Dozens of students from Santa Monica College rallied Thursday in support of Occupy Los Angeles on the college's main campus.
Former Santa Monica Mayor Michael Feinstein and about a dozen students spoke at the event, which was organized and moderated by Harrison Wills, president of SMC's Associated Students. There were also multiple question-and-answer periods, some brief music performances and many calls for students to take part in the grassroots Occupy LA movement in downtown Los Angeles.
Students shared their thoughts and asked questions about the state and future of the movement, which is railing against corporate profits, worker layoffs, the existing federal-tax structure and other issues. Occupy LA was launched roughly two weeks ago in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street in New York, which began about a month ago.
"Government should be all of us," not politicians swayed by lobbyists, Feinstein said. "There's socialism for corporations and capitalism for the rest of us."
He recalled his days as Santa Monica mayor and insisted on the necessity of government regulation.
"When I was mayor, we said our buildings have to be greener, we need to have living wages for people," Feinstein said. "These are the social standards we decided on."
Students voiced frustrations about rising college tuition fees, cuts to class offerings, student loans, the collusion of government and big business, corporate malfeasance and the power of big banks.
Wills urged students to take their money out of and move it into a community bank.
Students generally seemed optimistic about the "Occupy" movement and appeared pleased to be uniting for the effort.
"My faith in humanity has been restored," Josh Scuteri said.
"Community is something we lost in our society," Isis Enriquez said. "We're [occupying downtown] to decide together what we want. Come and talk, tell us what you think. Get out there, get involved—or just go check it out."
Nikki Edenedo, who is in her second year at SMC and majoring in communications, supports the movement, but expressed some concerns.
"How do we get more people involved?" she asked Wills during a question-and-answer period. "This is only a fraction of the student body."
Wills responded, "Well, look what we were able to put together in 24 hours. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon."
Wills, along with 13 other members of the Associated Students, recently voted to support the Occupy movement. After answering additional questions, he invited students to speak.
Edenedo shared her thoughts, saying, "I want to envision myself going to college, graduating—and being able to pay for it, as my parents did."
Expressing similar concerns was Jahnny Lee, who said, "We're paying more tuition every semester and people are going to extremes to pay debt. Student loans are debt."
"I'm here because I'm angry," said a student named Jimmy. "I live off $5,500 and live with someone who was nice enough to take me in.
"This country can flourish again," he added on an upbeat note.
Arthur Rodriguez, an SMC student and grandson of legendary civil rights leader César Chávez, said, "The gap between us and them, there is none, because we're all made up of bones and DNA. Even people in the banks, they're people too."
"Envision a world where every human being is doing what they really want to do, allowing natural talent to flourish," said a student named Ahman.
Toward the end of the action, Wills suggested that Occupy supporters would congregate at the Quad every Thursday for the foreseeable future.
Feinstein had his own set of instructions for the students.
"Get your work done, don't blow off stuff," he said. "But take a little time to read Facebook—and get your ass downtown."