HARRISBURG -- Nearly two dozen chanting and shouting demonstrators, protesting what they viewed as stalled revisions on issues that included bans on lobbyists' gifts to lawmakers, were arrested and led away from the state Capitol in handcuffs Monday.
State officials confirmed that 23 people were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, and told that they would be charged with trespassing if they attempt to enter the Capitol over the next few days, when more protests are planned.
Although it is common for groups to hold rallies at the Capitol – on any given week, there may be several – rarely do they end with arrests.
The protesters were part of the “March on Harrisburg” group, some of whom had walked 100 miles through scorching heat and torrential downpours over a nine-day period from Philadelphia to Harrisburg this week to protest gerrymandering, lobbyists’ gifts to legislators, and what they called “systematic defector disenfranchisement.”
Several of the group’s members blocked the entrance to a legislative office during their protest Monday; yet others formed a human chain outside a legislative hearing, leading Capitol officers to arrest them.
The bipartisan group of volunteer protesters said it hopes to “heal our wounded democracy” in Pennsylvania. Its members have met regularly with lawmakers since January to push bills addressing three issues: an end to gerrymandering when drawing congressional and legislative districts; a ban on unlimited gifts to lawmakers; and automatic voter registration.
“We selected these specific three goals ... because they’ve all been previously introduced in the House and Senate, so we thought they would stand the best chance of being called for a vote and eventually passing,” said Emily DiCicco, the March on Harrisburg spokeswoman.
Indeed, such bills have been around for years, but the legislature has steadfastly refused to tackle them.
In the Capitol on Monday, the protesters stood outside the office of Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), chanting for him to allow a vote in his committee on a measure that would ban most gifts to lawmakers. Some children passing through the hall even joined in, clapping along to the beat of the chant.
The protesters claimed that Metcalfe has bottled up the bill in his committee, preventing it from coming up for a full House vote.
In an interview, Metcalfe said the gift ban bill was not a priority. “We see hundreds of bills on my committee," he said. "We prioritize.”
He also said constituents can advocate for their cause “without acting out.”
“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,” he said.
According to the Center for Public Integrity’s 2015 State Integrity Investigation, Pennsylvania received a failing grade in integrity, as measured by factors such as electoral oversight, legislative and judicial accountability, and political financing.