For about 30 minutes Wednesday afternoon, a group of a couple hundred union workers, labor activists and progressives turned the lobby of a DC office building into a mini-Wisconsin State Capitol.
In a microcosm of the fight between labor and the Republican-led government in the Badger State, union protesters (and their progressive allies) stormed the lobby of a downtown DC office building that hold the headquarters of BGR Group, a lobbying firm that was hosting a fundraiser for, among others, several of the Republican state Senators who just voted to strip collective bargaining from thousands of Wisconsin union workers.
The protesters occupied the high-roofed marble lobby for about 30 minutes. They chanted, they spoke and they waved many of the same signs they’ve been waving across the Midwest for weeks. And upstairs, just as in the state Senate chamber in Madison, the targets of the protest said they were unfazed.
The demonstration was put on by a slew of progressive and labor groups. The largest contingents were workers from the AFSCME union and the AFL-CIO. But there were plenty of supporters on hand as well.
“He’s trying to break the poor people from political power,” Lisa Werth, a DC nanny and the daughter of two Wisconsin union workers said of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). “People I know back home voted for Walker because of his pro-life stance. But he doesn’t have a pro-living stance.”
A small crowd of bona fide socialists waving copies of the Socialist Worker showed up too, and they were not eager to talk. One who’d only go by ‘Mike,’ only agreed to a quick interview after “vetting” me.
“Fox News types are always eager to use Red Scare rhetoric [on us],” he told me. “That makes certain liberal groups, yeah, a little bit skittish.”
But Mike said his group was there to show solidarity, not call attention to their more controversial cause.
“The reality is, the better working people have it, the better everyone has it,” he said, claiming that fighting for a “strong middle class” is what socialism is all about.
DC AFSCME local 3870 member and federal worker Debra Arnold spoke to TPM amid the din of whistles and chants. She said she was on hand to support her labor brethren waging battle with elected officials across the Midwest. But she also took a shot at the elected leaders down the block in her hometown.
“The union helped to elect [President] Obama,” she said. “I’d like to see him step up and do more…he needs to help us now.”
Up in the BGR suite, where the Republicans were being feted, no one needed any help.
“A small group is in the building lobby,” Loren Monroe, spokesperson for the firm, told TPM as the protest raged below. “BGR Group is one of dozens of companies in the Homer Building and the event is proceeding smoothly.”
Monroe said the event “was not moved.” During the protest, a number of people who looked like they worked in the building stood in front of the elevators, barring anyone from going near them. Only a press pass let me past the men in ties to the elevator doors.
BGR suggested that wasn’t their doing.
“The building management company is responsible for all security-related decisions,” Moroe said. The spokesperson stressed, “we don’t own the building.”
Down in the lobby, early fears by at least one AFL-CIO rep in the crowd that police would come to dissipate the protesters were unfounded. There were no incidents of any kind, and after a short stand in the lobby, everyone filed out to continue the protest where it started, on the sidewalk outside.
But not before Joslyn Williams, president of the DC AFL-CIO council and a member of AFSMCE local 2477, addressed the crowd and declared a ten-minute occupation.
“We are going to occupy this ground here,” he said to the crowd below, “which we are now going to call ‘hallowed ground for the middle class.'”
Late Update: I left the scene after the occupation of BGR headquarters ended. But the protest apparently continued, and included a march to the Chamber of Commerce by what DailyKos says was “as many as 1000 people.” Read their write up of what went down here.