Several thousand demonstrators converged on the state capitol Monday, calling on legislators to fund higher education and demanding an end to tuition hikes.
The rally, organized by student groups including the University of California Student Association (UCSA), drew attention to the increasing cost of public education in California.
“I know the people of our state are going to hear you today,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, addressing the crowd.
The Los Angeles Democrat was joined on stage by several prominent state politicians including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
Organizers said they had expected 10,000 participants, but roughly 3,000 showed up. Students, union workers and teachers were bused in to Sacramento from as far away as San Diego. Students from UC Davis attended the rally, including some members of ASUCD.
The official rally ended around noon. Afterwards, some groups returned to their buses, while hundreds of others waited in line to enter the Capitol. Protesters associated with the Occupy movement had vowed to remain in the building overnight.
Security at the capitol was tight. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) brought in an extra 150 officers on top of the 60 that typically staff the building. Sacramento police were mobilized as well.
“We hope everything will remain peaceful,” said Sean Kennedy, a CHP spokesman.
Shortly before 1 p.m., Occupy protesters, many of them students, took refuge underneath the Capitol rotunda in preparation for a general assembly. According to Kennedy, the protesters did not have a permit and would be subject to arrest.
After about 150 demonstrators had situated themselves, the CHP sealed off the area, allowing people to exit but not enter. Many protesters expressed their discontent with this action.
“We’re being kept out of the General Assembly,” said Samer Naji, external affairs vice president for the Associated Students of UC San Diego.
Most protesters eventually left on their own accord as it became clear that police planned to make arrests. After 6 p.m., the time the building officially closes to the public, the CHP gave multiple dispersal orders. Fifteen protesters remained underneath the rotunda, while 50 or so occupied adjacent halls. At one point, news media outnumbered the demonstrators. Several lawmakers stayed late to watch from the second floor.
“We gave them about seven or eight opportunities to avoid arrest,” CHP Capt. Andy Meynard said. “We wanted to give them every opportunity to leave.”
At 7:30 p.m., police began to arrest protesters, and by 8:30 p.m., the building had been cleared. Sixty-eight demonstrators were arrested and charged with trespassing, the CHP said. Four others were arrested earlier, one for possessing a switchblade and the other three for creating a disturbance.
Gov. Jerry Brown, notably absent from the day’s festivities, released a statement in response to the protests.
“The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year,” Brown said.
Although the protest brought temporary media attention, some expressed skepticism about the long term effects.
“Rallies don’t work, but they do raise some awareness of the issue,” said capitol insider A.G. Block, who is the associate director of the UC Sacramento Center and former editor of the California Journal.
Official organizers of the rally were quoted in other publications saying they had feared that Occupy would overshadow the protest and made it clear that their message was to support higher education.
Meanwhile, with the campus Quad occupation re-established on Saturday to welcome protesters from other schools, UC Davis officials remained mum on what they would do next.
“We expect that protesters from the Bay Area will leave after the rally,” said campus spokeswoman Claudia Morain.
She also said the university is providing the protesters with two portable toilets, and that the UC Davis Police Department has made plans to “ensure the safety of the protesters and the campus community.”
RICHARD CHANG can be reached at email@example.com.