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CALIFORNIA

Activists protest education cuts

Coalition of students and labor unions draws thousands to Capitol; 68 arrested after refusing to leave.

March 06, 2012|Chris Megerian

SACRAMENTO — Thousands of students and activists marched on the state Capitol on Monday to protest cuts in higher education, and authorities arrested 68 of them who refused to leave the building after it closed in the evening.

Four had been arrested earlier in the day, one on suspicion of possessing a switchblade.

The demonstration, billed by some as an "occupy the Capitol" act and supported by a freewheeling coalition of student groups and labor unions, was the latest sign of simmering discontent over steady hikes in the cost of attending state universities and community colleges.

Tuition has tripled at the universities over the last decade. "We're getting pushed against a wall," said Carson Watts, 23, a sociology major at UC Santa Cruz.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed a budget last year that slashed funding for the University of California and Cal State systems by 23%, did not attend the rally. But he said through a spokeswoman: "The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year. That's why it's imperative that we get more tax revenue this November"-- a reference to his proposed ballot initiative to raise taxes.

Democratic political leaders largely embraced the demonstrators, most of whom stayed outside. Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles), Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the rally on the west steps.

"We've cut billions of dollars, and I've hated every minute of it," Steinberg said.

The California Highway Patrol, in charge of security, declined to estimate the number of protesters.

About 200 made it inside the building and lingered beneath its 19th century rotunda before Highway Patrol officers sealed off the area. Dozens more milled in the hallways or dropped into legislative offices to plead for more funding.

Sympathetic Democratic lawmakers urged authorities to be judicious in making arrests. The activists spent much of the afternoon debating what their demands should be. They shouted out several, including a tax on millionaires that some activists hope to place on the November ballot.

By the time the building officially closed at 6 p.m., a few dozen protesters remained inside the Capitol. At 6:25, the Highway Patrol ordered them to disperse.

--

chris.megerian@latimes.com

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