By Maya Bakshani
Over 350 students showed up on Saturday to support activist efforts at UC Santa Cruz. Unlike most activist gatherings, this one was not a protest. Rather, it was UCSC’s fourth annual Practical Activism Conference. With workshops ranging from Hip Hop as Activism to Linking Prostitution and Sex Trafficking, the Practical Activism Conference offered workshops that catered to a variety of interests, giving students the opportunity to explore where they fit in terms of activism. Former UCSC Sociology major Mireya Gomez gave the keynote speech about student consciousness. "Not everybody has an idea of what activism is and this can be the first step in identifying as an activist," Gomez said. "They might already be one, but it might need to be pointed out." A first time attendee, first-year College Ten student Reid Schweitzer was stimulated by the conference. "I think any time that I’m getting new information, it reinforces the idea that there’s always something that can be done," Schweitzer said. "I’d like to learn more about what I can do."The conference highlighted the fact that activism takes on different forms. Lisa ‘Tiny’ Gray-Garcia spoke about the importance of creativity in activism. Gray-Garcia heads Poor Magazine, a place for the poor to have a creative outlet that promotes a more inclusive society. Gray-Garcia spoke directly to students asking them to use their education to be active within their communities. She stressed that, "Practical activism is actually taking part in a thing that could change peoples’ lives."Gray-Garcia noted that students have the opportunity to learn about the root causes of social injustice and to be conscious of their world."What I’m asking people to do before they leave this room is to change their thinking."Janet Ballelos, a second-year student at UCSC who helped organize the conference, hoped that the workshops would help change people’s thinking."The conference in general is getting behind the myths," Ballelos said. "People like to believe what they see, not the truth behind it." Politics major Abel Murillo, a member of Janetwork, a GLBTI organization on campus, was encouraged by students’ enthusiasm but worried about the overall turnout. "This was a very narrow demographic," Murillo said. "Realistically, the people who went to the conference were already people who were involved with activism on campus."Others were more pleased with the event’s attendence.Alessandro Tinonga, a third-year student and head of the Santa Cruz branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), felt that the conference succeeded in bringing in a lot of new recruits. "Every single person we signed up we had a long, drawn-out political discussion and debate with," Tinonga said."I think a lot of times, when we table at other places (such as the quarry), people aren’t really interested," Tinonga said. "But here, people were excited to sign up, it was really cool."Ballelos was pleased to see so many students embracing activism."You see people in the workshops actually think," Ballelos said. "You see it in their eyes. They start to become driven."Murillo hoped that in the future, the conferece could be focused on bringing existing campus activist groups together."There is a way for people to facilitate discussion among organizations so that there is a unified agenda for action," Murillo said. "That would enhance the conference experience and activist work on campus."