Starting Dec. 6, lawmakers in Washington will have to confront, face to face, the people left jobless by the Great Recession.
The labor and Occupy Wall Street movements are joining forces again – this time to launch “Occupy Congress.” Evoking memories of the Resurrection City encampment in the nation’s capital during the civil rights struggles of 1968, the plan involves setting up tents housing jobless workers from every state in the union, with the numbers of unemployed emblazoned on signs outside the tents.
“We decided to take back the Capitol. We want them to stare the unemployed workers in the face,” declared Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry over the phone from her union’s headquarters in Washington. “What we’re doing,” she said, “is setting up a people’s camp.”
In addition to SEIU, other unions, including the Communications Workers of America and the Steelworkers, are already calling members and supporters to build support for Occupy Congress. Groups such as MoveOn.org and the Center for Community Change have announced that they too plan to participate. The action is also being discussed in Occupy Wall Street encampments and meetings across the country.
“Thousands of people have signed up already to come to Capitol Hill, Henry said “and many will also make their own way to the camp. We’re figuring out buses and transportation now.”
The groups are trying to secure permits for setting up the tents on the lawn right outside the Capitol.
The planned “Occupy Congress” encampment, which will be the second “Occupy” camp in Washington this year, will be the first to zero in on jobs as the main issue.
While the others have raised the demand for jobs, they have done it mainly in the context of income inequality and fighting the unlimited power of Wall Street financiers and the 1 percent over the economy.
Henry said that the Occupy Congress demonstrators will push hard for Congress to pass legislation that can put unemployed workers “back to work as soon as January.”
She said one specific goal of the protests will be to pressure Republicans to support President Obama’s jobs creation proposals and that protesters also hope to shine the spotlight on “Congress’s misguided obsession with the deficit and the overall inaction on unemployment.”
“We’re talking about it as an attempt to take back the Capitol,” Henry said. “It would be great if we could build pressure that even goes beyond the jobs act.”
Legislation the groups want Republicans in Congress to support includes measures to rebuild crumbling infrastructure and a financial transactions tax. Unions involved say the tax would help pay for job creation and for reversing some of the damage financiers caused when they pushed the country into the Great Recession.
Photo: An aerial view of Poor People’s Campaign tents, called Resurrection City, with the Lincoln Memorial in the background, in Washington, May 1968. (Barry Thumma/AP)