Today thousands of unemployed people and others came to D.C. to tell Congress and “K Street” that they need jobs not cuts; that we should tax the rich, and that unemployment benefits must be extended before they run out at the end of the year.
I am in Washington to join them at the Take Back the Capitol “99 In DC” event. This is not the OccupyDC group, but it is supportive and very much like the Occupy group, with “Mic Check” and “We are the 99%” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” chants going on everywhere. (Special note: There are no drum circles!)
The center for the activities is a series of large tents on the Mall in front of the old Smithsonian building. There is a stage for entertainment in the evening, a food tent with GREAT food, a New Media tent, a Peacekeepers tent, and other facilities. The event is organized by a number of groups, including the Service Employees International Union, along with local groups around the country. I talked to several people who came out from Idaho last night who organize food distribution and other services for poor and unemployed people, and they had stories about the terrible way unemployment is affecting people there.
Today people gathered in the morning in groups to prepare to visit members of Congress. There were three tents where groups gathered. There was the A-G tent, the H-O tent and the P-Z tent. I was joining the group that was heading over to Rep. Darrell Issa's office, and thought it was appropriate that we would meet in the H-O tent because he is such a big corporate … well, you know.
Anyone Can Visit
A lot of people don't realize it, but anyone can visit the office of any member of Congress. You can come to D.C. and locate your member of Congress's office and go in and say you live in that district and want to say, “Hi.” Or say other things. They work for you. Everyone in our delegation was from California, which is why Rep. Issa was chosen for a visit.
The group walked in the rain down the mall to the Capitol and turned right to the Rayburn building where some of the members of Congress and various committees are located. We had to pass through security which involved putting any bags and computers through an X-ray machine, and walking through a metal detector. We didn't have to take off our shoes.
Rep. Issa's Office
The group collected and went to Issa's office, walked right in, and asked to see the Congressman. He was over at the Capitol, an aide said she would speak with the people there, but the people wanted to see Rep. Issa himself. She asked if the group could please move to the hall, and they said they would wait right there, thank you. After some back and forth, please clear a path for visitors, please move to the hall, I'll meet with you instead, etc., she called the Capitol Police who said that the office had requested them to please leave. So they left the office and waited in the hall.
After a while the group decided to leave a few people at Issa's office and head over the another California Congressman's office, Rep. Dan Lungren. They arrived at Lungren's office, same story, we want to meet with the Representative, the aid said she would talk with them, no thanks we want to talk to the Congressman himself, etc. But this office did not call the Capitol Police, and they were especially nice, even bringing water and coffee. (Pretty good coffee.)
Meanwhile Rep. Issa showed up at his office and demanded that the people there show ID to prove they are from his district. One of them was, but she pointed out that Issa gets campaign money from donors and corporate PACs from all over the country, and that his committees represent the entire country, so why wouldn't he talk to citizens from all over the country? He said no, booted them from his office, and took off.
At Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy's office, a small group of citizens also sought to discuss with the congressman his votes against the jobs bills that have been sent to the Congress by the White House. They included Nancy Castaneda of Los Angeles, who used to have a job cleaning the apartments of people who were evicted. But the pay was meager and sporadic, and eventually she was told there wasn't sufficient work for her. She said she's looking for “anything that gets me money to pay the rent, to pay the bills,” but she says finding even a low-paying job in Los Angeles is very difficult.
Jibri Range said he's having the same experience. The 19-year-old is taking courses to get a high school equivalency certificate, but in the meantime hasn't been able to find a job even in the fast-food restaurants in his Los Angeles neighborhood. “There are so many people applying for jobs,” he said, and even though he “keeps pushing, keeps bugging” potential employers, he's having a hard time breaking in.
“I'd like to see no more cuts, no more minimum wage, really just give us more jobs,” he said.
This is going on in offices of dozens of members of Congress today, with the unemployed and workers demanding that the 99% and the unemployed be heard, just as much as the corporate donors and billionaires are heard. They are asking for unemployment benefits to be extended, and for infrastructure projects that will employ millions and improve the economy, providing jobs for the long term. They are asking Congress for legislation to allow judges to “cram down” mortgage amounts so people do not lose their homes. They are asking for tax increases on the rich and new taxes on Wall Street speculation to pay for essential services so those services do not have to be cut.
On Wednesday they are going after K Street.
I also have videos with stories told by people about their situations, and will be posting those in their own posts later. Stay tuned.