About 100 graduate students, union workers swarm Sproul Plaza to protest Republican tax bill

Jim Xu/Staff

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Demonstrators at UC Berkeley took to Sproul Plaza on Wednesday to protest the House Republicans’ tax bill, in light of how it would impact graduate students.

The protesters, comprising graduate students, student workers and union members, marched to the Mario Savio Steps about noon, where several people spoke out against the tax plan. Currently, graduate students receive a tuition waiver and a small stipend as compensation for their work, explained Carly Eaton, financial secretary for the UC postdoctoral researchers union. Under the new tax plan, these tuition waivers would be made taxable income, which would effectively increase taxes by about 31 percent for research assistants at UC Berkeley, according to an analysis of the bill.

The plan would also eliminate tax deductions for interest paid on student loans, Eaton added.

“(The bill would be) putting one more burden on our generation as we’re just trying to get ourselves off the ground,” Eaton said.

Beezer de Martelly, a campus doctoral student in music and union member, led the demonstration in front of more than a hundred people, most of whom were graduate students.

Vetri Velan, a campus doctoral student and author of the analysis of the tax bill that estimates that it would raise UC Berkeley teaching assistants’ taxes by 61 percent, shed light on the details of the policy during the protest. When Velan asked how many in the crowd receive tuition waivers, the majority raised their hands.

Demonstrators held signs with messages such as “tax the rich,” “my education not your vacation” and “make fascists pay.” In the crowd, union members, graduate students and passersby offered support and participated in chants.

Sam Kohn, a campus graduate student in physics, announced to the crowd the phone numbers for the offices of U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, encouraging demonstrators to call for the Senate to stop normal business until the Republican tax bill is “dead.”

“Without us, the university would grind to a halt,” Kohn said during the protest.

All graduate students from the campus’s Scandinavian department attended the demonstration, according to Scandinavian doctoral student Adam Carl.

Carl said if the tax plan is implemented, he will have to quit graduate school.

Other walkouts were scheduled today at UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, UC Davis and UCLA, according to a map attached to the event Facebook page.

About 1 p.m., demonstrators moved to California Hall to deliver a letter to Carol Christ, in which they asked her to ensure that students and workers are not harmed by the Republican tax plan.

In a statement released Monday, UC President Janet Napolitano, student regent Paul Monge and student regent-designate Devon Graves jointly condemned the tax plan, stating that it would have a “devastating” impact on UC graduate students.

“They are our nation’s future and deserve congressional support — not a tax hike,” the statement said. “We stand in solidarity with students as we work together to advocate for fair tax policies and to advance our shared mission of supporting higher education.”

Contact Henry Tolchard at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.

Due to misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that all but two graduate students from the campus’s Scandinavian department attended the demonstration. In fact, all graduate students in the department attended the protest.

A previous version of this article also incorrectly stated that Adam Carl is in his final year at UC Berkeley. In fact, he is in his fourth.