Eight people were arrested Wednesday during a protest in the U.S. Capitol building rotunda urging U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Donned with black shirts, demonstrators affiliated with the activist group GetEqual held a sit-in protest and chanted “Vote ENDA Now!” as officers with the Capitol Police handcuffed them and took them away.
Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokesperson for Capitol Police, said the protesters were arrested on the misdemeanor charge of demonstrating in the U.S. Capitol and taken to Capitol Police Headquarters.
Prior to the action, demonstrators had been participating in a tour of the U.S. Capitol. When the tour reached the Rotunda, protesters broke away and formed a group in the center of the room while holding up signs reading “Vote on ENDA” and “Speaker Pelosi: This is Your Reminder.”
Surrounded by statues of deceased presidents and paintings of iconic moments in early U.S. history, demonstrators dropped to the floor and crouched while chanting the GetEqual refrain, “I am somebody and I deserve full equality!”
Those on other tours of the U.S. Capitol looked upon the protesters with jaws dropped and took photos with their iPhones. One tour guide said, “Just don’t talk to them,” as she guided the visitors through the Rotunda.
Capitol Hill police closed the rotunda, preventing the public, staff, other tours and the press from accessing the room. The press was able to witness the events as they took place from an adjoining hallway.
“Those people are jerks; they’re ruining our tour,” one tour guide remarked about the protesters after he was blocked from entering the room.
Heather Cronk, managing director for GetEqual, said the protest was intended to send “not only a direct response, but a symbolic response to Speaker Pelosi” and to follow-up on an earlier protest urging Pelosi to take action.
“In March, when we were in her office, we told her we would come back if she didn’t bring ENDA to the floor,” Cronk said. “So, we’re making good on our promises and we’re hoping that she will as well.”
Cronk said GetEqual is targeting the speaker because of her power to take the bill out of committee and bring it up for a floor vote.
“We need to know who’s with us and who’s against us in the House, so we’re just asking for a vote on the bill,” Cronk said. “We know we have the votes in the House. So we’re hoping that she can get it through the House, and then it’s up to us to help create the political will to get it through the Senate.”
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said ENDA remains “a top priority” for the speaker, but said moving the bill before legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is complete “jeopardizes both initiatives.”
Pelosi has said a House vote on ENDA wouldn’t take place until legislative work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is complete — most recently at the Netroots Nation conference in Nevada.
“I can’t give you a time,” she said, according to a transcript of her remarks. “But I can tell you that it is a priority and it had been our hope to do it this year. We have to finish ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and hopefully we can do both this year.”
The protesters who were arrested were Orelia Busch of D.C.; Charles Butler of D.C.; Sean Carlson of Hyattsville, Md.; Shannon Cuttle of D.C.; Robert Diesu of D.C.; Erika Knepp of Edgewater, Md.; David McElhatton of San Francisco, Calif.; and Zack Rosen of D.C.