Occupy-Inspired Protesters Lobby In Washington
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Protesters inspired by the Occupy Wall Street Movement are lobbying here in Washington, pushing legislators to address unemployment and cuts to public benefits. This movement is not part of Occupy Wall Street, but it is drawing heavily on language borrowed from Occupy leaders to demand that Congress represent all Americans, not just the richest one percent. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Planes from Seattle, buses from Pennsylvania, carpools from points in between - all landed in Washington DC on Monday night, carrying protesters. An assortment of labor unions, civil rights organizations, churches and activist groups have come to, in their words, take back the Capitol.
CROWD: (Chanting) ...sold out. The banks got bailed out, we got sold out.
SHAHANI: They've got the same chants as Occupy Wall Street, and they've got the same tactics.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mic check.
CROWD: Mic Check.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mic Check.
CROWD: Mic Check.
SHAHANI: Only this time, the target is different. The original Occupiers lashed out at bankers and marched to the doorsteps of billionaires. These protesters are here to sit in face-to-face meetings with members of Congress. Yesterday, several hundred gathered on the National Mall and marched to Dirksen Senate Office Building.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: All right. So this is a peaceful demonstration.
CROWD: This is a peaceful demonstration.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We will be quiet and we will be courteous unless we instruct you otherwise.
CROWD: We'll be quiet...
SHAHANI: They filed in through security, one by one. Massachusetts was among the larger contingents. Jay Chambers, a third generation union iron worker, wanted to meet his senator, Scott Brown, because...
JAY CHAMBERS: Our infrastructure is falling apart. It's crumbling, literally. And there's skilled labor that's ready and willing to do this work and why are they not being put to work?
SHAHANI: Worry over job security drove him here. Curdina Hill of Mass Uniting, a group that chartered fives buses for this week's actions, itemized their primarily economic concerns.
CURDINA HILL: We're asking for an extension of unemployment benefits. We're protesting budget cuts that affect things like social security. Instead of having working people carry the burden, we really feel he needs to be taxing wealthy people and corporations, some of whom pay no taxes.
SHAHANI: Hill led the delegation to Senator Brown's third floor office.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hi, how are you?
HILL: Yeah. Hi, how are you doing? I'm Curdina Hill. Nice meeting you. We're here because we'd like to speak with Senator Scott Brown.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: All right. I'll see what I can do for you.
HILL: Alrighty, great.
SHAHANI: Protestors piled into the office. It was standing room only when Press Secretary John Donnelly came in to tell the group...
JOHN DONNELLY: What we're going to be able to do is we're going to be able to take a meeting with our chief of staff and our LD. But we're going to need two or three representatives from your group. And we can take you...
HILL: (Unintelligible) meeting with Scott Brown?
DONNELLY: No, you're going to be meeting with our chief of staff and our LD.
HILL: No. We do not want to meet with anyone except for Scott Brown only.
SHAHANI: It was an impasse. Donnelly politely asked them...
DONNELLY: Maybe you could leave a couple of people in here, and then move out to the hall. This is a place of business. We have people who need to answer the phones, other constituents calling. There's more space in the hallway. We obviously have desks in here.
HILL: No problem, we can do that.
DONNELLY: All right. Thank you.
SHAHANI: By 6 PM, there was still no sign of Senator Brown. The group followed orders to leave the building.
Other protesters said that they met personally with six members of the House - Republicans and Democrats - and also with one senator, independent, Joe Lieberman.
Capitol Police say that one protester was arrested at the office of Missouri Representative Vicky Hartzler. He was charged with unlawful entry.
Today, Take Back the Capitol heads to K Street - the epicenter of D.C. lobbyists. On Thursday, they're planning a vigil for the jobless.
Aarti Shahani, NPR News.
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