WASHINGTON — Activists weaved through the basement of the Capitol, marched up stairs and squeezed through hallways to deliver more than 100,000 petitions to extend unemployment benefits to the offices of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner.
After a press conference with House and Senate Democrats, more than a dozen activists, organized by groups including the National Employment Law Project and AFL-CIO, carried two boxes filled with 60,000 petitions each, asking Congress to extend the benefits, which expired late last month — one for Boehner’s office and the other for McConnell’s.
2. Much to the surprise of the activists, Sen. Elizabeth Warren stepped out of an elevator they were waiting to take. Judy Conti (left) of the National Employment Law Project explained to Warren (right) what was going on.
“May the force be with you,” Warren said as she walked away.
3. Eventually they arrived at McConnell’s office. After some negotiation, a few activists were allowed into McConnell’s office to speak with his spokesman, Don Stewart (middle).
No cameras were allowed inside. One activist, Wessita McKinley of Maryland, spoke for the group.
“I’ve served my country, honorable discharge. I’ve done my time. I’ve done everything right,” she said. “College, school, no crime, no record. Pay my taxes. Make sure my daughter went to school.”
“Did the American dream. Got her in college,” McKinley added. “And I’m sitting here struggling. I’m now ready to take a street sweeper job if they would offer it to me. So I’m asking you the million dollar question. What am I supposed to do right now to keep a roof over my head, food in my stomach, clothes on my back, car insurance paid?”
4. Stewart listened to McKinley (pictured at the earlier press conference) as she explained how difficult life without unemployment benefits has been.
Stewart, the McConnell spokesman, countered by saying Majority Leader Harry Reid has not agreed to Republican amendments and waited too long to hold votes on the issue in the first place. But McKinley wasn’t satisfied with that answer as she continued to lament about her situation.
“I can only tell you what we can do here in the Senate,” Stewart said. “I have no control over your life.“
The box of petitions left in McConnell’s office.
6. The group then moved on to Boehner’s office, where they were met with more resistance. Security asked all but one member of the group to leave the office while they negotiated whether the petitions could be delivered.
Ultimately, security agreed to accept the petitions only after the box went through the mail screening process.
“We can open up the box and show people what it is,” said Eddie Acosta, an organizer for the AFL-CIO who was responsible for physically wheeling the boxes of petitions across the Capitol. He removed the lid from his box to show a giant stack of papers, but the decision was not changed.
7. Outside the Capitol, organizers once more after what they felt was a job well done.
Charece Peterson, a 37-year-old Philadelphian who has been selling her clothes and living in a homeless shelter since her unemployment benefits ran out in December, told BuzzFeed she was excited they were able to get into McConnell’s office, but is still nervous about what’s next.
“I think it was successful. I mean I wanted to say something. I really wanted to go into Boehner’s office,” Peterson said. “I kind of figured that wasn’t going to happen.”
“I had to give away my furniture, just trying to stay in survival mode. Just hope they pass they bill,” she said. “I’ve put in over 100 job applications. I have been on job interviews. “I’ve been overqualified, underqualified. I even applied to Wendy’s.”
“It’s pretty depressing and it’s nerve racking. It’s exciting when I do get that call back, I’m like ‘yes I can get off unemployment.’ I’ll take 20 hours. I’ll take one hour. Come on, give me something.”