Six people were arrested in the Senate’s Hart office building on Tuesday, after protesters affiliated with the “Occupy D.C.” movement began chanting loudly and unfurling banners calling for the end of overseas wars and for increased taxes on the rich.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol complex, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) softened his tone on the protest movements in both Washington and New York. On Friday, he had referred to them as “growing mobs.” But he steered away from that description Tuesday.
Instead, Cantor criticized Democrats for encouraging the demonstrations. But he called the protesters “justifiably frustrated”
“People are afraid, and I get it,” Cantor said Tuesday.
The protest that led to the arrests began about 11:30 a.m., in Capitol Hill’s most modern office building, with a soaring open atrium. An organizer said the protestors — inspired by the “Occupy Wall Street” protests in Manhattan — had chosen this one of the Capitol’s six office buildings to target because “it has great acoustics.”
David Swanson, a Charlottesville native who was one of the organizers, said a group numbering in the hundreds had gathered on open walkways that face the building’s atrium on the third, fifth and seventh floors. He said they chanted “How do you fix the deficit? End the wars! Tax the rich!”
The group also unfurled banners from the walkways that included those slogans, as well as “We are the 99 percent.” That is a reference to a slogan of the new protest movement, which holds that the country’s wealthiest 1 percent have shaped policy to fit their interests.
Swanson said the group chanted for a long period — he estimated half an hour — before Capitol Police arrived and began warning demonstrators they would be arrested.
“It went longer than I’ve ever seen,” a protest like this last, Swanson said. “I mean, we just kept chanting.”
Capitol Police eventually arrested six people and charged them with “unlawful conduct — demonstrating in a Capitol building,” said Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a police spokeswoman. Other demonstrators left willingly, protesters said, after police warned they would be arrested.
Swanson said the protest had been planned for two days among demonstrators at the main “Occupy D.C.” encampment in Freedom Plaza downtown. But he said demonstrators were not told until 9 a.m. Tuesday where the protest would be and when.
Cantor, speaking to reporters about an hour later, criticized Democratic leaders encouraging the protesters as “not very helpful right now.”
“We have elected leaders, stirring the pot if you will. That’s not good,” Cantor told reporters, suggesting the group’s aims are “pitting one part of our country against another” with their critique of Wall Street bankers. “We’re supposed to be leading for all people.”