Occupy Education At The State Capitol In Sacramento
Monday, March 5 saw two different, yet complimentary protests regarding education that came to California's State Capitol, Sacramento.
At 10AM, an annual event called the March In March took place. Thousands of students, along with teachers, parents, and concerned citizens, marched from Southside Park to the State Capitol building. This was a very peaceful, well organized march, that ended with a permitted demonstration outside the Capitol. Previously this had been a community college event, this year the state colleges and universities joined in.
It was a very well behaved and diverse crowd, with internal security that kept marchers from taking up the whole street, and kept things moving along well. It mostly dispersed by 1 PM, though a hundred or so stayed outside for the afternoon.
At 1 PM, a group called Occupy Education had planned to Occupy inside the Capitol Building. A group of around 70 of them had marched 99 miles starting on March 1 from Oakland, arriving in the college town of Davis, which is about 10 miles below Sacramento, on March 4. I met a couple of them in line at the cafeteria in the Capitol building. Surprisingly, they didn't appear tired at all, they were in great spirits and ready to continue with their protest.
I walked around the Capitol building and at 12:45 I found people starting to assemble in the rotunda. I was surprised they had been let into the building, I had expected the state to shut the building down. A decent sized crowd started to show up, and eventually California Highway Patrol Officers stood and blocked off entrance to the rotunda. Protestors remained inside the rotunda, and also in the halls that were blocked off. There were over 300 present.
I asked several officers why they were doing that. I was told it was due to the fire hazard, that the protestors had no permit, and that it was disruptive. Several officers told me that although the Occupiers didn't have a permit, they wanted to allow their freedom of speech and right to peacefully assemble. It also became apparent that once the building closed at 6 PM, everyone would need to leave.
By blocking the hallways, the officers also blocked access for those inside the rotunda to the restrooms. Those of us inside would be allowed to leave and go out, but we were told we could not get back in.
I understand the tactic, which is to get people to disperse, but it wasn't pleasant. There were a fair number of senior citizens in the crowd, and I wish there had been an exception for them. I believe with age should come a certain level of respect and courtesy. Still, I was surprised at the overall demeanor of the CHP officers. Most were willing to speak to me, they were respectful, and I felt they were committed to a peaceful resolution, even if that resolution would end in arresting people.
The protestors were very peaceful, and very dedicated to their message. They held a general assembly, which produced 5 demands. These are:
Pass the “Millionaire Tax”.
Cancel All Student Debt.
Democratize the CSC and UC Board Of Regents and the CSU Board Of Directors.
Fully fund all education.
Amend Prop 13, move to a split rule tax.
I'm sorry to write that in the building that is home to all the elected state employees, only two made an appearance. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom came in and sat down with a group of the protestors. Unfortunately, and I say this with great respect for the man who has done so much for gay rights, it just looked like a great photo op more then anything. Still, he was willing to be photographed with an Occupy group, and that is surprising, since most politicians won't go anywhere near one.
State Senator Leland Yee came down and observed a couple of times. I asked him what he thought of the protest and he said he supported it. He told me a simple fact that framed the need for the protest well: tuition to the California State Universities is more then to Harvard.
Given the sad state of education cutbacks in California, and the excessive cost of higher education, I could understand why these people were willing to risk arrest doing a fairly radical protest.
After the building had closed, at 6:30 an officer got on a megaphone and made the inevitable illegal assembly announcement, informing us that we would be subject to arrest if we stayed.
It was left up to individuals what they would do. Many left, about 50 to 60 stayed. I left, and found the place everyone thought the arrestees would be taken out. A large crowd gathered, and an even larger crowd of Sacramento Police appeared.
Unlike the CHP, these officers were very aggressive. I had found a handful of them arresting a man about a half a block away. They commanded me to not come within a certain distance. I stopped where I was told to stop, I tried to get a picture of the man being arrested, and the officers were very hostile to me, even though I kept saying I was press. When I asked one for his name, he refused to tell me. I tried to photograph his name tag, he turned so I couldn't, telling me not to take his picture, and then he and another officer came within about 6 inches of me after my flash went off.
I could see his name then and he was Sacramento Police Officer Valdez. I was afraid I would get arrested, or worse, and I kept assuring them I meant no harm. They told me I had to leave the area, and I went back to where the crowd was.
I learned there was another exit, and that is where the arrest vans were leaving the parking lot under the building. There was a small crowd there, and the vans left without incident. Once the crowd at the other exit learned of this they dispersed.
The people who stayed inside were arrested. I admire them for their dedication. All the protestors I met and spoke with were good people, deeply committed to changing things, to making the world a better place. I thank them for speaking to me, and my heart goes out to them. 60 arrests were made throughout the day, the majority being the protestors who remained inside the Capitol building.
One could blame them for pushing the boundaries of their protest past closing time. Blame could be placed on the officers who arrested them. But the blame really lies on so many elements outside that, on all the things that put our economy in the fragile state it is in, all the politicians, many in that Capitol building, who have failed to let education remain affordable, and on the regents and directors of the California state college system.
Education is important for our countries growth. I thank all these people for standing up for their rights and the rights of the generations to come, for caring enough to be there, and to peacefully fight the good fight.
all content by me. no copyright intended. my thanks to everyone who took the time to speak with me.