About 1,000 people rallied Tuesday near the Capitol, protesting cuts to programs and dropping off a bag of coal at the Longworth House Office Building for “naughty” lawmakers.
John Pilecki, a retired teacher, boarded a bus in his hometown of Pittsburgh just before 5:30 Tuesday morning. He was headed for a rally at the Capitol — his first, he said, since the early 1970s, when he protested the Vietnam war.
Pilecki was part of a group of about 1,000 community volunteers, union members and progressive activists who, under the moniker of 99 Uniting, pressed lawmakers to solve the fiscal cliff without scaling back government programs. During their visit, members of the group dropped off a bag filled with coal at the Longworth House Office Building, saying lawmakers who are calling for cuts to entitlement programs are “naughty.” The holiday-themed action also included caroling in offices such as those of budget hawk Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.
The group’s name is a nod to the Occupy Wall Street’s 99 percent movement. The Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org, USAction and local community organizations are behind the effort.
“The reason I’ve joined is because groups like big business, oil interests et cetera have a tremendous amount of lobbying power,” said Pilecki, who came with a local group called One Pittsburgh. “Congress should extend the middle-class tax cut.”
The protests began in the morning in Upper Senate Park and continued through the afternoon. Many of the participants also took part in unannounced visits to the offices of their members.
“Our message is lawmakers need to maintain funding for Medicare and Medicaid and public assistance programs and Social Security, and they also need to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share,” said Cara Noel, a New York City resident who said she came on a bus with others from the group United New York. She said she planned to visit the offices of Reps. Michael G. Grimm and Nan Hayworth, both Republicans from the Empire State. “We also want to make sure funding is allocated for Hurricane Sandy relief.”
David Elliot of the progressive organization USAction said 99 Uniting’s lobby day is focusing on members such as Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., who lost their seats in November. “Our take is, ‘Hey, you’re on your way, why not do the right thing?’” he said. The “right thing,” he added, means protecting entitlement programs and “making sure people who earn more than $250,000 per year pay their fair share.”
Elliot also said that the goal of his group, which recently released a report on Medicare and Medicaid, is to put a human face on the programs.
“I’m concerned about not just my grandchildren but other children as well,” said Patricia Solomon, a volunteer with Fight for Philly. “I’ll go as far as it takes.”