Ernest Adkins left his wife and 4-month-old baby in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday to drive four hours to Washington. The U.S. Army veteran then spent Sunday morning marching through the city, where he wound up standing in front of the White House for three hours, holding a sign over his head that read “Respect our Vets.”
He was one of the hundreds of veterans who descended on Washington for the “Million Vet March on the Memorials.” Frustrated with the government shutdown, protesters tore down barricades from closed monuments and memorials and piled them outside the White House. It was the latest burst of public outrage over lawmakers’ inability to compromise over the budget, leading to a shutdown that has crippled government services and left tens of thousands of federal employees furloughed.
With a modest disability check that may be cut off within weeks and severe health problems after doing two tours of duty in Iraq, “I don’t know what to do to bring in income,” said Adkins, 32.
The closure of monuments throughout the city has been one of the most visible symbols of the shutdown.
“They are our memorials, and they belong to us,” said Steve Nevels, who drove six hours from West Virginia to participate in the demonstration. Nevels, 39, said he helped take down some of the barricades that were blocking the World War II Memorial, where the group started its march at about 8 a.m. Protesters then made their way to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial before converging at the White House shortly before noon.
They carried “Impeach Obama” signs and waved yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” American Revolution-era flags before moving on to the U.S. Capitol a few hours later. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, with a few short clashes between police and protesters in front of the White House as officers put up temporary fencing along the sidewalk.
U.S. Park Police estimated there were 100 to 200 protesters and said there were no arrests.
Michael Ashmore drove 24 hours from Texas for the march. The 24-year-old former Marine served four years in Afghanistan and said his disability benefits stopped about a week ago.
Ashmore says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is “living one day at a time” without his disability check.
Politicians, Ashmore said, “just need to get their priorities straight and look out for everybody else instead of themselves.”
At about 3 p.m., Adkins prepared to wrap up his protest and head back home to his family. Holding back tears, he said his household has cut back on expenses, spending money mostly on diapers and formula for his son.
“Stop being petty,” Adkins warned lawmakers. “We’re talking about childish games that are affecting the American people.”