Students march to state Capitol

Students using megaphones at March in March:Students use megaphones at the Capitol to voice their opinions about tuition increases and budget cuts to higher education during ?March in March.?:Jesse Sutton-Hough - State Hornet

Students using megaphones at March in March:Students use megaphones at the Capitol to voice their opinions about tuition increases and budget cuts to higher education during ?March in March.?:Jesse Sutton-Hough – State Hornet

Brett Johnson

Students and faculty from community colleges, the University of California and California State University systems let their opinions on budget cuts to higher education be heard during “March in March,” a protest in Sacramento’s midtown that led to a rally at the state Capitol on Monday.

Sacramento State was not alone in this protest, as raises in fees and tuition have been experienced by nearly all colleges. Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget reduces funding to community colleges across the state, increasing the cost per unit from $26 to $36.

Brown recently proposed a ballot measure that would extend a temporary increase in vehicle, income and sales tax, which would otherwise expire in June. If the tax hikes were to expire, the loss of revenue would likely bring about further cuts to the budget.

Sac State’s Associated Students Inc. Secretary of State Affairs Brandon Sisk, senior government major, said the CSU system is facing $500 million in cuts regardless, but hopes the march will persuade voters to pass the tax extensions to prevent additional cuts.

“The point of the march is to raise public awareness of the problems in higher education” Sisk said. “This is an opportunity for students to their vocalize displeasure in budget cuts, and also to suggest to the people of California that they have some responsibility in funding higher education through taxes.”

“March in March” has become an annual event since its beginning in 2008. The first year of the protest was primarily organized and run by students in community colleges, and was only partially coordinated with Sac State’s ASI. Last year was a true coordinated effort with ASI and other colleges. There were approximately 13,000 protesters in attendance last year.

This year’s march began at 10 a.m. at the California Automobile Museum on Front Street. Protesters marched through the Capitol Mall until they reached the west steps of the state Capitol. Once marchers reached the Capitol, the rally began with a speaker projecting his voice over loudspeakers to the large crowd.

A majority of the speeches were delivered by the California Faculty Association, a union of professors and lecturers from the CSU system. Speakers urged students to peacefully fight back against the budget cuts, and compared their nonviolent protest to the civil rights movement lead by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We need to stand up to the wealthy corporations that want less tax,” Jeffrey Michels, a Faculty Association of California Community Colleges board member, said to the crowd. “They don’t care about raising the taxes of college students or the middle class, only their own taxes. We don’t need to stoop to their level. We need to fight back by voting.”

CSU student trustee Nicole Anderson spoke to the crowd about the prospect of college graduates being the answer to California’s depressed economy, and having that possibility stripped away as college becomes more inaccessible.

“California has been hit especially hard by the recession,” Anderson said during her speech, “and it’s a college-educated workforce that’s going to bring us out of it. It’s not going to be high school graduates who are solving the financial crisis. We have to invest in our future, which is college students.”

ASI estimated somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 people participated in the march and rally, which falls just short of their expectation of 20,000 participants. Constant rain showers and 60-degree weather did not deter most demonstrators, who marched through the rain holding up both umbrellas and protest signs.

“It was a tremendous turnout &- despite the poor weather,” Sisk said. “The amount of enthusiasm, the quality of the speakers and the amount of people involved exceeded anything from years past. To see everyone out there all fired up, even in the rain and cold &- it was amazing.”

The crowd remained at a loud volume throughout the entire demonstration, using noisemakers, musical instruments and megaphones in an attempt to reach the ears of the governor and legislators.

Speakers encouraged the crowd to repeat chants, determined to get across their message as clearly as possible. As the weather started to worsen, protesters standing around the Capitol changed one of their main rhythmic chants from, “Students united, we’ll never be divided!” to the more relevant “It’s wet, it’s cold, these budget cuts are getting old!”

Aija Simmons, an elementary school teacher at New Highland Academy in Oakland and member of the Oakland Educators Association, said there was an obvious passion in crowd’s thunderous chants during the protest, which will be hard for the public to ignore.

“The chant, “Let the people vote!’ pretty well sums up our reasoning for being here,” Simmons said. “Overall, I thought that the message was very apparent, and a lot of people came out to support it. The protest itself seemed successful, and I hope I’m right in thinking that what we did here today is really going to seize some attention.”

Brett Johnson can be reached at [email protected]