Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: Government Shutdown Day 4

Photo Oct 04, 12 06 15 PM

On the morning of the fourth day of the U.S. government shutdown, Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and hundreds of union and non-union federal workers came to the Capitol to protest. Some traveled from faraway states like South Carolina and Florida, and they represented various departments of the government, such as the U.S. Treasury, IRS, Departments  of Commerce, Education and Defense, the Food and Drug Administration, and NASA. Scientists, analysts, technicians, park landscapers, drivers, and inspectors continue on an indefinite furlough.

At the rally Colleen Kelly, president of National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), spoke about the need for federal workers to get back to work–for their families and the millions of people who depend on vital government services. Other speakers demanded Congress put aside differences and pass a balanced budget to put 850,000 people back to work.

As the week progressed, federal workers became less reluctant to picket the U.S. Capitol while Congress continued to be embroiled in the budget debate. The international press was there recording the spectacle.

Photo Oct 04, 12 46 40 PMIt was beginning to attract people from many places who heard about it in the news: a woman with a Guy Fawkes mask, people who had family in the government. Even tourists from other countries picked up signs and joined us.

The highlight of the week for me came when three Turkish men–Salim, Cafer, and Abdulrezzak–joined our cause. They were part of the Gezi Park and Taksim Square protests in Istanbul during the summer. They saw our protest and were excited to join us. They spoke only broken English, so they made signs in Turkish: “Don’t worry, friends, Turkish protestors (Capulcular) right here!” and “Are you going to use pepper spray here too?” They liked the dollar I taped over my mouth.

For me, Friday was a cathartic return to the Capitol a day after witnessing the dramatic police chase and shooting of Miriam Casey. She is an unwitting historic marker of this stressful week. Returning was a sort of coming to terms with witnessing the deadly use of force.

I also needed to retrieve my bike, which I’d locked close to the West lawn where the shooting took place. It was in the zone of the crime scene, and Capitol police wouldn’t let me go past the yellow tape to get it, so I had ridden the Metro home, leaving the bike there over night.

When I returned Friday, my bike was gone. My first thought of course was that it was stolen. This is just great, I thought. First my job, then my bike. I sat for a while, then asked a Capitol police officer if any of the dozens of cameras pointed that way would have recorded the theft. He said it was probably confiscated after the crime scene was cleared. So I went to the Senate side of the Capitol, past security, deep into the belly of the alabaster beast.

Three men from Istanbul join federal workers' protest
Three men from Istanbul join federal workers’ protest

It was a long way through the Capitol halls to the impound room. The white marble floors are covered with plush rugs soft and neatly combed. Paintings of past Speakers and Senators adorn the walls. To me, the building has sense of royalty and nobility, rather than democracy, maybe because royalty from countries around the world are hosted there.

There were far more police and security on duty than I ever imagined working there. Nearly every hall and opening is guarded. Surely there is no threat on the inside compared to what can happen outside.

I signed for my bike and was escorted through the Visitors Center from the White Marble Building.

I wondered if the protests over the last week had made a difference. Based on the numbers of cameras who recorded us, the journalists who spoke to us, and the number of tourists, we had to have sent a message. We were heard here and around the country. The numbers of protestors had exceeded my expectations.

I didn’t think I would need to go back to continue the protest. If the furlough continues, it’s time for other federal workers to do their share.

On Saturday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that 400,000 furloughed employees at the DoD–including John’s agency–would return to work on Monday, October 7, even though the government shutdown hasn’t ended. Congress also passed a bill to retroactively pay furloughed workers after the shutdown ends.

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