Police arrest 62 as ‘Occupy’ protesters target lobbyists
WASHINGTON — Police arrested 62 protesters Wednesday as supporters of Occupy Wall Street targeted lobbyists who promote the interests of corporate America in Washington’s corridors of power.
Undeterred by steady rain, more than 1,000 marchers — many of them labor-union activists — shut down several blocks of K Street, epicenter of the US capital’s influential and lucrative lobbying industry, around midday.
Police, including a trio on horseback, intervened when several dozen protesters sat or lay down on the wet pavement at 14th and K streets and refused to budge when threatened with arrest for obstruction.
“This really speaks well of America,” one of the rain-soaked protesters, Kelly Caldwell of Portland, Oregon, yelled sarcastically as police officers in long yellow coats put him in handcuffs and dragged him into a waiting van.
Sixty-two people were arrested, a spokesman for Washington’s Metropolitan Police told AFP. One was charged with assaulting a police officer, and all the others with obstructing a public thoroughfare.
In the evening, about 50 protesters marched on the White House to condemn the National Defense Authorization Act, now before Congress, which critics say would give US soldiers the power to hold civilians indefinitely without charge.
Wednesday’s shutdown of K Street came a day after demonstrators backed by labor unions and civic groups occupied Congressional and Senate offices on Capitol Hill as part of a three-day Take Back the Capitol action.
Washington is home to two separate open-ended protest encampments, both near the White House, inspired by Occupy Wall Street and condemning social inequality and corporate influence on US politics.
Joining them this week has been a self-styled People’s Camp on the National Mall, made up of about 15 tents — in clear view of the Capitol — erected by protesters from different corners of the United States.
Prominent in the Take Back the Capitol protest is the Service Employees Union International (SEIU), which represents health and public sector employees and is endorsing President Barack Obama for another term in office.
“No amount of rain can faze those battered by the storm of economic injustice and corporate greed,” the SEIU blogged on its website Wednesday as protesters brought K Street to a standstill.
“K Street is where the big corporations and wealthy special interests have their offices,” Robin Stelly, 47, a community organizer from Pennsylvania, told AFP.
“This has become a symbol of corporate abuse in the country and that is why we are here today.”
Tensions flared at one point when members of Occupy DC, which took over McPherson Square on K Street two months ago, openly accused SEIU organizers of attempting to “co-opt” the entire Occupy movement for its own agenda.
Earlier Wednesday, about 100 protesters from Occupy DC marched on the Podesta Group, a lobbying firm with close ties to the Democratic Party whose blue-chip clients include BP, Lockheed Martin and the coal industry.
“We will expose you! We will take you down!” they shouted at the entrance to the building, as about 10 comrades slipped through a side door, only to find Podesta’s office doors bolted shut.
“Podesta was chosen because it lobbies for a lot of interests that really are anti-public interests,” Ben Johnson, a member of Occupy DC’s media and outreach committees, told AFP.
Occupy DC made headlines over the weekend when police dismantled a barn-like structure soon after it was erected on McPherson Square to serve as a meeting place over the winter. Several protesters were arrested.
In San Francisco, 70 people were arrested in the early hours of Wednesday when police cleared the city’s Occupy Wall Street offshoot, after giving its occupants five minutes’ notice to clear out.