Organizers at the Santa Barbara Student Activist Network (SAN) hosted speakers representing a myriad of causes, including black, undocumented, Arab-American, and other forms of activism at an annual convention Saturday and Sunday at Girvetz Hall.
The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) Convention, in its twelfth year running, addressed issues and hosted speakers extending through much of the country. SAN is affiliated as a chapter of the larger SDS organization. Attendees arrived at the University of California, Santa Barbara from Houston, Florida, Minnesota, Utah, Arizona, and other parts of California, said event organizer and SAN founder Eric Villalobos, a fifth year religious studies major.
“It’s just amazing because these people are on the frontlines in not only the resistance against Trump, but these people were there before, doing all this organizing work that is so important,” Villalobos said.
The year-old SAN organized and facilitated the two-day convention, which allowed SDS chapters to meet and discuss any structural changes needed to the national organization, as well as provide lectures and workshops to the UCSB community.
Saturday’s events included panels in the morning and afternoon. The topics began with “Resisting White Supremacy: Building the Fight Against Trump’s Attacks!” and ended with “Continuing the Struggle for Justice and Equality,” as the speakers discussed activism in a post-2016 election America.
The audience asked questions about subjects like the history of each movement, or the role of activists in modern era. After the panel, groups broke up into smaller workshops held in classrooms including “Climate, Catastrophe and Capitalism,” “Take Down All Confederate Statues!” and “Struggle for Chicano Liberation,” to name a few. Each was facilitated by different SDS chapters from other universities in the country.
The prevailing themes of the convention included democracy, mobilization, and providing a voice for marginalized communities.
“When we use the term democratic, at least from my perspective, it means more like building popular power,” Villalobos said. “And to build popular power … you have to be able to analyze and to deconstruct the power systems that are in play.”
The panels and workshops were open to the public at the relatively visible venue of 1004 Girvetz Hall. SAN organizers were enthusiastic about the results.
“The only backlash that we’ve received is from this one really conservative [website] from Washington, or something like that,” Villalobos said. “Otherwise we’ve seen a really positive response, everyone seems really excited.”
UC Davis students were in attendance, and Villalobos noted that they were the ones who had managed to shut down a speech by ultra-conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos. In January, protesters at Davis had forced the UC Davis College Republicans to cancel Yiannopoulos’ speech, CNN reported.
“So, it’s just like, ‘wow, I get to meet people who helped do that,’ and maybe learn some organizing tips,” Villalobos said. “Maybe not necessarily to do something like that, but building a coalition that has the power to do that — that’s important.”
Despite existing for only about a year, SAN looks forward to organizing UCSB students around the issues discussed at the convention, with the organization continuing to work towards the their purpose, Villalobos said.
“It’s not just a response to [President Donald J. Trump], it’s always been a problem,” he said. “We’re really excited. We’re only a year old and yet we’re hosting the national bodies [at] conventions. I think it’s going to be great for our membership. I think it’s going to be great for the community.”