Thousands of Occupy Congress activists have decended on Washington this week to press their agenda of jobs and a fair economy for all. The three days of protests and events was kicked off by a visit to Capitol Hill where hundreds of constituents demanding meetings with their members of Congress. They are angry about the lack of progress on a jobs bill and a host of other economic issues.
At 9 a.m., they assemble on Washington’s Mall. More than 1,000 unemployed and underemployed Americans from across the country. They have come to Washington to pressure Congress for more action on job creation and an extension of unemployment benefits. Jeremy Collins is from Columbus Ohio.
"If any politician would walk by, you could see that there is a lot constituents out here," said Jeremy Collins," who is unemployed. "There are a lot of people here who are registered voters. And if they want to get elected they need to listen to the people."
This week’s events are sponsored by a coalition of organizations and labor unions that say Congress has not done its part to create more jobs. But some believe it will take more than jobs legislation and unemployment extensions to fix America’s economic problems. Ryan Isabel is from West Palm Beach, Florida.
“I think the message needs to escalate to more major reform," said Ryan Isabel. "More sincere drastic changes to the operation of our economy and our society and our systems of government.”
VOA followed more than 20 constituents from South Florida as they tried to meet with Representative Allen West, a conservative member of the Tea Party. They and hundreds of others plan to drop in on congressional offices unannounced, and demand a meeting with their representatives. For most, this is their first time in Washington and the first time they have tried to meet with their member of Congress.
When they arrive, they are told the congressman is out, but will be back to two hours. They are told to wait out in the hall. As the staff member leaves, the group decides to wait inside the office anyway. Holly Albert is among them.
“So we are going to wait here for two hours until Allen West speaks, gives in and speaks to us," said Albert. "And so we are going to talk about an array of problems in which we hope that he can pull his heart strings and concede to our needs.”
But the congressman’s staff is clearly annoyed. Eventually the chief of staff shows up along with two Capitol Hill police officers.
“Do you have an organized group here? Do you have a supervisor?," asked a policeman.
The staff member and officer ask to meet with two members of the group in private. They soon return to report to the group.
“Three of us can stay here in this room," said a constituent. "And the rest of us have to move to the hallway.”
The congressman will only meet with three of them for 10 or 15 minutes. The rest must leave or risk arrest. Some are shocked to learn the congressman can refuse to meet with constituents.
“The congressman is not refusing," said a staff member. "The congressman is meeting with individuals that have said they are the leaders of your group.”
Representative West eventually met with four constituents. We were told they did not agree on anything. For many it was a tough lesson on just how difficult compromise in Washington has become.