Nearly 150 people were arrested Monday outside the Capitol during the inaugural demonstration of a month-long protest of poverty, war and inequality that attempts to revive a civil rights campaign from 50 years ago.
The Rev. William Barber and the Rev. Liz Theoharis, the lead organizers for the new Poor People’s Campaign — named after the original coalition of 1968 organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — were among 146 protesters who refused to get out of First Street SE and were arrested by Capitol Police.
Barber, a minister from North Carolina and former president of that state’s NAACP chapter, said the group had decided to block traffic outside the Capitol to send a message to lawmakers.
“We took those streets to say that we’re headed in the wrong direction as a nation,” Barber said after he was released from custody. “We believe something worse is being done than our blocking traffic for an hour. Our Constitution says we’re to promote the general welfare. This Congress is not abiding by that mandate. The Constitution says, ‘Establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility.’ Those promises are being broken.”
Theoharis, his co-organizer, is one of the directors of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice in New York.
Officers gave protesters three warnings before taking demonstrators into custody. Some were held for nearly five hours while police processed their citations, protesters said.
As officers led them away, demonstrators sang the civil rights song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”
All 146 were charged with obstructing the street and fined $50.
More than 300 people were arrested or cited in protests in the District and state capitals around the country, according to police reports: 88 in Jefferson City, Mo.; 49 in front of the statehouse in Raleigh, N.C.; 10 outside the governor’s office in Des Moines; and 13 in Indianapolis.
The national campaign will continue to hold events for the next five weeks. Each Monday, they will hold visible nonviolent protests in state capitols in roughly 35 states and the District.