Thousands of students converged on Sacramento to protest declining state support of higher education yesterday.
California State Student Association (CSSA) President and event organizer Greg Washington said the rally was to bring awareness to budget problems in higher education. Chants from protestors such as: “No cuts, no fees. Education should be free,” demonstrated frustration from some students over recent budget cuts and tuition increases in California higher education.
Washington said protest organizers wanted to highlight a state ballot proposal which will ask voters in November to raise sales tax to fund public universities. If the tax increase does not pass, Cal Poly is expected to see cuts of approximately $11 million.
Students from the California State University and University of California systems, as well as California community colleges, assembled in Sacramento. They met at Southside Park early Monday before making their way to the state capital. Occupy protestors, who are generally favorable toward funding higher education, joined them at Southside Park.
Cal Poly Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) supported similar marches in the past but was notably absent from this year’s activities. ASI President and political science senior Kiyana Tabrizi cited financial reasons, as well as concern with the Occupy members, in ASI’s decision not to send members from the university.
“The CSSA was informed last month about the Occupy movement participating,” Tabrizi said. “We weren’t concerned about the participation, but the confusion between the two.”
Tabrizi said Cal Poly student government was concerned Occupy protestors would turn the march into something that would draw attention away from the original purpose of the rally.
“ASI was in support of the original notion to ask legislators to reinvest in higher education,” she said.
The demonstration also aimed to bring attention to proposed legislation from State Assembly speaker John Perez known as the Middle Class Scholarship. This scholarship would create a fund for all California students at public universities whose families earn less than $150,000 and do not already receive financial aid. Washington said the student association voted to support that bill to increase accessibility at state colleges.
“I’m extremely happy with how it came together,” Washington said of Monday’s demonstration. “It was a great event.”
Washington and other student representatives met with legislators after a rally at the capital building. He said he spoke with high-level employees of the state government, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Newsom tweeted his support for the protests Monday morning.
“Joining 1,000s of students in Sac 2day 2 rally in support of investments in #HigherEd,” Newsom tweeted. “We’re sending strong message: Enough is enough.”
Peacekeepers worked throughout the rally to keep students and Occupy protestors in check. Police kept a careful eye on the protestors — especially on the closed downtown streets — and a helicopter circled overhead.
“From what I’ve seen so far, the police have been communicating with authorities and the Occupy members,” Washington said.
Sacramento Police Department sergeant Andrew Petit said a few hundred people were gathered at the capital during the afternoon. The police agency brought in additional officers in preparation of potential violence from the demonstrators.
“So far everyone’s been very peaceful except for a few people chanting and getting the crowds riled up,” Petit said.
The march comes four days after Occupy protestors joined students in California and New York at individual campuses to call for financial support to higher education. Two protestors were detained when a vehicle drove through a human barricade at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Protest organizers emphasized nonviolence in the lead up to the event.