WASHINGTON – More than 70 protesters were arrested Monday in a demonstration outside the U.S. Capitol demanding legislation to aid low-wage workers, people without access to health care, parents who need child care and immigrants hoping for a path to citizenship.
“We cannot, in these days, be silent,” the Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival told the crowd outside the U.S. Capitol on Monday. “Not when there is the biggest attack on our democracy in our lifetime.”
They said they are tired of waiting for legislation they believe should have come by now and are pressing the Senate to pass an approximately $2 trillion proposal known as the Build Back Better Act before the new year as a “first step.” This plan would provide new investments in universal prekindergarten, aid to low-income families, Medicare coverage expansion and efforts to combat climate change, among other areas, financed through tax increases on wealthy Americans.
“For too long we have heard promises during campaigns that sound like it’s going to lift up the people, and then once people get elected they disappear at the end and during the congressional session because somebody, somewhere has got some deep pockets say it’s not possible,” the Rev. William Barber, a North Carolina preacher who is co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, told the crowd outside the Capitol. “Well, we refuse to accept the crisis of possibility.”
Theoharis and Barber then led Monday’s protesters to the intersection of 3rd Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, holding a banner with others demanding that Congress “get it done in 2021” over demands to protect immigrants, low-wage workers and voting rights.
Specifically, they called for passing the Build Back Better Act, protecting and expanding voting rights, abolishing the filibuster, enacting protections for immigrants, raising the minimum wage to $15 and protecting Oak Flat, a sacred site 60 miles east of Phoenix, from a mining operation.
Several dozen people then stood in a circle, blocked the intersection and began singing:
“Which side are you on my people, which side are you on?”
“We’re on the people’s side!”
Police warned the crowd that they would be arrested if they did not disperse. Barber walked over to a Capitol Police officer, leaned over and said through his mask: “You know we’re not coming to get arrested. We’re coming to arrest the attention of the nation. We’re nonviolent.”
“You’re still blocking the roadway, sir,” the officer responded.
Officers warned the group two more times to disperse, but they remained. A total of 71 people were arrested for crowding, obstructing or blocking the street, a Capitol Police spokesman said.
This was the latest protest organized by the new Poor People’s Campaign, the resurgence of a movement organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. before his death in 1968. The group also protested in the nation’s capital many times throughout the summer, calling for many of the same things they were fighting for outside the Capitol on Monday.
“We ain’t going to be like January the 6th. We fight for the real people. Y’all ain’t got to worry about us,” Barber said to the Capitol Police officers standing off to the side during the protest. “We fight for you and your children.”