Activists shut down senate to protest war spending
A group of activists with the Ferrel Collective,including 4 University of Maryland students, brought Thursday's session of senate to an abrupt halt. The group was protesting massive military spending being passed while critical social services such as affordable housing, education, health care, and drug addiction treatment are underfunded and/or experiencing budget cuts.
¨We are concerned that corporate powers continue to control this country over the will of the people. The unjust and dangerous war in Iraq is part of an expanding corporate agenda to put profit interests over our interests as communities. Our government is not hearing us, so we have to make our voices heard. We must retake the space that is being run by dollars and greed,¨ said Chris D. (of the Ferrels) in handcuffs.
The group went to the Senate chambers early in the day, hoping to catch the Senate in the convening during the AM hours to discuss and vote on the proposed budget including $75 billion dollar military allocation for the war in Iraq and a tax cut for next year that could run between 300 and 750 million dollars for next year. However, before noon, senators asked that the senate take a recess until house-senate conferences on the budget could be convened.
Around 3:30 or 4:00 Orin Hatch returned and gave a presentation on the amber alert bill and stiffer punishments and safeguards around sex crimes and abduction involving children. Ted Kennedy filibustered this issue for hours, which seemed strange. However, sources say that the military appropriations bill was being upped to $150 billion in committee and the house was passing a tax cut bill that would add up to $550 billion over ten years and Kennedy and other democrats were trying to force the budget bill to a very tight time table on Friday to increase their leverage and bring it to a more reasonable number.
At 6:30 a democratic senator from North Dakota gave an 10 minute speech on the issue of the budget and militarism. "Two years ago [when Bush forced through the first round of tax cuts] we were told that budget surpluses were to be expected for ten years. However, now the economy is in a serious recession but the president and members of congress are still prescribing the same medicine? Although this is offered as a 'growth strategy', the only thing that is growing is the nation's debt [which is expected to double to 12 trillion dollars in 10 years]. Neither is the 'strategy' new. We saw the same thing twenty years ago when the national debt was also doubled in ten years while the we went through a painful recession. This budget does not make sense? and the [generation] serving the country so proudly in Iraq right now are going to be the ones who have to pay for [this government's financial] irresponsibility."
He continued to lament the dramatic increases in military funding while services such as funding for American Indian Tribal Colleges were just as dramatically slashed. This all seemed an intro to what was about to follow.
At 6:40 voting on the Amber Alert Bill began, and senators slowly trickled into the chambers as roll was called. When the voting was about 2/3 through and 35-45 members of Congress were in the chambers, protestors abruptly stood up and yelled:
"Senators!! Our taxes/ are not for bombing nations/ nor foreign occupations/ to profit corporations!"
This was repeated once after which the 5 activists began to chant "No money for War!!" 4 times before repeating the chants from the beginning.
During the commotion, the voting on the Senate floor ground to a stand still. The crowd of Senators grew to between 65 and 80, all of whom were giving their undivided attention to the protestors in the gallery while C-Span cameras aired the anarchy.
The five individuals were removed from the gallery after completing about two or three clear and loud rounds of chanting by Capitol Police officers upon official request by Senator Chambliss. However, the group continued to chant in the halls, as they were removed, loudly enough that the Senate could not immediately reconvene. On the way down the stairs, protestors ran head first into Senator McCain who appeared to smirk (or at least smile) at them. Police responding to a call for back up ran up the stairs at this time in groups of 2-8 officers with guns drawn as if responding to an violent emergency. The chanting continued even outside, as staffers and senators (including Ted Kennedy) exited the building.
Sources report that after voting on the Amber Bill was completed, the Senate adjourned despite a schedule that called for at least one more debate and vote for the day. In effect, the Senate was shut down early.
The group was held by the Capitol Police for 8 hours and finally released at 4:00 AM Friday morning. All are facing misdemeanor Disruption of Congress Charges. Arraignment is scheduled for Friday May 2nd at 10:30.