Twenty-three protesters were arrested under charges of disorderly conduct, a summary offense, during a sit-in outside Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe’s office at the PA Capitol Monday, May 22. Five more were arrested on Tuesday. Two were from out-of-state and charged with failure to disperse, trespassing, and disrupting a meeting, as confirmed by Xelba Gutierrez, the outreach coordinator of March on Harrisburg. The two unidentified protesters have an unsecured bail set to $25,ooo and have a hearing on June 5. The other three protesters arrested on Tuesday had lesser charges. The demonstrators were with March on Harrisburg, a nonpartisan grassroots organization, rallying behind bill HB 39/SB 132 that would place limits on gifts to state legislators. The organization believes that gifts to public officials are a channel for bias and corruption.
“Metcalfe is the gatekeeper of the bill that we have been trying to pass,” Gutierrez said. “We have enough to vote for it, but we need to get it out of committee.” Metcalfe is the Republican Majority Chairman of the House State Government Committee and is seen as the roadblock to the bill.
As reported in Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s “March on Harrisburg Stops Marching and Starts Lobbying,” March on Harrisburg met with 230 out of the 253 PA State Legislators. Gutierrez explained that Executive Director Michael Pollack of March on Harrisburg, who was also arrested on Monday, has tried to schedule a meeting with Metcalfe since January, but to no avail. Prior to the sit-in, the volunteer group had also asked twice for a meeting before they would start nonviolent direct actions.
“They’re our representatives, they’re there to listen to us,” said Gutierrez. “For some reason they think it is okay to say ‘no’ to the Pennsylvania citizens that they are representing.”
Gutierrez said that the organization was not surprised by Metcalfe’s recent refusals, given his previous responses to Pollack. But Gutierrez was taken aback by the Republican Metcalfe’s overall reluctance to meet, since HB 39/SB 132 is a Republican bill and has garnered a large amount of support.
While Gutierrez was not surprised by his refusal, she was by the “strength of his words” to the press.
“We see hundreds of bills on my committee…we prioritize,” Metcalfe said to Philly.com. “I think these folks that think they can come to the Capitol and act like 2-years-olds … their parents failed miserably in raising them by not teaching them to be respectful of other people.”
“Our point is not to embarrass him, not to single him out,” Gutierrez continued. “But we have been calling, waiting, asking for a meeting, and then calling again, waiting, asking for another meeting…to no end, to no result.” Gutierrez emphasized that the movement was open with the PA State Rep. that they would perform acts of civil disobedience if he refused to meet.
The organization was also clear with its members that arrests were a real and likely possibility. But the arrests did not hamper the demonstrators’ morale. “We are feeling great, this is a lot of work, but it is all about putting [these problems] out in the open to change the narrative,” Gutierrez said. “Does this not make people angry? I know I’m angry.” The organization is determined to continue sitting-in for the rest of the week. Other forms of demonstration could not be discussed for legal and tactical reasons.
The gift-ban is one of three bills that March on Harrisburg is rallying behind. The other two bills are HB 722/SB 22, which would implement a nonpartisan form of redistricting to stop gerrymandering, and HB 193/SB 608, which would institute automatic voter registration statewide to increase voter accessibility. Gutierrez said that the bills were not chosen based on political party, since the organization is nonpartisan: “If there is a good bill offered in PA, it doesn’t matter who supports it, we are going for it.”
For more information, including how to get involved, visit March on Harrisburg’s website.
Watch March on Harrisburg protestors being arrested:
Watch John Oliver explain the dangers of Gerrymandering: