Around 20 UCR and UCSB students trekked to Bakersfield, CA, last Wednesday to demand a meeting with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and to protest his support for billions in proposed cuts to student aid at his office. The demonstration, organized by the United States Student Association (USSA), lasted for approximately three hours and culminated in police arriving and protesters leaving peacefully.
The budget resolution in question would eliminate public sector loan forgiveness and mandatory Pell Grant funding, totalling $163 billion in cuts if the appropriations are passed.
Students banged on McCarthy’s office windows and covered them with posters as they chanted “McCarthy, step off it, put students over profit!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, budget cuts have got to go!” outside the building. Protesters originally planned to occupy the office if not granted a meeting with the congressman, but found that it was locked when they arrived. It is unclear whether the office was locked because of the protesters’ presence.
While students continued to chant and call for a meeting with McCarthy, several bystanders grew agitated that the protest was disrupting daily business in and around the office. One individual who did not reveal his name called the protesters “self-congratulatory,” and criticized them for being disorderly.
Another individual who identified himself as a disabled veteran requested that the protesters take a hiatus so he could be allowed into the building to conduct business unrelated to the protest, but the office denied him entrance even after the protesters complied. “They can’t let him in because you guys are there,” complained another bystander.
UCSB student Joseline Garcia reflected on how the cost of higher education has affected her personally during the hiatus. “I get off work sometimes at two in the morning. Being a working class student is a very difficult thing to do,” Garcia said. “It’s affecting my GPA. It’s affecting the opportunities that I have in school.”
First-year UCR student Alfonso Mota called the proposed cuts “unjust in every sense,” citing the difficulty that many students already have in paying for college. “This is just adding a further barrier to people when it’s already hard enough,” Mota said.
Police arrived on the scene about two hours into the demonstration and asked students to remove the posters they had taped to office windows, since the building is private property. The protesters complied, and concluded the demonstration shortly thereafter. Police remained present until the conclusion of the event.
Even though the students were not granted a meeting with McCarthy, organizers believe the demonstration was a success. “ … Actions such as these create awareness and agitate decision makers, impacting the decision making process,” said fourth-year political science UCR student Breana Ross, who helped organize the event. The movement’s next steps will be to pressure other leaders, including Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner, according to Ross.
Students from other UCs were scheduled to participate in the action, but canceled due to lack of student interest at their schools. As of press time, representatives from McCarthy’s office have not responded to requests for comment.