This Washington

Budget Protesters Take Over Capitol

By Erica C. Barnett April 7, 2011

Josh is down in Olympia, where health care workers are protesting cuts to social and human services in the state budget. He reports that a group of about 500 people---including health-care workers pushing their clients in wheelchairs---are marching back and forth between the house and senate galleries, chanting "Hey hey! Ho ho! Corporate greed has got to go!" and "Whose house? Our house! Whose senate? Our senate!" and stomping their feet loudly on the second-floor marble hallway, creating a deafening echo throughout the rotunda. State Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34), was marching with the crowd,  behind a up a purple-and-yellow Service Employees International Union banner reading "Put People First." Buttons bearing the same slogan are all over the Capitol today.

Protester emerges from the house Republican gallery after getting dragged out by state troopers

The protesters' point, beyond the slogans: The house and senate should consider all possible cuts, including the elimination of corporate tax breaks, before placing the burden of this year's budget cuts on the state's most vulnerable residents, including those who rely on the state's Basic Health Plan, the Disability Lifeline, food assistance, and the Children's Health Plan.

[pullquote]"The money may be going away, but my clients aren't going away."[/pullquote]

Eventually the protesters gathered at the third floor entrance of the GOP house side balcony gallery, pushing up against a line of state troopers, trying to get in. Cleverly, before the crowd arrived, a number of protesters had already positioned themselves inside the gallery above the house chambers and disrupted house members' floor speeches, shouting down stories about their clients, who suffer from serious mental illnesses. Officers asked them to leave, and several did. But other did not. They were dragged out one by one.

About a half dozen in all were dragged out in all.  Every time another protester was kicked out, the crowd, pushing and shoving with the police line, cheered. One protestesr, Cylvia Laybourne, 30, came out of the gallery with her fists raised, yelling "This is what democracy looks like!"

There have been no arrests.

Zandi Hardison, a 46-year-old registered nurse who serves schizophrenics and people with severe bipolar disorder, said she hoped to pressure legislators to "put everything on the table," including tax loopholes and a tax break for out-of-state banks, in the budget negotiations.

"This is not just one day, this is not just one rally, this is a movement and we have to keep this up to change the country," Hardison said. "The money may be going away, but my clients aren't going away."
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