Members of the American Federation of Government Employees took to the halls of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., Feb. 13 for 35 minutes of silent protest to remind members of Congress that they are waiting for a solution that will fund the government and prevent another shutdown at the end of the week.
The 35 minutes, according to AFGE National President J. David Cox. Sr., stand for every day that the government was shut down in December 2018 and January 2019.
“The silent demonstration, I think, sends a strong message. It was a very hard, difficult thing to stand silently for union people for 35 minutes. We like to raise hell. But it makes us reflect to the pain and suffering that our members, their families had in 35 days of worrying about how are they going to buy food, how are they going to pay the rent, how are they going to get gas to go to work, how are they going to keep their daycare slot,” said Cox.
“There’s a time for silence. This was a time for silence. There will be celebration when [President Donald Trump] signs the legislation and funds the government for the rest of this year.”
Protesters rang a bell for every minute that passed and held up signs counting each minute as a day the shutdown had lasted.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress have reached a deal that would fund government agencies for the rest of the year and provide just over $1 billion for a border wall, according to recent reports.
“The give and take in this government, that’s how we run this country. Don’t shut the government down,” said Cox.
“I’m hearing from lots of lots of Democrats that they will do everything in their power to make sure that it never happens again. I don’t think Mr. McConnell wants it to happen again, because I think he’s very fearful. He didn’t like having us arrested in his office, he didn’t like the bad publicity.”
No attendees were arrested at the Wednesday protest, though Cox said that union members were fully willing to let themselves be arrested in protest if negotiations fall through and the government shuts down again.
“We have visited every member of Congress, all 535,” said Cox. “We also want President Trump and Mr. McConnell to know, [if] they don’t get this legislation passed and signed into law, we’ll be back round the clock, they will get tired of arresting us. If they shut it down, we will be here every day, they will drag us out of these offices every day.”
Congress and the White House have until Friday at midnight to agree on and pass funding legislation to avert another shutdown.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.