WASHINGTON – Guillermo Santos, 10, walked 150 miles from Philadelphia to Washington bringing letters that his classmates wrote for President Barack Obama, asking him to stop budget cuts affecting public schools. He was with a group of activists who ended their six-day march Friday with a rally in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The protesters rallied against the chamber’s lobbying efforts in support of multinational corporations.
“We know that, as poor people and low-income families, our voice doesn’t matter,” Cheri Honkala, 50, director of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and Guillermo’s mother, said. “We cannot pay for lobbyists. We know that we can’t buy our votes, and yet it’s our families that do the bulk of the work in this county.”
Guillermo tried to deliver the students’ letters to the White House on Thursday.
“They wouldn’t let us in without an appointment,” he said. “So we came here.”
He was the youngest activist in the march.
“I come here hoping to have a change, hoping to have a better education system,” Guillermo said through the megaphone while marching in front of the chamber.
The protesters, from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Washington, demanded support for green jobs and spoke against the budget cuts for education and the privatization of schools – issues the group blamed on the chamber’s lobbying efforts.
Carl Gibson, 26, left, Cheri Honkala, 50, and Evan Bieder, 20, tried to enter the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building during a protest against lobbying, but police stopped them. SHFWire photo by Barbara Corbellini Duarte
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents business interests. In 2012, it spent more than $135 million on lobbying efforts, and more than $16 million in the first four months of 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“These are the people who bought our government. And they bought it to tell them to stop buying things, to stop buying schools, to stop buying jobs, to stop buying housing, to stop buying green energy,” David Swanson, 43, of Washington and the author of antiwar and activist books, said.
The chamber usually supports conservative politicians, campaigns and causes. It lobbied to cut carbon dioxide emission regulations, to loosen security standards on chemical factories, fertilizer depots and water-treatment plants and in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, which many environmental groups oppose.
Luciano Flores, 19, a student at the Community College of Philadelphia, marched with the group to ask for more support to education. The Philadelphia public schools face a budget deficit of $300 million for the next year because of state budget cuts. The deficit could eliminate art, music, sports and after-school activities.
The activists blame the cuts on the chamber for supporting the 2010 campaign of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, R.
“No multimillionaire corporation has the right to interfere in my future generation’s right to education,” Flores said.
Members of four activist groups gather in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest against its lobbying efforts in favor of corporations. The protesters said the chamber supports policies that kill jobs and destroy the planet. SHFWire photo by Barbara Corbellini Duarte
The group tried to enter the chamber building, which is across Lafayette Square from the White House to talk to an official there, but D.C. police blocked the entrance.
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not open to the public. They are opened to people with money,” Carl Gibson, 26, owner of a social media consulting company in Madison, Wis., yelled after police stopped him on the building steps.
The Chamber of Commerce did not respond to a request for comment on the protest.
The protesters left after a couple of minutes, but promised to continue the campaign as a national movement that will advocate for business to cut their ties with the chamber.
“I want them to stop existing,” said Gabriel Elkind, 20, a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. “We all have the power to feed ourselves. … If we work together, we can do it.”GeneralShut the ChamberShut the ChamberShut the Chamber