WASHINGTON—National labor groups and other activists demonstrated and briefly blocked an intersection in the nation’s capital Tuesday to protest the looming budget sequestration and its impact on middle class families.
Our DC, a local non-profit that works to connect lower and middle-income workers with good paying jobs, organized the Washington effort titled, “Fix the Greed.” The event was one of more than 100 nationwide set for Tuesday’s sequestration “Day of Action.” Backed by groups like AFL-CIO, National Education Association and Health Care for America, organizers urged Congress to avoid impending budget cuts.
“This is not just a one-off event; this is not just a one-off day of action around the country,” Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said before speaking at the rally. “You are seeing people all across the country, hundreds of actions, each couple weeks because D.C. doesn’t seem to get the message.”
In Washington, protesters targeted the non-partisan campaign Fix the Debt, co-founded by Democrat Erskine Bowles and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson – namesakes of the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan. The debt coalition has a budget of $60 million and its members include various politicians, lobbyists and more than 90 corporate CEOs.
Catherine Hawkins, 65, believes the make-up of Fix the Debt consists of the out-of-touch 1 percent. Hawkins’ says her monthly income of $1,816 is not enough to sustain her, and she relies on government benefits that are at risk of being cut in the March sequestration.
“[Fix the Debt are] rich politicians and CEOs; they want to cut what I depend on—food stamps, Medicaid and Social Security,” Hawkins said. “They want to cut our benefits.”
Volunteers from Our DC blocked the intersection of L and 19th street in downtown Washington. Another 200 or so filled nearby streets to protest Fix the Debt’s headquarters. Protesters in yellow reflective vests stood in the intersection for about 15 minutes as traffic backed up, but they left peacefully when police stepped in. Similar to the inflatable union rats, a large, millionaire pig float also stood in the middle of the street with volunteers chanting, “Fix the Debt is fulla baloney.”
As it stands, the looming sequester would not affect Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits as they are exempt from the across-the-board cuts. However, the main concern for most of the protesters, including Anthony Allen of Washington, is the potential for cuts to these programs. Allen, 48, relies on drugs such as Prozac to battle his depression and other pain and is already struggling with making ends meet.
“Some months it gets real rough because I don’t know whether to pay rent or to buy my medicine,” Allen said. “That’s why I’m out here, because I do need my Medicaid, my Medicare and my Social Security because that’s all I receive.”
Fix the Debt was prepared for the surge of protesters after Our DC interrupted a Politico Playbook breakfast featuring Simpson and Bowles Monday. Though the protesters were greeted with locked doors at the building’s lobby, Our DC organizer Inocencio Quinones believes the protest was a success in shining awareness on the opposition the organization faces.
“They locked the door, so they know they gotta’ look over their shoulders,” Quinones said. “Nobody wants to get caught with their hand in the cookie jar, and now their hand is in the cookie jar and we just cut on the kitchen light.”