Six protesters were arrested Tuesday in the Hart Senate Office Building as part of the Occupy DC protest, a spinoff of the recent Wall Street demonstrations.
More than 100 protesters crowded into the building, shutting down work there for more than an hour and filling the atrium with their chants and banners.
Protesters with Occupy DC — joined by the Stop the Machine movement, which was marking the 10-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan — arrived shortly before 11:30 a.m.
They flooded the atrium and lined the several levels overlooking the ground floor, chanting, “We are the 99 percent” and “Tax the rich, end the war.” They waved banners reading “End the War” and “People for the People.”
Capitol Police officers warned they would be arrested if they failed to cease the commotion, and when a number of them did not comply, they were removed.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said the protesters were taken for processing at headquarters on charges of “unlawful conduct” and “demonstrating in a Capitol building.”
After the arrests were made and the atrium was cleared, police officers closed the space to everyone except credentialed staff. The atrium reopened around
Occupy DC is an offshoot of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement, which has taken up residence in lower New York City to protest economic disparity and has inspired a number of movements around the country. Occupy DC will be taking over Freedom Plaza for the next four months, organizers said.
Stop the Machine, also known as the October 2011 Movement, has joined Occupy DC in many of its efforts so far, including Tuesday’s protest in the Capitol.
While a few Members of Congress, such as Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), have praised the movement, Republican and Democratic leaders in the House struggled to nail down their positions Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor appeared to walk back his earlier charges that the Occupy Wall Street protesters were “mobs,” saying their frustrations are “understandable,” while misplaced.
But the Virginia Republican — who called the movement “growing mobs occupying Wall Street and other cities across our country” at Friday’s Values Voter Summit — remained critical of Democrats’ embrace of the popular movement.
“Of course people are justifiably upset” with the nation’s direction, Cantor said during his weekly meeting with reporters. “The actions and statements of elected leaders in this town condoning the pitting of one American against the other is not helpful.”
“We have elected leaders stirring the pot, if you will,” he added.
Cantor also insisted that protesters’ anger is misplaced, while arguing that the tea party’s target — the government — was legitimately to blame for the nation’s economic woes.
“The tea party were individuals attempting to seek redresses of their grievances of the government they elected” while Wall Street protesters are unfairly “pitting themselves against others outside of government.”
The House’s second-ranking Democrat took issue with Cantor’s attacks on the movement.
“I certainly don’t think they’re a mob,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said when asked about the protests.
The Maryland Democrat noted that he did not necessarily agree with the message of the protesters but said, “Americans are distressed. Americans are fearful. Americans are angry. ... And I think that what is going on is a reflection of that angst, that things are not going as well in America as they would like.”
A few dozen protesters remained in the Hart Building following the arrests, clustered together behind the line of police officers blocking the atrium.
Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the liberal activist group CodePink, said there were no more actions planned for Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
“We’re hoping to send a loud message here in the Hart Building,” said Benjamin, who said she has moved out of her D.C. residence and into “a cardboard box” in Freedom Plaza in solidarity with Occupy DC. “We’re sick of the endless war and insisting on using that money for health care, for schools.”
Benjamin did say that a small group was considering disrupting an afternoon Senate Finance Committee hearing on a handful of pending free-trade agreements.
Leah Bolger, a representative of Stop the Machine who served in the military for two decades, said to expect more activity in the halls of Congress in the days and weeks to come.
“Our goal was to shut down the Hart Building and disrupt business as usual ... in the seat of the government, where all the power is.”
Next on the agenda, said Vietnam veteran and fellow Stop the Machine activist Ken Mayers, was “lunch.”
Jessica Brady contributed to this report. Please send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.