Today had to be one of the most eventful days of this internship. The day started out with my normal routine: unlocking doors, turning on lights, passing out daily newspapers to the staff, basic organization and cleaning. the only thing that had been different was the increased volume of calls, emails, and letters due to the current budget crisis. For weeks we had been flooded with angry callers wanting to express their opinion on the crisis as well as put in their two cents (or 5, 15, or 30) on how to solve the crisis. Today was no different than most of the others had been during the budget crisis. However, at 12:35 all of that changed.
Sitting at my desk in reception I greet all guests and visitors of the office and try and assist them in any way that I can. Most are meeting with a staff member, others are merely wanting to drop off information for us to pass along to the Representative. So when a group of 5-6 college age students came into the office, it was no surprise. When they entered I was on the phone with a caller, so I didn’t fully hear what they were looking for. As they were speaking to my colleague, I noticed that one of them had a rather large bag with him. But before I could fully notice its contents, the man carrying the bag whipped out a long thirty foot yellow plastic chain and extended it from one end of the lobby to the other. Instantly they began chanting: “G.O.P Equals H.I.V!” Screaming at the top of their lungs, the group proceeded to tie themselves to the chain and conduct a sit in right in the lobby of our office. Others in the group marched outside the door of the office while chanting in unison. “Budget Cuts KILL!!!” they screamed “Clean Needles Save Lives!” They continued to chant as the Capitol Police gathered down the hall preparing for the inevitable.
It just so happened that just as the group began their protest, the staff in our office were about to leave for a meeting with my Representative. But because the protest was blocking the exit of the office, the staff were unable to go to the meeting. The high volume of the protest also rendered any productivity useless. Phones went unanswered, emails unopened, and paperwork unattended. The noise was so loud that it was near impossible to think.
After twenty minutes of their chanting one of the protesters sitting near me began to choke. Gasping for air and in a slight panicked state, I reached out to him to offer assistance or a glass of water. I will never forget the look on his face. He looked up at me as if to say: “We are screaming in your face and you are offering me water?” After he had recovered his breath, he went on chanting (but quieter than before). After the protest had endured for 35 minutes the police came in force and asked the protestors to cease and desist and nothing would happen. Refusing the twelve protesters were arrested one by one and lined up in the hallway then led down to an awaiting van to take them to the jail at the Capitol Sergeant-at-Arms. In true Capitol Hill style, minutes after they left, things continued as usual. In the end nobody was harmed, and it is my hope that the students were treated mercifully.
Within an hour or so the event was reported on congressional news sources online. Our fame was cut short however due to the arrest of D.C. Mayor Gray. This event overshadowed our event and made it seem insignificant in perspective.