Hundreds Occupy Capitol Rotunda, Calling for Millionaires Tax, Freeze on Tuition Hikes and Spending Cuts – And Calling Out Governor's Effort to Co-Opt Rally
Coming from every corner of California, and from dozens of Cal, Cal State and Community College campuses, thousands of students rallied in Sacramento yesterday to hold the line on higher education cuts and tuition in the State. Seventy students were arrested in the State Capitol Rotunda after hundreds of activists non-violently occupied the Capitol Rotunda for over 7 hours, while others lobbied their representatives to fully fund education.
The rally was the culmination of several days of action to "refund education" in California, beginning last Thursday with protests on 30 campuses statewide and a 99-Mile march of students and faculty from the Bay Area to Sacramento. The events were the followup to Novembers statewide campus protests, which successfully pressed the State to hold off on a proposed round of tuition increases.
"Thousands of students, workers, faculty and advocates stood together yesterday to demand that the 1% pay its share to fund education," said Charlie Eaton, an organizer with REFUND California. "After experiencing the highest tuition hikes in the country, students came to Sacramento to tell Governor Brown enough is enough. The movement that was out on campuses in November was on the steps of the Statehouse yesterday, and we will continue to fight to refund higher education."
In "people's assemblies" inside the Capitol, protesters developed a list of demands for the legislature and the Governor. Number one was support for the "Millionaire's Tax" ballot initiative, which would add $5-6b in revenue every year - including nearly $2b in dedicated funds for higher education- to support critical social services that have been ravaged by state budget cuts. Other priorities included full funding for education statewide, and democratization of the UC and CSU board of regents. Chanting "hear us out or we'll vote you out," students made clear throughout the day that they are squarely focused on the Governor and the Legislature as the keys to refunding education in California.
"What we saw yesterday was a movement that has crystal clear demands and is offering a real solution to the crisis facing California students, workers and families," said Richard Hopson, Chairman of ACCE, a partner in the ReFund California Coalition and the Millionaire's Tax campaign. "The people have already paid. We are are posing solutions that would generate real revenue for education in California without putting a burden on the backs of students, workers and the poor."
I have taken on a debt for my education that will take years to pay, while millionaires and corporations aren’t paying their fair share," said Chucho Mendoza, a Cal-State Fresno student who organized hundreds of students in Fresno for the trip to Sacramento. "We have paid enough already. We are here to send a message to the governor: reject tuition hikes and cuts and support the millionaires tax, which will make the 1% pay for education, jobs, and a better future for the next generation.”
Already the Governor is trying to claim the support as his own, declaring that the outpouring of enthusiasm for a solution to the education funding crisis was a show of support for a ballot initiative he supports, which is less popular and would generate less revenue than the Millionaire's tax, while also increasing sales taxes.
"Students overwhelming preference for the millionaires tax was clear," said Eaton, "because it is the only tax initiative that makes millionaires pay and that guarantees new revenue for higher education - nearly 2 billion dollars. the governor's initiative does not guarantee that any new revenue will go to colleges or universities."
"This is about California’s future – the future of the 99%," said Hopson. "We can’t restore the promise of good schools, good jobs and a good economy if Californians can’t afford to get an education and the public services we rely on are no longerthere."
Protesters pledged to keep the pressure on Governor Brown and the legislature back on their campuses, where the ReFund California coalition will remain active throughout the Spring and plan further actions to demand an end to tuition hikes and education cuts. Asked by the San Francisco Chronicle if she intended to go back to her campus and organize other students, College of Alameda psychology major Ammnah Babikir "didn't hesitate," and gave a simple answer: "Hell yeah."