Hundreds arrested outside White House during second day of voting rights protests

EXCLUSIVE: More than 200 protesters marched down Black Lives Matter Plaza and shouted outside the White House gates, demanding President Biden to make “no more excuses” for not passing federal voting rights protections.

Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested Wednesday during a second day of mass protests for voting rights. But unlike previous voting rights demonstrations that have occurred in the nation’s capital, processing was much slower, leaving elderly protesters and those with disabilities sitting out in the cold.

More than 200 protesters marched down Black Lives Matter Plaza and shouted outside the White House gates, demanding President Joe Biden to make “no more excuses” for not passing federal voting rights protections.

White House Voting Rights Protest
(Photo: theGrio/Jessica Floyd)

“Mr. President, we want you to succeed and we will stand with you, but we need you to fight against the filibuster because [it] is being used to fight against us and bring down our democracy,” Dr. Rev. William Barber, one of the organizers of the mass protest, said standing alongside the crowd of demonstrators.

“We also need you to invite us in to talk to you in the White House. You need to bring religious leaders and women activists and poor and loneliest people — the people you say you care about — you need them in the Oval Office. You’ve met with the senators. You’ve met with the corporate leaders. Now meet with us who make this country run.”

Earlier this month, President Biden managed to secure a policy win by getting Congress to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, better known as the bipartisan infrastructure plan. But a large swath of his supporters have reached a boiling point over threats to the nation’s democratic infrastructure.

“All of it should have been tied together,” Dr. Rev. William Barber exclusively told theGrio. He contended that the administration should have incorporated voting rights legislation, as well as ending the filibuster, to the infrastructure package.

Reverend William Barber
Reverend William Barber speaks during a demonstration at the U.S. Supreme Court during the MoveOn and Poor People’s Build Back Better Action on November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for MoveOn)

From a bird’s eye view, the passage of the president’s infrastructure plan was expected to usher in the opportunity for the administration to pounce on restrictive voting laws that have been passed by Republicans across the nation. But just like voting rights, the human infrastructure component to the Build Back Better plan, which includes investment in climate change, child care and housing, among other things, remains pending. 

“There are three infrastructures. The infrastructure of our daily lives, which is education, healthcare and wages,“ Barber explained. “The infrastructure of our democracy, which is voting rights, and the infrastructure of our bridges, roads and technology.” 

“We don’t want some of it. We demand all of it,” he added.

Barber and 200 others were arrested by the National Park Service. The event underscores the urgency from activists to protect the right to vote as Republicans nationwide have passed laws making it more difficult for Black and minority communities to vote.

Since first launching the protest series in August, the amount of people putting their bodies on the line has gone from five people being taken into custody by the United States Secret Service to a mass group of arrests. 

This time, however, there was a major backup in processing protesters — something Rev. Barber said he believes it was a deliberate attempt by the U.S. government to discourage future demonstrations.

Barber told theGrio that it took up to two hours to be processed as there was only one person doing the processing. Instead of taking protesters to jail as done in previous demonstrations earlier this year, park police handed tickets to those taken into custody. Those arrested had the option of paying the ticket now or within 15 days — or contesting the charge in court. Those who traveled to D.C. from out of town, however, would’ve had to pay the day they received the citation. 

Voting Rights Protesters Getting Processed
(Photo: theGrio/Jessica Floyd)

Barber said this processing conundrum left those with disabilities and the elderly sitting out in the cold on the sidewalk awaiting to be processed. “This is connected to the White House,” he asserted. 

The League of Women Voters is one of the advocacy groups that has been on the frontlines of the months-long movement to address restrictive voting laws. For the final showdown at the White House, the organization gave theGrio an exclusive look at the training sessions protesters underwent in preparation for their arrests in Lafayette Park, which is right outside the White House gates.

During the training session, organizers explained the arrest process to the volunteers. In summation, with advance notice, the National Park Service was able to set up a processing tent in the park that allowed those in custody to skip the transporting process that is normally carried out for smaller volume arrests. 

In order to undergo this variation of arrest, each individual must have identification in order to be issued a citation. After receiving the paperwork, there is a 15-day window for those arrested to pay a fine. If the fine is not paid or a person seeks to contest the arrest they are then given a court date to appear before the District of Columbia Superior Court. 

“This is one of the most patriotic actions anyone can take part of,” League of Women Voters CEO Virginia Kase Solomón told theGrio.  

The LWV and its coalition gained numbers and momentum, which prompted the National Park Service to negotiate arrests in advance of protests. After learning the process of arrests, the League of Women Voters began to train its volunteers before events that risked arrest in front of the White House.

“It’s a really exciting day for us to see so many people, especially impacted people from states like Texas and Georgia showing up and saying ‘I want to have my voice heard and my voting rights,’” Kase Solomón added. 

Kase Solomón is also the architect of the protest series. To aid colleagues of other organizations who took the fight to the Senate, she built another coalition to challenge the White House to act on voting rights with People for the American Way. 

Ben Jealous, president of the People for the American Way, was among the first five people arrested by the Secret Service on Oct. 5. Unlike the pre-negotiated arrest that occurred on Wednesday, Jealous and four others were held in the main jail of the District of Columbia. 

He told theGrio his experience in containment was “unfit for human habitation.” 

“Of all of the jails that I have been in, I’ve been in several, it was by far the worst,“ Jealous explained. 

theGrio’s April Ryan contributed to this report.

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