The call for climate action is coming from the inside the House. More than a dozen congressional staffers occupied the Washington D.C. office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer today, in a protest demanding that Congress pass policy to combat climate change. Less than an hour after the demonstration began, Capitol police arrived and arrested many of the staffers, according to a series of tweets and photos from New Yorker journalist, Andrew Marantz.
In an emailed statement to Gizmodo, U.S. Capitol Police said the following:
Around 11:15 a.m., U.S. Capitol Police officers responded to a demonstration that was inside room 322 in the Hart Senate Office Building. Six demonstrators were arrested for DC Code §22-3302 Unlawful Entry for failing to leave the office after they were told to leave. The six people who were arrested are all House staffers.
Capitol Police further detailed the names of those arrested. The six staffers arrested are as follows:
- Saul Levin, who is a policy advisor for Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.)
- Aria Kovalovich, who is a staffer for for Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) on the Oversight & Reform Committee
- Rajiv Sicora, who is a policy advisor for Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.)
- Courtney Koelbel, who is a staffer for Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on the Oversight & Reform Committee
- Philip Bennett, who is a staffer for Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)
- Emma Preston, who is a legislative assistant, also for Rep. Khanna
While making their stand in Schumer’s office, the protestors held up signs and banners saying things like “Keep negotiating , Chuck!,” “Climate Policy Now,” “our farms are flooding,” and simply “TRY.” They also sang a rendition of the union song “Solidarity Forever,” as captured in one video. (Note: some congressional staffers are in the middle of a push for unionization.)
“We, staffers of the US Congress, are peacefully sitting in on Senator Schumer’s office to demand Dems pass climate justice policy this year,” wrote Levin in a tweet prior to the police arriving. Levin also posted a photo of him and another staffer seated and masked in Schumer’s office
Right now, we Hill staffers are peacefully protesting Dem leaders INSIDE. To my knowledge, this has never been done.
We’ve also never seen climate catastrophe, so we’re meeting the moment. Follow along as we fight with everything we have to jumpstart climate negotiations. pic.twitter.com/PwuWVFQoED
— Saul (@saaaauuull) July 25, 2022
“We’re asking Senator Schumer to negotiate like this is the coldest summer of the rest of our lives (it is),” he further tweeted. Multiple other aids who appeared to be involved in the protest also documented their time in Schumer’s office on Twitter, including Kovalovich. And while they staged their internal occupation, additional staffers demonstrated outside the U.S. Capitol Building and Hart Senate Office Building with their own signs and a megaphone.
The protest follows the Senate’s failure to move forward on climate policy earlier this month. Democratic lawmakers revived negotiations over the climate-focused remains of the “Build Back Better” plan, but Senator Joe Manchin once again opted to stall proceedings, citing inflation as a reason to not increase spending. (Never mind the significant economic costs of continuing to not address climate change, which could tally in the trillions. In 2021 alone, climate change-related extreme weather events cost the U.S. at least $US145 ($201) billion.)
In response, Biden pledged that he would take bold climate action, and there were renewed calls for an executive order declaring a climate emergency. Instead though, the President announced some more tepid measures like FEMA funding and possible future offshore wind in the Gulf of Mexico.
A representative from Senator Schumer’s office told Gizmodo they did not yet have any comment, but would “hopefully” be releasing a statement on the protest and arrests by the end of the day.
The political action by congressional staffers is one of the first of its kind. Generally, the people arrested for occupying congressional buildings and offices are not the aides that serve those offices. Although increasingly, lawmakers themselves seem to be among ranks of protestors, as in last Wednesday when 17 Democratic representatives were arrested while blocking a street leading to the Supreme Court building in a demonstration for abortion rights.
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