Four people were arrested as hundreds of protesters from the Occupy movement gathered Tuesday on the west lawn of the Capitol, chanting, singing, marching and disrupting congressional offices throughout the day.
The demonstrators came from across the country for Occupy Congress, billed as the first nationwide gathering for the movement that began in September as a protest against corporate greed on Wall Street.
Mid-afternoon, dozens of protesters swarmed into the Rayburn and other House office buildings, waving banners and chanting, “We are the 99 percent!” Later, the group marched from the Capitol to the Supreme Court to the White House.
About 8 p.m., protesters surged against the White House fence. Someone climbed to the top of the barrier, and an object similar to a smoke bomb was thrown over the fence, a Secret Service spokesman said. Tension rose as police donned riot helmets. Protesters were told to leave, and it appeared that most if not all of them did. No arrests were reported.
Organizers had hoped thousands would come for Tuesday’s event at the Capitol, but it was more like 500 — riding buses and hitching rides from cities including Orlando, Nashville, Los Angeles and New Haven, Conn. By nightfall, that number swelled to about 1,000 to 1,500, the Secret Service spokesman said.
The protesters arrived just as members of Congress began returning from winter break, finding their disapproval ratings at an all-time high. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that a record high of 84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.
Participant and organizer Mario Lozada, a lawyer from Philadelphia, said Occupy Congress was born out of this frustration and began as a grass-roots movement last year, with one protester creating a Facebook page that has drawn more than 11,000 “likes.”
“Congress is not paying attention to ordinary citizens because of corporate money in politics. This is the general message:
Our voices aren’t being heard,” said Lozada, 25.
A cold early rain yielded to afternoon sun as Occupiers gathered on the west lawn, withstanding mud, eating free bagels and oatmeal, and clutching signs that said “Congress for Sale” and “I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore.” During occasional clashes with U.S. Capitol Police, four people were arrested: One was charged with assaulting a police officer, the others with crossing a police line.
“I’m tired of the fat cats getting all the money,” said Barry Sipple, 62, a disabled Vietnam veteran, explaining why he drove from the Occupy encampment in Lexington, Ky., for the day’s events. “It seems like the right thing to do.”
During the day, Occupiers had a general assembly meeting, then broke up into groups to network and make plans for the spring.
“It’s the next step. A lot of Occupations are losing their space, so we need to keep the momentum going from the relationships built in those encampments,” said Robby Diesu, 23, part of the Occupy camp at McPherson Square.
The future of the encampments at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza is not clear. The office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Tuesday that the House Oversight panel on the District will hold a hearing on the McPherson Square camp next Tuesday, with the police chief, city health director and National Park Service officials expected to testify.
Deb Van Poolen, 42, an organic farmer who is living in the Occupy camp at Freedom Plaza, glowed as she described the guerrilla theater she and others pulled off in the office of Sen. Carl M. Levin (D), from her home state of Michigan. The costumed Occupiers staged a play with mock terrorists and a mock “Levin” behind bars before real police arrived and warned that they would be arrested.
“The theme of today is letting Congress know we are here and we’ll have a presence and they need to listen to us,” she said.
Staff writers Tim Craig, Robert Samuels, Martin Weil and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.
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