Protesters swarm state capital

Students and other protesters demonstrate their discontent with the current cuts to education. (Riley Bright)

Students and other protesters demonstrate their discontent with the current cuts to education. (Riley Bright)

An estimated 4000 college students converged on the state Capital to protest rising education costs on Monday March 5, 2012.

The students marched through the streets of Sacramento holding signs and chanting, “They say cut back, we say fight back!” captivating residents and local businessmen who stood on the side walk taking pictures as they passed by.

“March in March” organizers had originally hoped for 10,000 students to demonstrate, but the turnout was considerably lower, despite students from as far away as UC Riverside taking the more than 400-mile bus ride to be there. The protestors marched the mile from Southside Park to the Capital building through police guarded streets as a CHP helicopter circled overhead. Only one arrest was made, however, and officers on the scene said he was protesting the 1 percent.

Alongside students were protestors aligned with the Occupy movement and activists registering people to vote, while others collected signatures for proposed bills that would lower the cost of education. The bills ranged from lowering the cost of tuition, imposing new taxes on millionaires, and providing digital copies of textbooks online while subsidizing the sale of hard copies to students. Although support for these bills is nearly unanimous among state Democrats, they lack key support from Republican legislators who are largely opposed to any raise in taxes for the rich.

One of the most talked about bills was the Middle Class Scholarship proposed by democratic Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez who spoke at the rally, telling the crowd that the cost is too high for students and that California law makers were working to lower them. Students responded with chants of “Show us!” drowning out the speaker. Pérez fell silent for a moment before replying, “You’re right. It’s time we show you.”

Hundreds of the protesting students lined up outside the Capital building’s side entrance to go inside and speak directly with their representatives. The line moved slowly as security thoroughly checked each student.

“Last year, teachers bound themselves to objects and refused to leave the building,” said a security officer who declined to state his name. “We had to call the CHP to come in with bolt cutters and get them out. Thankfully there haven’t been any incidents like that this time.”

“March in March” has been organized and executed by students since 2009, when 5,000 students protested cuts to community college education and fee hikes. Later that year, the Legislature ignored student activism and voted to increase community college fees by 30 percent and cut millions from community college funding. The protest has grown over the years to include organizations representing the CSU and UC systems as the economy has worsened; the state repeatedly turns to cutting education to carry the burden of the budget deficit.

30 Skyline students received free lunch and bus transportation to join the protests in Sacramento. They participated in recruiting signatures for petitions, occupying the Capital building, and marching with handmade signs telling state lawmakers not to mess with our education.

“I felt the event was an overall success,” said ASSC Vice President Edwina Yuan. “Even though turnout was lower than in the past, there were a lot of students working to get petitions signed. Hopefully next year we can get more Skyline students involved in the March in March protests.”

She speculates that students may have been reluctant to miss their classes and if that week’s Flex Day had been on Monday rather than Friday, more people would have been willing to participate.

Skyline student Micheal Madden, who attended the event, felt that the day was an overall success.

“Our focus for the day was the occupation,” said Madden. “We thought it was very successful. It got publicity and we used the occupation as an organizing meeting for state wide action.” As of now, California college students can only wait and see if Gov. Brown and the state legislators recognize their voices and change the trend of slashing college funding by passing the many different proposed bills that would help fund the higher education system, or once again balance the budget deficit at the expense of secondary education.