The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

D.C. protests disrupt traffic around U.S. Capitol; 38 arrested

Activists block Pennsylvania Avenue NW on Dec. 7. Separate protests in the District called for congressional action on issues such as climate change, social spending and voting rights. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

Activists disrupted rush-hour traffic and more than three dozen were arrested around the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday in two separate protests demanding congressional action on a host of liberal priorities, including climate change, immigration, racial justice and D.C. statehood.

Protests started around 7 a.m. and included plans for a brass band at Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues NW, a go-go band on a flatbed truck at the Potomac Avenue Metro station, another street blockade at Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW, and others focused on climate and racial justice, said Hope Neyer, an organizer with ShutDownDC and a junior at American University studying public health.

U.S. Capitol Police had said Sunday that drivers should anticipate sudden road closures and traffic delays. Just before 8 a.m., a band blocked part of Independence Avenue and Fourth Street SW, and protesters briefly blocked part of Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues.

By about 10 a.m., Capitol Police tweeted that all roads that had experienced closures were reopened.

Protesters are demanding congressional action on many issues, including calling for the Senate to pass an approximately $2 trillion proposal known as the Build Back Better Act, which would provide new investments in universal prekindergarten, aid to low-income families, Medicare coverage expansion and efforts to combat climate change, among other areas, financed through tax increases on wealthy Americans.

“They’re on their way in the morning to business as usual. That can’t be allowed to continue when they continue to ignore the things that we need,” Neyer said. “We feel this is a very crucial time.”

Other protesters agreed.

Jennifer Flynn Walker, the senior director of mobilization and advocacy at the Center for Popular Democracy, a collective of liberal groups, said that just a few hours later, about 2,000 people from across the country joined another protest in D.C., also calling for passage of the Build Back Better Act.

This protest, which included the immigrant rights groups CASA and United We Dream, among others, was scheduled to begin with a march at 11 a.m. from Union Station to the Taft Memorial near the Capitol, where there was a rally. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Luis J. Correa (D-Calif.) were among speakers, Flynn Walker said. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other members of Congress also attended a nearby news conference organized by immigrant advocacy groups to demand the Senate include a pathway to citizenship in the final version of the Build Back Better Act, according to a news release.

“This bill is actually transformative. It is many of the things that some of us have been fighting for almost decades,” Flynn Walker said. “This is the agenda we have been hoping that Democrats would lead on, that President Biden would lead on. We know that time is running out.”

By Tuesday afternoon, there were 38 people arrested for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding,” a Capitol Police spokesperson confirmed.

The people arrested were protesting on Constitution Avenue NW near the intersection with New Jersey Avenue NW, Flynn Walker said. A video posted on Twitter at 1:14 p.m. showed that crowd repeating the call-and-response chant: “What do we want? Citizenship! When do we want it? Now!”

In the video, a lieutenant with the Capitol Police can be heard warning the protesters that if they did not move from the street, they would be arrested.

The crowd remained and kept chanting: “Si, se puede!” and “The people united will never be defeated!”