“Pay our bills,pay our rent; ask CEOs where the money went,” they chanted outside the downtown building that houses offices of American International Group.
They were equipped with signs and homemade noisemakers constructed from soda cans. One man clapped a pair of shoes together.
After insurance company AIG announced that it used $165 million of bailout money for executive bonuses,outrage spread across the country. The company's chief executive endured a grilling on the subject Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Regional and national sponsors promoted the protests,and the Web site Takebacktheeconomy.org lists 32 states – including the District of Columbia – with locations for marches outside of AIG buildings.
The Service Employees International Union played a major role in Washington's protest. A member with a bullhorn lead the crowd's chants. The union distributed information,and a number of members and employees joined the march. Other national sponsors included Rock the Vote,Partnership for Working Families,Catholics United,Moveon.org and Jobs With Justice.
Stephen Lerner,assistant to the president of SEIU,said that he hoped that actual workers of Washington chanting outside AIG and Citibank's buildings would provide a face to the problem,instead of just having “sound bites of people complaining about these things.”
AIG and Citibank did not respond to requests for comment.
SEIU has 2 million members in services,health and government jobs and is the fastest-growing union in the country.
The protests began outside AIG's office and moved to a Citibank branch a few blocks away. About a hundred people participated at first,but the number dwindled en route to the second stop.
“Banks get bailed out,workers get sold out,” the demonstrators chanted outside the Citibank branch.
Unemployed SEIU grassroots lobbyist,Theo Jackson of Santa Cruz,Calif.,said he was fired from his job as a substance abuse counselor because he tried to start a union at his workplace. The protests,he said,”exposed the greed” of the corporations misusing bailout money.
“This is why people are dying – literally,” Jackson said. “And they don't give a rat's ass.”
Allied Barton security guard Desiree Velez didn't go to the protest because she was working,but wished she could have.
“I'm mortified about the continued misusage of legalities to cover up the lack of morality and integrity that people have,” she said.
Velez became a security guard in the SEIU building because her hours at a full-time catering job had been cut back dramatically.
In her town of Woodbridge, Va.,she said every other house has become vacant. Prince William County,which includes Woodbridge,has had the highest rate of foreclosures in the Washington metropolitan area.
RealtyTrac,a foreclosure listing firm,reported last week that the number of households in jeopardy of losing their homes increased 30 percent over the last year.
Velez's message to AIG: “This is not your money,this is our money.”