WASHINGTON — Roughly 3,000 unemployed workers from around the country are expected in the nation's capitol next week for four days of protests with labor, religious and social justice groups that say Congress cares more about America's wealthiest 1 percent than it does the masses of struggling middle-class families.
Piggybacking on the Occupy Wall Street movement, the three-day "Take Back the Capitol" protest will open Monday with construction of a "Peoples Camp" on the National Mall as a base of operations. On Tuesday, protesters will hit Capitol Hill to lobby members of Congress about extending federal unemployment benefits. The group walks to K Street on Wednesday to protest the political influence of corporate lobbyists.
And on Thursday, they'll host a national prayer vigil for the unemployed on Capitol Hill. At the same time, the AFL-CIO will coordinate simultaneous protests at congressional district offices across the country to call for extending unemployment benefits that are slated to expire Dec. 31 without congressional action.
"We're going to be here for a week, and we're going to be letting them all know that people are getting pretty tired of a Washington that works for the few and not for the many," said Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America's Future, one of a coalition of organizations sponsoring the event.
A flier says the protest will "show Congress what democracy looks like, shine a light on corporate greed and the human suffering it has caused, and demand justice for the 99%."
Protesters will call for passage of President Barack Obama's jobs bill and for continuing the 2 percentage point payroll tax cut for employees.
The protest is expected to draw the largest gathering of unemployed workers in the nation's capital since the economy tanked, said Andy McDonald, spokesman for the American Dream Movement, a national coalition of self-styled progressive groups.
"They're here to say, 'This economy has been broken by the 1 percent (of wealthy Americans), and people in Congress continue to side with them.' We want to reclaim the economy and take back the Capitol and make it the people's house again," McDonald said.
Representatives from 15 Occupy protests from around the country will also take part, Borosage said, but the local Occupy DC isn't a sponsor, said Legba Carrefour, a spokesman for the group. U.S. Park Police said the protesters will not be allowed to sleep overnight on the National Mall.
Supporters hope the growing activism of liberal groups will translate into Election Day victories in 2012.
Their political momentum has been building for months. In August, progressive groups held more than 400 protests in local congressional district offices to push for greater job creation. In September, the Occupy Wall Street movement began. In October, 2,000 liberal activists gathered in Washington for the "Take Back the American Dream" conference. And on Nov. 17, the American Dream Movement held a national day of action in which protesters gathered on structurally deficient bridges across the country to call for greater infrastructure investment to create jobs.
"On a lot of those bridges, there were people from Occupy, there were unemployed workers, union members, MoveOn.org members, so they all started to blend together. I think that's what's exciting about what's happening in the country right now and that's what's exciting about next week," McDonald said.
Sponsoring organizations for "Take Back the Capitol" include Rebuild the Dream, the Center for Community Change, USAction, Interfaith Worker Justice, Faith in Life, MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO.
The protest hopes to capture the frustrations of people like Eric Braddock of Lumberton, N.J., and Molly Wassermann, of New York City. Wassermann recently moved from Toledo, Ohio, to New York to find a job. She's still looking.
"What exactly is a person is supposed to do who is simply not being hired?" she asked. "Are we just supposed to die? Are we supposed to commit suicide? Are we supposed to starve to death homeless and on the streets? I know that sounds dramatic, but that's really what people are facing."
Braddock, 28, a recent college graduate, works as an illustrator. But both his parents, ages 65 and 55, lost their jobs, and Braddock worries about their mental state and their future job prospects.
"I want them to have a sense of pride again and not just wander around the house feeling worthless and embarrassed that they can't get a a job," he said. "I can see it in their faces and it's absolutely heartbreaking for me to see that every day. We just need somebody in charge to think about people like my parents for a change. I believe that Congress is focused in entirely the wrong direction."
Amaya Tune, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, said Congress shouldn't leave town for the holiday break without extending jobless benefits.
"If they leave town and don't do anything, it'd be really terrible for working families, so we're making a big push on this," she said.