Students arrested while protesting GOP’s budget proposal, cuts to Pell Grants

Ten students were arrested outside of the Supreme Court on Friday as they blocked traffic while protesting Republicans’ plan to freeze Pell Grants.

During the rally organized by the United States Student Association, students and protesters repeatedly mocked Republicans and advocated for free higher education.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke to the group and advocated as well for free college.

Ten students dressed in brightly colored graduation caps and gowns were arrested in front of the Supreme Court on Friday’s dreary afternoon as they blocked traffic to protest the Republican’s budget plan, which includes cuts to the Pell Grant.

The students, a part of the United States Student Association’s rally, blocked traffic and a Metro bus for around 30 minutes before D.C. police put the students’ wrists in zip-ties and loaded them into white vans. Around 100 other students and organizers stood on the sidewalk with the Capitol Building behind them chanting: “No cuts, no fees! Education should be free!” and “Students united will never be divided!”

Dozens of Capitol police and the Metropolitan Police Department were on hand to control the crowds of curious tourists and chanting protesters. The police corralled the majority of the protestors—sans the 10 students who sat in the road holding hands—onto the sidewalks where they continued to chant.

The USSA, which labels itself the nation’s oldest and largest student-led organization, is decrying the House Republican’s budget proposal, which would freeze the maximum award students can receive from the Pell Grant. According to Republicans’ proposal, the Pell Grant, which is supposedly for low-income students with the most financial need, has extended in recent years to encompass students with not as much assistance.

Prior to the rally, students said they attempted to talk with McConnell—the butt of many of the students’ rallying cries and jokes—but were not able to sit down with the Majority Leader. Congress was not in session on Friday.

“They won’t be doing this for very long,” one police officer told Campus Reform when the hoard of protesters first gathered in the street to decry Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Republicans in general, and the police who were present.

Some students who were arrested continued to chant, as others appeared more subdued and even frightened. Before their hands were zip-tied, police asked each protester one last time if they were sure they didn’t want to just get out of the road to avoid being arrested. No student accepted the officers’ offer.

Maxwell Love, president of the USSA, told Campus Reform prior to the rally that college students from all over the country planned to attend the “Stop the #RaidOnStudentAid” Friday afternoon and were coming prepared for multiple arrests.

“USSA organized a disruption of the Senate Budget hearing last week, which resulted in seven arrests,” a press release that was sent to Campus Reform on Wednesday, said. The press release promised more arrests on Friday.

Prior to the protest, Love said he wasn’t sure how students could get arrested but that they were “still figuring that out.”

“We intend to plan a non-violent civil disobedience action either outside or somewhere inside Congress,” Love told Campus Reform in an email.

Luckily for the students arrested, the USSA had set up an online crowdsourcing page to help provide the funds to bail students out of jail. At time of publication, the site had raised more than $2,000.

More than 300 people registered to attend the rally on the event’s public Facebook page, but hardly that many attended. The rally, with bullhorns and microphones amplifying students’ and recent graduates’ voices, attracted many bystanders, including groups of tourists who mocked the event.

Speakers at the rally mocked McConnell and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and called on the federal government to increase free health care, tax Wall Street more, and make higher education free of charge.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—a possible 2016 candidate—spoke at the rally at noon. Sanders decried the Republicans’ budget and advocated free health care.

Speaking with Campus Reform after his speech, Sanders said that while he’s proposed in the past that college should be free for the first two years, he believes that all four years of college should ultimately be free.

Sanders said that students are entitled to free higher education as college students “are the future” of the nation.

During the rally, USSA employees, wearing orange armbands or orange safety vests, repeatedly stepped in between Campus Reform reporters and students’, telling the students not to speak with Campus Reform. Students were able to talk to other media outlets.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn