Protestors Storm California Capitol

A sense of revolution was in the air, as the sounds of cries and drumbeats filled the streets of Sacramento on Monday, March 5. City workers and politicians looked through their office windows in awe of the mass of students marching and chanting down the streets leading to the Capitol building. Around 12,000 California college students and occupy supporters protested budget cuts enacted by Gov. Jerry Brown on public colleges and universities across the state, according to Harrison Wills, SMC AS President.

California Community Colleges have had an estimated $400 million deficit leading to reduced enrollment capacity and higher tuition fees, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education website.  “This is a crisis. This is what a crisis looks like,” said Wills during an interview with The Corsair the day after the protest.

A host of politicians such as California State Assembly Speaker, John A. Perez, and Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg, were present at the steps of the Capitol to address the crowd and their concerns. “Thank you for coming to your state Capitol,” Steinberg said. “You own this place! You have the right to be mad!”

Steinberg admitted to the crowd that California made a mistake in making substantial budget cuts toward higher education funding, and that he was disconcerted by the state’s decision.

The angry crowd responded skeptically to Steinberg’s admittance of the state’s mistake, and yelled, “Show us!“ Steinberg explained to the crowd that the state legislators were in the process of concretizing a five-point plan that would subsidize higher public education and reduce tuition fees by two-thirds.

The response did not bring satisfaction to the crowd, which consequently entered the Capitol building and continued their protest inside. Leaders of the crowd were able to meet with assembly members and senators and made a list of requests that meet their educational needs in the hallways of the Capitol.

They demanded that legislators reform the state governance by restoring funding for public education, giving an amnesty to student debts, and raising taxes on the rich. “An oil extraction tax—not a tax on consumers at the pump—but on corporations who are having record breaking profits drilling oil off California’s coast,” is a new policy the state should implement, said Wills.

“The humblest thing we’re asking our elected officials to do is to go beyond their position,” Wills said.

The police subsequently arrested a majority of the student protestors after they refused to leave the building. “It’s a shame that people got arrested!” said SMC student Miguel Quintero. “I am happy to see that something is being done about the fee hikes and budget cuts that are being passed in California.”

A March in March protest against budget cuts on public colleges and universities took place last year in Sacramento. This year’s protest attracted a greater number of SMC students, according to Wills. He said, “Almost the entire bus from SMC said that not only was it their first activist activity, they were universally inspired.”

Last year’s protest did not get as much attention as it should have, according to SMC student activist, Andres Anderson. “We were duly ignored last year,” Anderson said. “We were in front of the Capitol and basically nobody came out.  There was no real dialogue.”

Wills hopes that this year’s protest will have more of an impact and will force elected representatives to restore higher education funding. “If you want to restore hope, you fund education,” Wills said.