About 30 protesters have occupied a waiting area in an office belonging to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), saying they are speaking up for unemployed and under-employed people in the District.
The protesters, all said to be District residents, were organized by a new nonprofit group, OurDC. They arrived about 10:30 a.m. at McConnell’s third-floor office in the Russell Senate Office Building, an organizer said. A staffer offered to meet with the group, but the group insisted on meeting with McConnell himself.
“The Senator needs to see their pain, hear their stories, and really needs to look them in the eye,” said James Adams, one of the group’s organizers. The protesters said they wanted to lobby McConnell to support some of President Obama’s jobs proposals, because they include millions of dollars in funding for projects in the District.
An organizer said the protesters planned to stay until McConnell would meet with them personally. He said he was not sure what would happen if McConnell did not agree to a meeting before the office closed for the evening. McConnell, as minority leader, also has a large suite of offices in the Capitol itself.
On Thursday afternoon, the Senate is scheduled to vote on a section of President Obama’s jobs plan, with $60 billion for infrastructure projects around the country. Democrats want to pay for it with a 0.7 percent surtax on people making more than $1 million per year.
The bill is expected to be blocked, as Senate Republicans and perhaps a few Democrats vote “no” on a procedural measure. Several of President Obama’s jobs proposals have been blocked this year, in similar votes that fail to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to end debate in the Senate. Democrats, in turn, have blocked GOP proposals for job creation.
About 2:30 p.m. Thursday, a number of protesters — many wearing T-shirts with handwritten slogans like “Good Jobs” and “I need a job” — sat quietly in McConnell’s waiting room. The protesters said they had not intended to be disruptive, spending their time making cellphone calls to other Senate offices.
One protester said McConnell staffers had offered them water and given them directions to the nearest cafeteria. A spokesperson for McConnell also described the scene as “calm,” although the protesters continued to reject offers to meet with McConnell’s staff instead of the senator.
Among those in the office was Robert Williams, 30, a resident of the District’s Ward Six. Williams said he had a college degree in accounting but could only find temp work as a busboy, waiter and dishwasher.
Williams said he hoped that the group could persuade McConnell to support elements of the jobs bill. “He’s the minority leader, and he has a lot of pull,” Williams said. “If we can sway him, then that’d be pretty good for our cause.”
Maurice Stewart, 26, a South Carolina native living in Southeast Washington said he was unemployed. But Stewart said he was hoping to find a job working for a heating and air conditioning contractor. Both he and Williams said they thought increased infrastructure funding could create more jobs in Washington.
Why was Stewart taking the time to sit all day in a Senator’s office?
“That’s all I have, is time,” Stewart said.