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Hundreds Hold Prayer Vigil for Unemployed on Capitol Hill

  • Jeff Swicord

Thousands of jobless workers from around the country, community members, and clergy held a prayer vigil on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to extend unemployment benefits. Millions of jobless workers and their families are in danger of losing their benefits by the end of the month if Congress does not act. The prayer vigil and march to House Speaker John Boehner's office was part of "Take Back the Capitol," three days of events sponsored by labor unions and community organizations.

Chanting slogans calling for jobs, thousands prayed for the unemployed in a Capitol Hill park. Michael Livingston, director of the Poverty Initiative for the National Council of Churches, say Congress needs to get serious about creating jobs. “I don’t think the Congress has been responsible at all. I think they have been dragging their feet. I think they have been playing politics with this," he said.

Protesters fear Congress will not renew unemployment benefits for millions due to run out at the end of the month. Political analysts, however, say it is likely the benefits will be extended. The battle is over how to pay for them without adding to the federal budget deficit.

David, an unemployed stock analyst from Denver, Colorado, says Congress is out of touch. “America is out of work. And you can’t fix a deficit when America is out of work. That is the first thing is you have to give people jobs again," he said.

A jobs bill put forward by President Barack Obama has stalled in Congress. He said this week that Congress should not leave town for Christmas without extending unemployment benefits and a tax cut for the middle class.

Nathan Belanger, an unemployed electrician from Maine, says the country is broken. “We need to start employing people with real jobs. With jobs that matter, not service. Not ... you know making latte’s for these folks on the Hill," he said.

The protesters tossed white carnations on the Capitol steps. Reverend Paul Sherry is Washington director of Interfaith Worker Justice. “It symbolizes each of us placing our lives on those Capitol steps. In support of the unemployed and in support of changing this economy so people will receive the sustenance, the food, and the children’s needs will be served," he said.

They then marched to the office of Speaker of the House John Boehner. As they chanted outside, workers peered out.

This was the final day of "Take Back the Capitol," three days of protests that brought unemployed workers from across the country to Washington. The protesters say they will return home ready to press forward - fighting for jobs.

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