By Steve Harmon and Matt Krupnick
Staff Writers, Bay Area News Group
SACRAMENTO -- A long day of protests at the state Capitol on Monday over rising college costs and escalating higher education cuts ended late evening with the arrest of 72 demonstrators who had taken control over the main floor for seven hours.
The Occupy protesters' signature microphone checks and chants filled the Capitol corridors as they demanded the end to capitalism, Jerry Browns' tax proposal and to all college students' debt.
"We're watching the education system get gutted, so students volunteered to take personal risks of getting arrested to make sure we don't get ripped off by the 1 percent," said David Solnit, a San Francisco protest organizer who gave on-site instruction on how to get arrested peacefully.
One arrest was made of a protester outside the Capitol who possessed a switch blade, and three others for resisting arrest on the second floor of the Capitol after trying to hang a banner on the railing overlooking the rotunda.
At one point, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom played peacemaker when protesters wanted to leave the rotunda to use the bathroom. Newsom eventually worked it out with the CHP to allow five protesters at a time to go to the restroom and return.
Their protest grew from an earlier demonstration outside the building by thousands of college students who had been bused in from all over the state to demand easier access to education.
"What's happening in the past year is that people are waking up," said Gordon Hall, of Oakland, a College of Alameda student.
Van Jones, an activist and former White House adviser, called the students "a truly extraordinary generation" and urged them to keep fighting for affordable education.
"You're not asking for charity," he told the crowd. "You're asking for the same chance that my generation got. Don't let them tell you the state can't do better."
Students from public colleges and universities around the state boarded early morning buses and then marched the final mile to the rally, the second year of the "March in March" event -- a continuing reminder of the state's struggles to corral the runaway costs of its once-prized higher education system.
"You'll hear us out or we'll vote you out," demonstrators shouted as they joined professors, administrators and other higher education supporters on the Capitol's west lawn.
The rally came the same day as a Bay Area News Group report revealed the cost of attending a California State University or University of California campus had surpassed that of top private schools such as Harvard College for middle-income students.
The report caught some legislators by surprise, including Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.
"It is a little embarrassing that Harvard is cheaper than the California State University," he said in an interview. "When you price out so many students, it is devastating to the future of the state. Our sons and daughters won't be here to solve the state's problems."
Lawmakers and the governor need to prioritize education in the state budget, said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.
"It's clearly a problem, and it's a problem that's been brewing for some time," said Olsen, vice chairwoman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. "The state hasn't invested properly in higher education for many years."
A combination of rising tuition at California universities and a shortage of student aid has led to widespread anger throughout the state.