The protesters carried bubble wands, noise makers and posters with council members’ faces on it. By 11 a.m., the caravan holding about 50 people descended on 14th and U streets to visit some of the District’s popular brunch spots. On the back of some cars read fliers that said “No justice no brunch.”
They chanted “No me excluyas” — which translates to “Don’t exclude me” — and “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” — which translates to “The people united will never be defeated.”
There are an estimated 15,000 street vendors, domestic workers and laborers across the District who were excluded from federal pandemic aid programs and unemployment benefits because they rely primarily on cash or nontraditional income streams. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) allocated $15 million to help these workers in her nearly $17.5 billion fiscal 2022 budget package, which would go into effect Oct. 1.
But advocates want to raise the total allotment to $200 million.
At an initial vote on July 20, the council approved a proposal from its labor and workforce development committee to add $20 million to aid these workers. The same day, at-large council member Elissa Silverman (I) proposed an additional $6 million, but the recommendation was shut down as only two other council members voted in favor of it.
“I think it is a good expenditure of our dollars at this time,” Silverman said in a phone interview. “This is where our equity gap lies. We need to help them get to a better place.”
The city council is expected to take final votes on the budget in August.
Throughout the pandemic, the protesters said they have only received $1,000 in aid through the city’s events fund and the council in 2020.
Reyna Sosa, with Vendedores Unidos, a group of street vendors in the District, said her daily income from her fruit stand along 14th and Irving streets NW has been $40 on a good day during the pandemic. In the past year, the 40-year-old said she struggled to pay bills while taking care of her seven children, often leaving herself without a meal.
“We need to pay rent. We are working for our families,” Sosa said. “We are not invisible, we exist. $35 million is not enough.”
She grabbed a megaphone and hopped into the minivan of Megan Macaraeg, who helped to coordinate the caravan. With the windows rolled halfway down, Reina Moreno, 31, held up a poster and shouted, “¡Doscientos milliones!,” referring to the $200 million the activists were asking for in funding.
Sosa, Moreno and others in the car leaped out shouting, “¡Vamos! ¡Vamos!” — which translates to “Let’s go! Let’s go!” — as they approached the home of Ward 2 council member Brooke Pinto (D).
With three days before the council takes a second vote on the budget, the activists have paid visits to several council members’ homes in hopes of convincing them to increase the funding. Members of Son La Lucha, a Mexican folk band, performed outside of Pinto’s home as the protesters chanted and waved their signs.
Pinto did not immediately respond to a request to comment Saturday.
D.C. police and half a dozen bicyclists rode along the caravan to guide traffic. Bicyclists passed out fliers to onlookers with several along 14th Street smiling or waving to the protesters. Some people in the residential streets peered out of their windows, and several people walked out to their balconies or front door to dance as the protesters drove by. Cars on the opposite side of the street honked in solidarity.
Moreno, a domestic worker with an 8-year-old son and another child on the way, said she thinks the additional funding would help the city’s economy as the workers would spend the money locally.
“We are 15,000 workers, and we’ve only gotten $1,000 to recover from this pandemic,” Moreno said through an interpreter. “We just hope that the leadership of the city is able to see that the work of excluded workers has honor and dignity.”