Labor and community activists travel to DC for a week of actions
DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: Demonstrators from across the country convened on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, December 6, to occupy congressional representatives’ offices and demand that they represent the interests of the 99 percent. Among their demands were calls for jobs programs, higher tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, an end to foreclosures, and for representatives to be held more accountable to their constituents and less controlled by powerful interests on Wall Street. Shani Smith traveled to Washington from Chicago with a delegation of labor and community groups. She says herself and other protestors came to the capitol building to advocate on behalf of their communities and confront a growing set of economic pressures and perceived lack of political influence.
SHANI SMITH, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, CHICAGO: It’s important that we tax the 1 percent, we bring gainful employment and living wages, jobs, to the 99 percent, as well as house the 99 percent. And it’s important that we begin to invest in infrastructure. We need the extended unemployment benefits. We need to reinvest within our communities and create jobs.
DOUGHERTY: The ongoing events in Washington were organized by the SEIU labor union, as well as a number of other labor and community organizations. Much of the demonstrators’ demands and language mirrored that of the recent Occupy movements. New York Occupy Wall Street participant Jesse LaGreca says it’s important for the occupation movements to expand into the political arena to engage in and challenge standing decision-making processes.
JESSE LAGRECA, FREELANCE JOURNALIST, ACTIVIST: To me, I see this as phase two of Occupy Wall Street. I really feel that, you know, we’re trying to change the country, we’re trying to do the right thing for everybody, not just the wealthiest people in the room. So we need to be able to exercise our political power. And I see that the point is not to sleep in tents. Although it’s important to occupy public and private areas, we need to challenge political power and challenge the power of vast economic resources. So, to me, I think we need to articulate our ideas into the laws that we want to change and the change that we want to see. And I think that everybody should be a voter. I think everyone should be using the little political power we have to effect real changes.
DOUGHERTY: For many of those present, unemployment and home foreclosures were among the most pressing issues affecting their communities. OlivÃ© Hendricks of Massachusetts was laid off from his job as a steelworker more than a year ago, placing him in a precarious situation that he and many others say has only worsened with the policies of representatives like his state senator Scott Brown.
OLIVÃ‰ HENDRICKS, UNEMPLOYED IRONWORKER, LOCAL 7: As an unemployed worker right now, I have had my house foreclosed on illegally by the banks. So I’m fighting to keep my house. Right now, my unemployment has ran out. What does Scott Brown do? He votes against the extension of unemployment. You know what I mean? So as far as a unemployed person is concerned, these are the kind of pressures that we have on us.
SHANI SMITH, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, CHICAGO: I lost my job. My family has–our family home has been between forbearance and foreclosure. Since I lost my job, I’ve been in between underemployed and unemployed. These are things that particularly within minority communities hit the hardest, underserved communities. We are hit the hardest. National unemployment rate is at 8.6 percent as reported, but in my community it’s almost 20 percent. When you talk about foreclosures–I live in Calumet Heights in Chicago. There are up to ten foreclosed homes on one block. This is unacceptable.
DOUGHERTY: Few representatives chose to engage with the protestors or respond to their demands. The Take Back the Capitol movement has planned several more actions for the rest of the week, including a march on K Street targeting powerful lobbying firms. This David Dougherty with The Real News Network.
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