Police arrested at least 72 protesters who had taken over the Rotunda of the state Capitol on Monday to demand an end to higher education cuts and passage of a proposed "millionaires tax."
Hundreds of students from campuses around the state had taken over the Rotunda during the afternoon. The Capitol closed at 6 p.m., and the group was issued a dispersal order at 6:20 p.m.
About an hour later, the 150 California Highway Patrol officers present began to make arrests. Those arrested were taken to Sacramento's city jail. Most of the 72 were arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest, said CHP officials. One person was arrested for possession of a switchblade.
The students had been boisterous, even climbing on a century-old marble statue and dancing around the ornate marble Rotunda as politicians watched from the balcony above them. But they were also serious about the business of addressing education's critical needs.
The protest capped a massive education rally and march at the Capitol that drew protesters from around the state.
Earlier in the day, thousands of college students, faculty and employees blocked traffic for several city blocks as they marched on the Capitol to demand that lawmakers stop "taxing" students with budget cuts that force universities to keep raising tuition.
But unlike the basic "no cuts" message brought to the Capitol every March, education's 99 percent have a specific agenda this year.
They want two measures to qualify for the statewide ballot in November: the so-called millionaires tax, an income tax hike on the state's highest earners; and Proposition 1522, an oil-extraction tax, both of which supporters say would raise billions of dollars for public education.
They oppose a plan by Gov. Jerry Brown to make it harder for low-income students to quality for financial aid under the Cal Grant program. The Cal Grant cut, part of Brown's budget proposal for the 2012-13 fiscal year, is meant to help close the state's $9.2 billion budget deficit.
"All you are saying is you want the millionaires and the billionaires to pay California back!" activist Van Jones, president of Rebuild the Dream, which works on ideas to rebuild the economy, told cheering students who had bused in from colleges and universities around the state and filled the western lawn of the Capitol for the late-morning rally.
"Pay us back! Pay us back!" they yelled back.
Their Occupy-flavored signs told the story: "Tax Millionaires for Public Education." "The Millionaires Tax of 2012." "Make Banks Pay."
"I hear your messages!" cried Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, from the Capitol steps. "We have to fight to protect Cal Grants. You're sending a powerful message that we have to keep the promise of an accessible, affordable higher education for everybody in California, and we know that promise isn't being kept."
For the first time this year, the University of California gets less money from its diminishing state allocation than from students' tuition and fees, which have tripled to $13,218 in the last decade, not counting books or living expenses.
Tuition and fees at California State University have also tripled in that period, to more than $7,000.
UCLA senior Joelle Gamble took the microphone and told the crowd that she doesn't qualify for Cal Grants or veterans benefits though her parents both served in the Marine Corps.
"They put their lives on the line for what? For this?" she cried. "I'm graduating with so much debt that I don't know what I'm going to do!"
Gamble, an international development major, said her college loan debt is at $23,000.
Pérez earned cheers when he told the crowd about his bill to reduce tuition for middle-class students who don't qualify for financial aid because their families make too much. The bill would help students whose families bring in up to $150,000.
State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, also won applause when he talked about his bills, SB1052 and SB1053, that would create a library of free or low-cost electronic textbooks.
His next line, however, fell a bit flat: "In November, you have a chance to press for a revenue measure!"
Steinberg wasn't talking about the catchy-named "millionaires tax," but a competing proposal from Brown that he favors. That plan would increase the state sales tax by half a cent and raise income taxes for those earning $250,000 or more. It would raise about $35 billion in revenue during its five-year life span. If it failed, automatic cuts to the education budget would be triggered at all levels, Brown has said.
"The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year," the governor said in a statement. "That's why it's imperative that we get more tax revenue this November."
Without a memorable title like the "millionaires tax," though, mention of Brown's plan drew a blank from many protesters.
"What is it?" asked Chelsea Humphrey, a political science student from De Anza Community College in Cupertino.
Although a recent Field Poll of likely California voters showed 58 percent support for Brown's proposal, the "millionaires tax," sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers and other labor unions, earned 63 percent approval. Its backers say the measure would raise $6 billion a year.
As noon approached, the rally wound down.
"It was short, but, hopefully, effective," said Ammnah Babikir, a psychology major at the College of Alameda. "Now people need to go back to their communities and do a grassroots campaign to improve their schools."
But would she do that herself?
Babikir didn't hesitate.
"Hell yeah," she said.
But the protest wasn't over, as dozens headed for the Capitol building.
"The demands of the students are our demands, too," said Kathryn Lybarger, a UC Berkeley gardener and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, Local 3299. "We are priced out of sending our own children to the university, too," she said, referring to her union members.