If the police issue several traffic advisories letting the public know that they will likely be unable to use a street during part of the day, and then they barricade that street so that no vehicular traffic can use it, can activists who — after the road has been made impassable already — are physically blocking an entrance ramp on that block be arrested for impeding traffic?
A dozen people, including some with SEIU, CCAG, and the machinists’ union, were peacefully arrested after blocking the Broad Street on-ramp to I-84 East. Peter Goselin, with the National Lawyers Guild, said that the arrests were carried out smoothly.
For the last two months, Wall Street has been the main recipient of criticism from the Left. This, in turn, has been met with criticism from those who believe politicians, not corporate entities, have created the milieu in which economic disaster was possible.
Enter voices somewhere in the middle.
Today, activists of the working class called on Congress to demand job creation, a stop to cutting important services, and that Wall Street be held accountable. This action was inspired by Occupy Wall Street, but not planned by those taking part in the encampment at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Broad Street here in Hartford. The Connecticut Action Alliance For a Fair Economy was behind organizing this event.
Although there were over 200 activists participating in the legal aspects of the action — rallying, picketing, and marching — a dozen, who had been prepared for civil disobedience, took part in blocking the entrance ramp. Before the event got underway, those planning to be arrested gathered in a small circle in front of Aetna on Farmington Avenue.
After receiving word of the heavy police presence nearby, Steve Thornton of SEIU 1199 told activists, “It looks like they’re well prepared, and, it looks like we’re well prepared.”
Those planning to be arrested went over logistics, handing off cell phones and keys to a designated person, giving their names, and wrapping neon pink tape around their arms to signal to both police and each other that they were officially part of civil disobedience. Thornton asked if anyone had outstanding warrants, excessive parking tickets, or anything else that could potentially cause further problems. Despite concerns about the ground being “really cold,” activists opted to follow the tradition of sitting, rather than standing, during the action.
As the picket line got underway, Sam, who said he was with Connecticut Action Alliance For a Fair Economy, sat on the sidewalk to put the finishing touches on his handmade protest sign. He said that the “last few years have been a pro-Reagan economy” and that “if we don’t take the time to protest [...] we make real political change [...] or it’s not pretty.”
While picketing outside of Aetna, an activist suggested the person leading chants “say something good about the cops. They’re in the same boat.”
Before marching, an excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 1963) was read to provide context for the action:
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
The issue? Activists say it is that 25 million Americans are unable to find full-time work while Congress refuses to help bridge the gap between the wealthiest one percent and everybody else.
Eddie Williams is one whose struggle seems imminent. He has been employed at the Courant for twenty years as part of the cleaning staff, is a member of 32BJ SEIU, and spoke about how he needs to keep his job.
The Tribune-owned Courant was one of five members in CAAFFE’s “Corporate Rogue’s Gallery” tour. Activists shamed the corporation for laying off 200 employees since 2008, the latest of which will include Williams and seven others on the cleaning staff.
For cutting jobs, Bank of America and Webster Bank were also were included on the tour. According to CAAFFE, Aetna has cut 400 job positions in Connecticut during 2011; they received a $6 million tax break from the State of Connecticut in 2008. Though they did not march past The Hartford Financial Services Group, this company was included on a map handed out by activists; since 2008, The Hartford has cut 2,200 jobs from its workforce in Connecticut.
As the group marched down Capitol Avenue, it became clear that police had blocked Broad Street off to all traffic. Despite this, protestors were urged to remain on the sidewalk. Police cars were used to block the area around the highway entrance.
In front of the Hartford Courant building, Steve Thornton reminded activists that only those with pink armbands, who had trained for civil disobedience, should proceed to the ramp. All others were asked to cheer from a distance.
Police did not make any dramatic moves when it came to arresting protestors, many of whom were smiling while sitting on the cold, damp pavement. As of eight on Thursday evening, all activists who were arrested were booked and released.