California protesters say: Tax millionaires to fund higher education

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Demanding a millionaires' tax to fund higher education in California, where tuition has tripled in the last decade, 68 protesters were arrested late on the night of March 5, when they refused to leave the state's Capitol rotunda after it closed at 6 p.m.

The occupation and arrests were the culmination of a day of militant actions, including a late morning march and rally of more than 10,000 college and university students and their allies, and a late afternoon rally sponsored by the Sacramento Central Labor Council and involving its student and community allies.

"We've changed the debate," Charlie Eaton, UAW 2865 University of California Student Workers Union's financial secretary, told the crowd at the labor rally. "It's no longer 'don't cut us' but 'who pays!'"

Eaton, who commended the students occupying the rotunda for their courage, reported their number one demand is to "pass the millionaires' tax now," a demand also highlighted by other speakers at the labor rally.

The millionaires' tax refers to a proposed state proposition expected to qualify for the November ballot. If passed, it would pour $6 billion more into higher education to restore teachers, other personnel and classes while lowering tuition and fees.

Other demands, Eaton said, include "cancel all student debt" (which has now surpassed all credit card debt), fully fund education, democratize the higher education system, and end the corporate tax loopholes and breaks that commercial property now enjoys.

In a bit of comic relief, after the afternoon rally ended Eaton and five colleagues, carrying several boxes of pizza, led the crowd right up to the phalanx of California Highway Patrol in riot gear who blocked the main entrance to the Capitol, already closed for the day.

In a faceoff with police, Eaton demanded to be allowed to deliver the pizzas and water bottles to the students occupying the Capitol rotunda inside as the crowd chanted, "Let them eat!"  After excoriating the police, he exclaimed as the crowd responded with laughter, "How do we like our pizza? We like it hot!"

The bulk of arrestees are being charged with trespassing. Four others had been arrested earlier, three on charges of creating a disturbance and one because he was reportedly carrying a switchblade.

Reflecting the sentiment of protesters at the mass rally earlier in the day as well as those occupying the Capitol rotunda at the time, Peggy Mears of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE)  told the labor crowd, "If we stand together like we did today, there is nothing we can't do."

She urged non-voters in the rally to register to vote and make their voices heard come November.

"The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year," California Democratic Governor Jerry Brown said in a statement. "That's why it's imperative that we get more tax revenue this November."

Besides the "millionaires' tax," signatures are being collected for three other ballot measures to fund education. One, proposed by Gov. Brown, would fund education and public safety by temporarily raising income taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year and temporarily increasing the sales tax by half a cent.

Another would progressively raise taxes on incomes over $17,500, to fund early childhood and K-12 education.

A third is an oil severance tax that would raise billions of dollars specifically for K-university education.

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