Unemployed Protesters Invade Washington, D.C. to 'Take Back the Capitol'

on December 07 2011 12:29 PM

Thousands of unemployed protesters staged sit-ins in the offices of congressional lawmakers on Tuesday to demand that elected officials listen to the plight of jobless Americans, a demonstration the movement is extending on Wednesday and Thursday as protesters demand that Congress pay head to the needs of their constituents instead of special interest groups.

While the Take Back the Capitol demonstrations actually began on Monday -- as part of a four-day effort by the self-proclaimed 99 percent to converge on Washington, DC and demonstrate democracy in action by the people, for the people -- the protests gained nationwide media attention on Tuesday when participants formed groups and swarmed multiple congressional offices.

For four days we'll hold spirited but peaceful actions, speak-outs, and protests-from the halls of the Capitol to the offices on K Street-as well as spend time together learning and sharing stories, ideas, and inspiration, states the event's Web site, which also says demonstrators hope to shine a light on corporate greed and the human suffering it has caused.

Seek Audience With Key Republican Lawmakers

As Congressional Democrats and Republicans battle over a proposal to extend unemployment insurance and payroll tax cuts before the holiday recess, the unemployed and underemployed demonstrators making up a sizable majority of the Take Back the Capitol protesters aimed to have an audience with prominent Republicans to urge them to vote in favor of those extensions.

The original bill, pushed by the Obama administration, would have prolonged and increased a payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits, a move that Democrats insist would add about $1,500 to the average working families' income. However, Republicans objected to a provision that aimed to pay for the extension by instituting a 3.25 percent tax on incomes over $1 million per year.

On Monday, a Democratic aide told Reuters that congressional Democrats plan to introduce a new version of the legislation that reportedly lowers the proposed tax on millionaires and adopts a GOP proposal to limit social safety net benefits for the wealthy.

These folks have traveled from across the country, event spokesman Mike Uehlein told The Hill. They're calling on their congressional leaders to take actions on the jobs crisis.

Sen. McConnell Refuses to Meet Activists

Groups of protesters demanded audiences with more than 20 lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Reps. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Eric Cantor of Virginia, Darrell Issa of California and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., as well as Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Kay Hutchinson of Texas and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. While staff for some of the representatives offered to set up meetings between the demonstrators and congressional staffers, only a handful -- including GOP Reps. Sean Duffy of Wisconisn and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina* and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. -- met with the protesters.

McConnell, like several other representatives, refused to meet with the demonstrators since they did not have an appointment. McConnell refused to meet with protesters affiliated with the activist OurDC, one of the organizers of Take Back the Capitol, last month when they occupied his office for about eight hours. Although the protesters initially aimed to camp out in McConnell's office they eventually left after they were threatened with arrest.

Rep. Paul Ryan reportedly closed his office to protesters and posted a sign that said the congressman would only meet with people who had scheduled an appointment.

Although Take Back the Capitol is not affiliated with the Occupy movement, the two groups share many of the same goals - namely, highlighting the rising rate of income inequality and widespread unemployment in the U.S. and calling for end to special interests groups' dominance on Capitol Hill.

Protesters began invading K Street late Wednesday morning, the lobbying center of Washington, D.C..  At approximately 11:30 a.m. EST, OccupyDC indicated on its Twitter feed that the group temporarily took over the lobby of Capitol Tax Partners, a tax lobbying group, before making their way to K Street.

Take Back the Capitol is, in part, an extension of movement to protect collective bargaining that began in Wisconsin and Ohio earlier this year. Many of the participants are older workers who have been laid off or underemployed in the wake of the financial crisis. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) contributed funding to the protest, which links to SEIU.org on its official Web site.

On Thursday, Take Back the Capitol is organizing a final day of events featuring multiple speeches across the Capitol, a national prayer vigil with unemployed Americans and faith leaders as well as a mass march on vital congressional leaders.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said U.S. Rep. Virgnia Foxx represented Virginia. She in fact represents North Carolina.

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