SACRAMENTO — As California Highway Patrol officers stood guard at the entrance of the state Capitol building’s rotunda Monday afternoon, protesters inside the building kicked off a 7-hour occupation that resulted in at least 72 arrests.
The occupation followed a rally on the Capitol building’s steps in which thousands of protesters from across the state called for lawmakers to end the recent trend of decreased funding to the state’s public higher education systems.
The rally, which was supported by UC Berkeley administrators and the UC Student Association, among others, featured speakers from the UC, California State University, California Community Colleges and public office.
“You cannot have an economic development strategy without a workforce development strategy that includes higher education,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the rally. “We can’t just talk about it. We have to do something about it in this state.”
The student speakers called on state legislators to provide alternative measures to increase state investment in public university systems.
“Budget cuts and fee increases have made it harder and harder for students of color (to get an education),” said ASUC Senator Sydney Fang at the rally. “It is time for the state legislature to stand up with us.”
For years, the UC Board of Regents, university officials and campus administrators have tackled decreasing state funding through a series of student fee increases.
Students responded by organizing large-scale protests on individual campuses to demonstrate their dissatisfaction — the most notable recent ones being the recent pepper spray incident at UC Davis and Occupy Cal protests at UC Berkeley in November.
But the events of March 5 indicate an increasing focus on directly addressing the lawmakers who will determine future state funding to public universities.
Some protesters and university figures said the subsequent occupation of the capitol building sent the message that further cuts in the public education system will not be tolerated by students.
“The more people who join the fight for public education, the better,” said UC Student Regent-designate Jonathan Stein, who was in Sacramento to take part in the UC Student Association’s lobbying efforts. “We’re more effective as a student movement because we have advocacy through the Occupy route and through the lobbying route.”
Around 1 p.m. after the rally, about 120 protesters entered the building and sat down in the rotunda.
Shortly thereafter, the protesters organized a general assembly to vote on the group’s demands, which included having the state fully fund education and amend Proposition 13.
Newsom briefly came into the rotunda to discuss the future of the occupation with a small group of protesters, but some protesters urged him to leave through chants of “Newsom go home.”
By 5 p.m., about 60 of the protesters had left. Several protesters also gathered in one of the halls outside of the rotunda and decided to occupy it as well.
UC Berkeley graduate student Logan Rockefeller Harris occupied the hallway with dozens of other students. She said the rally and subsequent occupation of the Capitol was the product of several months of work and helped to unite students from different universities.
“We’ve been building up to this event today,” she said. “It really brought together the CSU, (California Community Colleges) and UC students.”
But at 7:35 p.m. — after repeated dispersal orders — dozens of California Highway Patrol officers arrested a group of 18 protesters in the rotunda. About 20 minutes later, the officers moved to the hallway to arrest the 50 remaining protesters occupying the building. A few others were arrested earlier in the day, said California Highway Patrol Officer Sean Kennedy.
The evening protesters were arrested for trespassing, according to Kennedy.