Nov 15, 2017

By Jen Johnson
Digital Director, Represent.Us

This week, five people dressed as Waldo from the "Where's Waldo?" children's books were arrested at the capitol building in Pennsylvania in the largest anti-corruption demonstration in months.

The arrests marked the boiling point of a five-day action that attracted volunteers from across Pennsylvania, supporters from every state in the country, and a huge pile of plungers (yes, plungers) - all pushing for one politician to stop blocking anti-corruption laws ready for a vote.

Why dozens of volunteers marched and protested to fight corruption

Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states where lobbyists and wealthy donors are legally allowed to give unlimited gifts to politicians.

And give gifts they do: from Beyonce tickets to boxing lessons, a self-portrait, a new roof, and trips to Key West, politicians are showered in gifts from lobbyists. The parking garage next to the capitol building has rows of reserved parking spots for major lobbyists.

You get the idea: there's a huge lobbyist gift problem in Pennsylvania. How can it be fixed? Well, there's a bill ready for vote that would ban lobbyist gifts. Boom.

But even though the bill has wide support from Pennsylvanians across the political spectrum, the chair of the committee where the bill sits is refusing to introduce it. His name is Daryl Metcalfe, and he's refused to even take a meeting with Pennsylvanians pushing for the bill.

So, after trying phone calls, letters and meetings, anti-corruption fighters in Pennsylvania decided it was time to get creative.

Why marching fuels the fire

On November 9th, dozens of people departed on a 3-day, 36-mile march from Lancaster to the capitol in Harrisburg. Marchers came from all over Pennsylvania, and were even joined by anti-corruption activists from North Carolina, Missouri, and California.

The march was organized by March on Harrisburg, a nonpartisan anti-corruption group in Pennsylvania, and joined by Represent.Us volunteers and MAYDAY.US organizers.

People of all ages and backgrounds joined the march, including a marine veteran, a volunteer with stage 4 cancer, and an activist with MS.

We walked in 30-degree weather through towns with abandoned steel mills and shuttered houses. Wherever we went we drew attention: People watched from inside their homes, opened their doors to shout their support to us, and pulled off to the side of the road to find out what we were marching for.

Everyone we spoke with told us they were with us.

Five arrests and plungers on the steps: civil disobedience at the capitol

Marchers arrived at the capitol on Sunday evening and slept the night in the Unitarian Church. In the morning, we went to the capitol building where we were joined by more protesters from the Harrisburg area.

We set plungers donated by Represent.Us members on the capitol steps to make a statement to Metcalfe and his colleagues: unclog your shameful blockage, and pass the lobbyist gift ban.

Men in suits exiting the building did double takes as they saw the unusual display.

Inside, March on Harrisburg organizers, Rachel Brewer from Represent.Us, and Chris Tallent from MAYDAY.US spoke to a crowd about the corruption problem in Pennsylvania. Then, five people dressed in "Where's Waldo" gear set out to go deliver letters to politicians' offices.

They returned to link arms and block the hallway, asking Metcalfe to come speak to his constituents. Supporters joined them in chanting "one person, one vote" and "money out of politics", while dozens of surprised bystanders joined in.

The Waldos were assaulted by Pennsylvania House Chief Clerk Dave Reddecliff, who pushed them and tried to break through the Waldo wall.

After blocking the hall for about 40 minutes, a police officer shoved one of the Waldos forward, nearly pushing him to the ground. Then five officers approached them from behind, grabbed them, and arrested them. At least one protester was slammed up against the wall during arrest.

All five Waldos were released later that day, to a crowd waiting outside the jail with water and cookies.

What's next

Daryl Metcalfe stayed away from the protests, but he was watching: his chief of staff was peering over the balcony and sending him updates. Represent.Us members visited Metcalfe's office the day after arrests and report that Metcalfe was "not pleased" with the demonstration.

People across the country have sent letters, plungers, and been arrested outside his office. Dozens of news stories are out about Metcalfe blocking this bill. Clearly we have his attention.

If you're in Pennsylvania, join your local Represent.Us chapter and sign up for updates from March on Harrisburg as they continue fighting to organize throughout the spring.

If you're not in Pennsylvania, sign this petition to send an email to Daryl Metcalfe telling him to pass the gift ban, or call his office at (717) 783-1707.

For more on Pennsylvania's corruption problem, check out our previous post.