Six Democratic congressional staffers were arrested after staging a sit-in at the office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to protect what they see as a lack of comprehensive, urgent action from the Democratic Party on the climate crisis.
The Monday sit-in was comprised of about 17 Democratic Hill staffers. During the protest, Saul Levin, a staffer for Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) involved with the action tweeted “we’re asking Senator Schumer to negotiate like this is the coldest summer of the rest of our lives (it is).” The group of staffers held banners and signs bearing slogans like “Keep negotiating, Chuck!” and “CLIMATE POLICY NOW.”
In a phone interview withTeen Vogue, Levin, 26, laughed when asked how the action came about. “It starts with the Senate not doing anything,” they said. “We have tried everything: negotiating, jamming things in, coordinating, organizing. None of these things have worked. And now the Democratic leadership, who aren’t going to live through the [climate] crisis in the same way we are, have basically thrown up their hands and we literally can’t accept that.”
Staffers say they were in the room for about 30 minutes before Capitol Police were called and six of them were arrested. Rajiv Sicora, 35, senior policy advisor for Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), said there was some anxiety in the atmosphere, but that wasn’t the overwhelming mood. “What I mainly felt in the room was resolve, solidarity, and joy — in using our power as congressional workers to say that what is happening is unacceptable.”
Levin says the action was planned on short notice after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) rejected a spending bill that included climate action. The proposals on climate would have helped Americans pay for electrical vehicles and funded other energy and climate proposals, according to The New York Times. Since President Biden took office, Manchin, who the Times reports has taken more money from the oil and gas industry over the last term than any other senator, has blown up multiple efforts to pass new climate change legislation. Vice also found that the senator makes $500,000 a year from “one of the dirtiest coal plants in West Virginia”; Times investigation found that “at key moments over the years, Mr. Manchin used his political influence to benefit the plant.” So the staffers involved in the protest weren’t surprised that Manchin was the holdout in the latest negotiations.
Still, Levin says people are focusing on the wrong thing when they focus on Manchin. “The real question is, have Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer done everything in their power to get Joe Manchin to vote for comprehensive climate policy? And the answer is a definitive no.”
Aria Kovalovich, a 26-year-old staff member on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, was among the six staffers arrested and she said she’s proud to have been arrested if it makes Schumer push harder for action on the climate crisis. “The status quo is simply not working. Congressional staff have worked nights and weekends to write the bill, get support, and pass it through the House, only to see it die over and over at Manchin’s hand,” Kovalovich told Teen Vogue. “Millions of lives depend on what he does next. We know that Senator Schumer will not live long enough to see the worst effects of the climate crisis but we will.”