Posted by Thomas Nephew on March 18th, 2011
On Wednesday, many of the key GOP legislators who voted to end collective bargaining for public unions in Wisconsin planned on coming to DC for a March 16 fundraiser — essentially sneaking into DC to pick up their checks for their sneak vote against labor. A lot of different groups — AFL-CIO, MoveOn, Public Campaign — started telling their supporters to show up at the site of the fundraiser: the BGR lobbying firm headquarters, at 601 13th St NW in Washington DC.
I was among those who joined the demonstration. As ever, I brought along my camera and video camera.
At first we just walked up and down in front of the building, I’d guess maybe five or six hundred people all told. Then all of a sudden a guy standing at the door starts waving people in, so everybody so inclined crowded inside, chanting, blowing whistles, etc.
What greeted us was an all but perfect stage setting for a confrontation with the ruling class, something out of Bertolt Brecht’s wildest dreams: a marble and glass indoor atrium, lined with palm trees below, stretching up for ten stories above, each floor with balconies at which startled denizens of the building gathered to view the impromptu occupation. A heroic statue* stood at the center of a stairway reaching up several stories; a “Respect Workers Rights” banner was quickly hung on the balustrade in front of it. It developed that three or four hundred people can really raise a pretty deafening ruckus if they are so inclined.
The organizers showed a deft touch with the whole thing in that they did *not* stay in any one place for long. After a few remarks by an AFL-CIO organizers, a Wisconsin teacher, and a Sheet Metal Worker union official, the word was OK, we’re leaving now, clean up, leave it better than you found it.
At this point many hundred more had gathered outside, and the DC police decided to just cordon off the block and give it over to the protest. So that’s what happened — but after a few minutes the crowd proceeded away from that as well, heading straight to the White House. We got there in about ten minutes, stood there doing many of the same chants — “What’s disgusting? Union busting” etc. — and then left *again* along a diagonal path through Lafayette Park, away from the White House. I had no idea where they were headed and tagged along. But when they got to H Street they doubled back heading east — towards the US Chamber of Commerce. And by golly if they didn’t head straight in there too! So I did as well.
This time the place was smaller, a regular lobby maybe forty feet by forty feet, with several dozen of us inside, one guy banging a drum for all he was worth, everyone else chanting “hey hey ho ho” and “people united will never be defeated” and whatnot.
One security guy was apparently steamed about it all — and decided he’d pull a fast one on us and close and lock the doors with us still on the inside. I started to leave, but he blocked me — and he was a *big* guy, bound and determined to keep me from leaving and on bottling up everyone else behind me. At no time did I hear him or anyone else request that we leave, though I may have missed that part, I was maybe the 30th person to go in.
By the time he was trying to shut the doors, there were about three or four dozen of us inside. One guy ducked under his arm, he tried to stop that (so he wasn’t just trying to block further entrants). A bunch of us started to press out, me in the lead (I didn’t want to get trapped in there). A bit of a nonviolent scrum ensued, him and one or two security guards on the outside trying to close the doors on us, 4 or 5 of us pushing out, me getting pushed from both sides — kind of the cork in the bottle — thinking hmm, this is the proverbial tight squeeze. But our push won, the door stayed open. On the outside, people began chanting “let them out,” and as far as I know everyone did stream out — and dispersed, this time for good.
In just a few minutes my friend Tim and I had left as well. We headed over to a bar, and celebrated the day with some beers and fish and chips. I gave away my “We Are One” ATU sign — which someone else had given to me — to some tourists who asked me for it.
I’ll post some videos below. The first two are fairly raw footage — i.e., sometimes I forgot the camcorder was on and you’ll see the bag or my feet or the world turned upside down. But in a way, it was, and the topsy turvy videography almost gets across the spirit of the moment as well as anything else. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Other accounts of the protest:
- Wisconsin Republicans Get Special Welcome in Washington (Hall, AFL-CIO)
- Large, dynamic solidarity protest in DC outside Wisconsin GOP fundraiser (Chris Bowers, DailyKos)
- DC protesters help Wisconsin GOP feel at home by occupying atrium of the Homer Building (Dane101)
- Hundreds of Wisconsin Protesters Crash GOP Fundraiser (Loudis, Slatest)
- Union Protesters March Through DC Streets, Storm Wisconsin Republican Fundraiser (Cohan, FOX5)
* The statue in the center really was magnificent, it seemed all but designed for the occasion. It turns out it’s called “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,” by Donald De Lue; perhaps sadly, the original is at the Normandy American military cemetery in France. I like to think this was its happiest day in many a year.