Several thousand protesters descended on the state Capitol Monday to protest the rising cost of higher education and call on lawmakers to increase funding for California's public colleges and universities.
Speakers at a rally on the west steps of the Capitol blasted the budget cuts to higher education and the cost of tuition and fees at campuses throughout the state, framing access to a degree as a right that should be extended to students of all socioeconomic standings.
"Regardless of our backgrounds, we all have been wounded by these cuts," said Sydney Fang, a student senator at UC Berkeley. "Today we stand in solidarity as students, as workers and as community members because we have had enough. We have had enough. UC regents have not heard our voices and it is time for our legislators to stand with us."
Top Democratic leaders from both houses, who negotiated and voted for the cuts in recent years, spoke at the rally, which was organized by Student Senate for California Community Colleges, California State Student Association and the University of California Student Association. A group called REFUND California that supports funding schools and universities with a proposed income tax hike on Californians making more than $1 million dollars a year was also present at the rally and march and planned to "Occupy" the Capitol later in the afternoon.
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez thanked attendees for coming to the Capitol to send legislators a message that they must "keep the promise of an accessible, affordable higher education for everybody in the state of California at our community colleges, our UCs and our CSUs."
"California is watching you and the people of our state agree with you," the Los Angeles Democrat said. "We need to fund higher education. We need to commit ourselves to future generations and by being here you're sending a powerful message."
The remarks from both Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg drew chants of "Show us! Show us!" from the crowd.
"Show us? We have to show you. You're right," Steinberg said.
He told the crowd, which at times broke into chants of "you'll hear us out or we'll vote you out," that he understood their anger.
"You have the right to be mad," Steinberg said. "Too many people are getting big tax breaks while the cost of higher education for you is going up."
The Sacramento Democrat pledged to put more money into higher education with a majority-vote budget as soon as possible. Both he and Perez touted the speaker's legislation to eliminate a corporate tax break to raise money for tuition relief and Steinberg's own bills aimed at lowering the cost of college textbooks.
Photos of the rally at the state Capitol by Randy Pench / email@example.com
While supporters of the "Millionaire tax" handed out hundreds of signs that were on display in the crowd, many of the students and activists attending the rally and march focused more on putting a stop to cuts and rising costs than finding more revenue for colleges and universities.
"We just want to be given a fair chance. We just want to be given the opportunity to fix our future, to have one," said Harvie Kaut, a junior studying business at California State University, Los Angeles. "We just don't want any more increases in tuition,"
Daniel Karonovet, a fifth-year student at UC Berkeley, acknowledged that the "state is balancing a wider array of priorities than just higher education."
"It's a harder choice I think than many students might want it to be," he said. "But at the same time, I think it's important to advocate for your issues so that it doesn't fall under the radar. So there needs to be this kind of tension."