At exactly 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday a few hundred people began preventing any work that might have been done in the Senate Hart Office Building. Until sometime past noon, the noise of incessant chanting and the spectacle of banners, flags, and flyers actually flying down into a large atrium directed the attention of staffers and corporate lobbyists in every window away from their work. For another half hour or so, the police worked to clear people out of hallways and quiet them down. The police closed off access to the building for visitors.
For another hour or more, our friends who had chosen to demonstrate in front of the building displayed giant signs, played thundering music on their drums, and generally kept people away from the now closed building entrance.
Our chants were clear enough for easy comprehension by just about anyone over the age of 3 other than perhaps CNN producers:
“How do we fix the deficit? End the wars! Tax the rich!”
“Senators for sale, go to jail!”
“We are the 99 percent and so are You are the 99 percent and so are We are the 99 percent ….”
Videos tell the story: http://warisacrime.org/hart
While a few people inside the atrium chose not to comply with orders to be quiet or disperse and were arrested, most of us were not. Six people were arrested, but I don’t know the details of all six arrests. We could do this sort of thing every day without arrests if done right.
Later in the day, in the next building over, the Senate Finance Committee met to discuss ways it could kill off more jobs, including new corporate trade aggreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea. Four of us, including me, were arrested for speaking up in protest. Others, including Robert Naiman, managed to avoid arrest even while speaking out. This required merely wearing the congressional uniform (a suit and tie) and not being too loud.
I’ve been told there are good videos and photos of our protestations in the committee hearing but can’t find them, so please share if you can. There was also, of course, C-Span.
The Hart Senate Office Building has a multistory atrium with hallways open to it from four sides on the third, fifth, and seventh floors. The three Senate office buildings are connected inside, and have entrances all around them through which you are allowed to simply walk in at any time. It is not difficult to bring banners inside, either stuffed in a backpack or hidden under your clothes. A hundred people or more can make enough noise to halt work in all the surrounding offices. And the police give three warnings before arresting you. (Be careful, though, because it’s impossible to hear the police talking during the chanting and clapping by yourself and your friends.)
In committees it is usually possible to hold up signs before the gavel of the chairman or chairwoman bangs the hearing into session. Then, if you speak up, there may be warnings, you may be escorted out, or you may be arrested. It is usually possible to find out beforehand. We knew we were likely to be arrested on Tuesday and did not care.
The downside to being arrested by the Capitol Police is that they can be very slow, and then you can end up with a distant court date that you have no option but to appear for, or you will face a separate criminal prosecution. The police themselves are polite and professional, but they have antiquated computers and not enough of them. They do most of their work by hand on endless pieces of paper, copying information from form to form by hand. They even have typewriters. We were processed by trainees, but training wasn’t the only thing lacking. They needed decent equipment and, frankly, decent educations. In the shadow of the government buildings used to pour trillions of dollars into wars and the enrichment of our corporate overlords, the government’s own guardians emerge from a magnificently mediocre school system to find employment in an underfunded operation that does the bidding of our fascistic committee chairmen to the extent of its abilities. Average time for processing arrestees on Tuesday was about four hours.
If you have a charge pending as I now do, it can be harder to get released at all if arrested again. So, a strategy that involves arrests, or an effort to fill the jails, can result in a reduction in available people for further actions.
However, we can prevent work in one congressional office building or another, day after day, without necessarily having anyone arrested. At this point I’m leaning in that direction. Unless, of course, Congress discovers the need to end the wars and tax the rich.