WASHINGTON — At least four people were arrested as hundreds of protesters from the Occupy movement gathered Tuesday on the west lawn of the Capitol, chanting, singing, marching and disrupting congressional offices throughout the day.
The demonstrators came from across the country for Occupy Congress, billed as the first nationwide gathering for the movement that began as a protest against corporate greed on Wall Street in September.
At mid-afternoon, dozens swarmed into the Rayburn and other House office buildings, waving banners and chanting, “We are the 99 percent!” The group planned a large march from the Capitol to the Supreme Court to the White House at 6 p.m., and organizers said they expected “many” to be arrested.
Organizers had hoped thousands would come for Tuesday’s event. In the end, it was more like 500 — riding buses and hitching rides from cities including Orlando, Nashville, Los Angeles and New Haven, Conn.
They arrived in the nation’s capital just as members of Congress began trickling back after their winter break and finding their disapproval rating at an all-time high. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that a record high of 84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.
Participant and organizer Mario Lozada said Occupy Congress was born out of this frustration and began as a grass-roots movement last year, with one of the protesters simply creating a Facebook page that now has more than 11,000 “likes.”
“Congress is not paying attention to ordinary citizens because of corporate money in politics. This is the general message: Our voices aren’t being heard,” said Lozada, 25, a lawyer from Philadelphia who was one of the organizers of the event.
An early chilly rain passed into sun by the afternoon as the Occupiers gathered on the west lawn, plowing through the mud, eating free bagels and oatmeal, and clutching signs that said “Congress for Sale” and “I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore.” There were occasional clashes with U.S. Capitol Police, during which four people were arrested — one charged with assaulting a police officer, the others with crossing a police line.
“I’m tired of the fat cats getting all the money,” said Barry Sipple, 62, a disabled Vietnam veteran, explaining why he drove from the Occupy encampment in Lexington, Ky., for the day’s events. “It seems like the right thing to do.”
During the day, Occupiers had a general assembly meeting, then broke up into groups to network and make plans for the spring.
“It’s the next step. A lot of Occupations are losing their space, so we need to keep the momentum going from the relationships built in those encampments,” said Robby Diesu, 23, who lives in the Occupy camp at McPherson Square in Washington.
Deb Van Poolen, 42, an organic farmer who is living in Washington’s other Occupy camp at Freedom Plaza, glowed as she described the guerrilla theater she and fellow protesters pulled off in the office of Sen. Carl Levin (D), from her home state of Michigan. The costumed Occupiers staged a play with mock terrorists and a mock “Levin” behind bars before real police arrived and warned that they would be arrested.
“The theme of today is letting Congress know we are here and we’ll have a presence and they need to listen to us,” Van Poolen said.