'Anti-K Street' protest snarls traffic in downtown Washington

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By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 17, 2010; 3:53 PM

A few hundred protesters snarled traffic on K Street on Monday and shut down a Bank of America near Capitol Hill as part of an "anti-K Street" protest sponsored by a coalition of community groups and labor unions. In the rain, members of the National People's Action network and an array of unions marched down the street behind a float depicting a large, sinister-looking bald banker holding the U.S. Capitol on puppet strings.

"We've come here to bust up big banks. It's high time someone held them accountable," said Eugene Barnes, board president of National People's Action, which helped organize the march in concert with the Service Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO and Jobs With Justice.

The protests were part of a several days of marches targeting bankers and lobbyists in their homes and offices, Barnes said. The same group stood on the lawn Sunday at what protesters said was the Chevy Chase home of Bank of America's general counsel. After Monday's march on K Street, some went to lobby on Capitol Hill in favor of financial regulatory reform.

Organizers dubbed the series of protests "Showdown in America."

The "showdown" looked in many ways like recent conservative "tea party" protests. The liberal marchers were similarly passionate, shouting out their patriotism and frustration.

"We want America back the way it used to be," said Gus Samayoa, who builds chandeliers in Providence, R.I. "Now it only belongs to the rich people. There was a time when you could jump from one job to another. Now those jobs are in China."

"Wall Street has taken over our economy. They are taking our jobs. We are losing our homes," said his wife, Shirley, who lost her job last year after the Colibri manufacturing plant was purchased by a private equity firm. "We need to reclaim our rights."

By the end of the hour-long march, their handwritten signs were dripping ink, but the words: "Jobs Now!" "Reclaim America" and "The Other 98 percent" were still visible. The "98 percent" signs refer to the percentage of American people who are not registered lobbyists, said Andrew Boyd, a liberal activist from New York.

The march was composed of a mix of groups advocating their causes. Members of the American Federation of Teachers union decried school budget cuts that have cost teachers their jobs. "You want to blame someone for the financial crisis? It's not the kids," said science teacher Joel Hirschey, who added that budget cuts in the North Syracuse, N.Y., school district cost him his job.

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, who also spoke at the march, said, "A movement is building . . . [to] demand Wall Street and our politicians start meeting their basic responsibilities to the American people by creating jobs and rebuilding our economy . . . and ensuring taxpayers are never again forced to bail out Wall Street's recklessness."

Lian Esehaki, a research intern at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who was taking a cigarette break under an awning 15th and K streets, said the size of the crowd was impressive. "On a rainy day, they are out and dedicated," she said. "It took me a year to find a job after graduation. I totally feel what they are saying."

If the lobbyists and bankers whom the protesters were targeting took note of the hour-long march, it wasn't evident Monday afternoon. Driving rain kept the usually busy K Street lunch crowd inside.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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