With the approaching “fiscal cliff” less than a month away, there’s been a large amount of controversy over tax cuts and the perceived economic fallout for many Americans. Local constituents and representatives of Bay area liberal groups and unions gathered Monday in the office of Representative Bill Young in Seminole to argue against increased tax cuts for the top two percent, leading to the Congressman getting into a confrontation with a protester — more on that later.
The protestors set up inside the floor of the office, passing around pizza and singing the usual staples as well as “fiscal cliff carols,” Christmas songs modified to reference the crisis in Washington. In keeping with the season, one man was dressed in a full Santa Claus outfit, and after a rousing speech on elves’ rights in the North Pole attempted to have one of the staff members pass on a gift-wrapped piece of coal to the 21-term Representative.
Kofi Hunt, a community organizer with Awake Pinellas, hopes that the event Monday raises awareness about the hard times facing middle class Americans and the economic impact these cuts would have.
“We think the importance is that the middle class right now is being squeezed, they don’t have the money to pay their basic bills. For the wealthy they've done better than they've ever done, there’s record numbers in terms of profits. They don’t need tax cuts like the middle class does.”
Young’s record time in office has made him less likely to listen to voters in Hunt’s eyes, so it takes actions such as sit-ins and demonstrations to make their voices heard.
“I think it shows that he’s comfortable enough in his seat that he doesn’t have to answer to his constituents, and I think that shows that he may not be the best person to represent Pinellas County. I think this shows what happens when someone stays in office for 42 years.”
Hunt is critical of Young’s motivation as well.
“He thinks that it’s his seat and it’s not, it’s our seat. We need to show him through actions like these and voting seriously in the next election cycle in 2014 for someone who represents us and not the top 2 percent and not their personal interests.”
As about 30 to 40 constituents and protesters held a sit-in the office, another contingent held a short-lived candlelight vigil for the fate of the middle class. Organizers of the event on Monday estimated that about 70 people were present at first and a large amount remained throughout the event. The only issue was that Representative Young was not present at his office the entire time.
The attitude in the office was rather laid back at first, with most staff members seeming somewhat annoyed but otherwise tolerating the signs and chanting. Tempers started to flare, however, as closing time approached. Many of the constituents stated loudly that they would refuse to leave the premises until they were received a statement on whether or not Young would support middle class tax breaks and argued with Young’s Chief of Staff Harry Glenn.
Glenn, who had no comment for CL, asked multiple times for the group to leave and argued with those present, questioning who was in charge of the group and citing the representative’s voting record in favor of minimum wage increases. The protesters refused to budge on their demands to hear from the congressman and stayed after some staff members left.
The consensus was less anger toward Young’s previous voting record and more concern about how he’ll vote on the so-called fiscal cliff issue. Chuck Terzian, a computer programmer from St. Petersburg, thinks the tax cuts are some of the most important issues facing the country and that the emphasis should be placed on lowering rates for the middle class, not increasing them for the wealthiest “2 percent.”
Terzian says that Young is remaining noncommittal on the middle class question. He had the chance to ask him whether he would actively pursue legislation at a luncheon on Saturday and was unsatisfied with the congressman’s answer.
“I want a yes or no answer. I want a redress of my grievances. You don’t even have to vote my way, it’s not a ‘my way or the highway’ thing, I’m saying let me know, just go on record. The thing is he’s a very good speaker, he’s artfully dodged the question…he knows how to dodge questions and not answer them, which is great for his political career but it’s horrible for his constituents and American citizens.”
Terzian was one of the most vocal of those present in the office, and like many of his fellow protesters was angry he still hadn’t received some kind of answer.
“I’m extremely disappointed, all it took was a phone call. I want a yes or no answer. The frustration I heard in the room was the same as my frustration. They’ve been there many times and you get a form letter back saying, “Thank you very much, but I’m going to do whatever the hell I’m going to do. I’ve still maintained myself in office this long doing whatever the hell I want to.’ You saw it there, it was very civil but every one was very frustrated…the first amendment allows a redress on our grievances and in the simplest form is a yes or a no.”
As the office closed, Young arrived, flanked by St. Pete College police officers as well as staff members, including Glenn. One particularly persistent activist loudly asked Young about his stances, getting into close proximity of the 81-year-old congressman. It did not end well. Young grabbed the activist by the arm and raised his cane, largely looking like he was attempting to strike the protester until both were separated by the police officers present.
Repeating that the activists were trespassing on federal property multiple times, Young did engage one constituent, saying that he “was the middle class” but largely didn’t address the questions on cuts. The congressman was escorted into the building as the protesters discussed taking legal action against Young.
The police were rather nonplussed by the situation, pointing out that the young man did aggressively confront the congressman. However, due to the confusion during the actual incident, it’s unknown currently whether or not the young man will pursue legal action. Soon after, the group dispersed in order to avoid being arrested for trespassing.