Federal workers protested the government shutdown on Capitol Hill Wednesday with cheeky signs and 33 minutes of silence to mark each day they’ve been furloughed or forced to work without pay.
The protests organized by the American Federation of Government Employees, a major labor union, attracted what appeared to be hundreds of workers, a handful of Democratic lawmakers and a throng of media to the marble-lined atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building.
Protesters held up styrofoam plates and other makeshift signs saying “Bring us back now” and, in a riff on an oft-quoted phrase from the Apollo 13 mission: “When it comes to Congress, failure is always an option. Let NASA work. End the shutdown.”
Anupa Iyer, who works on disability issues at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said she’s not interested in telling Congress how to reopen the government, politically.
She just wants to get back to work, saying she’s committed to the agency’s mission and wants to alleviate her own psychiatric disability.
“Not having anything to do or anything that gives purpose to my life exacerbates my feelings of depression,” she said.
Work, she said, “gives me a sense of routine. It allows me to connect with people and makes me feel productive — in addition to the paycheck, which is obviously a way to live.”
She said the cost of living in D.C. is “incredibly expensive” and she’s tapping her savings account to cut her next rent check.
Another protester said she her husband is still working, but a tide of recent bills — $12,000 for college tuition, $1,200 for an orthodontist, plus a mortgage payment — brought home the reality for people living paycheck to paycheck.
“Those [bills] really made me mindful of the fact that not everyone is in such a good position as my family,” said the protester, who identified herself as a Virginia resident named “Debbie” who works at an agency “that protects the environment.”
She echoed Democratic leaders’ characterization of the shutdown, which centers on President Trump’s demand for border-wall funding.
“If you’ve ever taken care of a toddler, you know you can’t give into a temper tantrum. Which is, I’m sorry, what I regard this as,” she said.
She said clean bills to keep the government open would avoid future situations in which politicians use must-pass legislation to extract partisan wins.