Ten protesters crammed themselves and their signs into an elevator en route to the sixth floor. They ranged in age, some children, some seniors. The doors opened, and they walked single-file into an office where one man was already being confronted by five others with the same agenda.
The scene began on Thursday afternoon when more than a hundred people gathered at the rotary fountain in Riverfront Park. Some wore costumes, some had misspelled signs, but all planned to march against unemployment. They assembled from different organizations around the city in order to protest in front of Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers' office.
“Our focus,” says Todd Eklof, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church and one of the organizers of the event, “[is] getting our Washington rep to pass laws and policies investing in health care, education and infrastructure to create jobs, Wall Street reform, and insisting the government start protecting the middle class again.”
His church was one of many organizations affiliated with the protest, which also included people from the Service Employees International Union 775 and 1199, Working Washington Coalition, the Spokane Labor Council, and the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane.
While many groups backing the rally have Democratic connections, the spokespeople said they were acting out of bipartisanship. “We want to make sure those in office understand our values, and we want to address those who are otherwise ignored,” says Eklof.
The group marched through the downtown streets chanting, “What do we want? Good Jobs! When do we want 'em? Now!” Observers stopped and pulled out their phones from across the road, taking pictures of the masses. Passing cars honked their horns; some in support, and some to hurry them through the crosswalks.
Twenty minutes later, they arrived in front of their
destination. On the sidewalk at the entrance to McMorris Rodgers' office
building, Nancy Avery from the Unitarian Universalist Church was ladling up soup to all who asked for it. The goal was to instill imagery representing the Great Depression, and it seemed successful as homeless people line up at the
Angela Gardner is a homeless woman who walked herself and her helper dog over to the gathering. She talked of declining benefits. “I can't work at all,” she says. “I've got too many disabilities. But without SSI, I'd be on the streets.”
Near Angela was a woman of 60 who had recently been laid off. She said that only young people are being hired anymore despite the experience she brings to the table. Next to her was a nurse from Deaconness who said unemployment had a ripple effect,that as people lose health-insurance, the hospital loses patients.
Small sections of the crowd left the sidewalk and soup vending and funneled into the office building. Up the elevator and through the doors, every person was given an opportunity to speak.
“I contact Cathy all the time and tell her I'd like to pay more,” said Sharon Smith. “We own four houses and our tax rate last year was 13 percent. What should we do with all that extra money? Go buy another house?”
The room goes quiet. “We're the people with
the money," Smith continued, "and it is wrong. We write an awful lot of checks in order to help people, but it doesn't work. It's
needs to happen in the neighborhood.”