops throughout their occupancy to raise awareness and inform students about Occupy ELAC.