May Day Demonstrators March in Statehouse
MONTPELIER – More than 100 May Day demonstrators marched through the Statehouse Friday disrupting debate in both the House and the Senate.
The demonstrators were divided into at least two groups. One group chanted "Governor Shumlin, hear us roar, no more cutbacks on the floor," as they wound up a staircase leading to the lobby to the House and Senate.
"Demonstrators denounced Vermont's political leadership for its failure to equitably address the revenue shortfall and health care crisis, instead choosing to attack state workers and cut funding for public services for the most vulnerable," said Keith Brunner of Vermont Workers' Center in a statement.
The demonstration, which ended with a rally on the Statehouse lawn, was part of International Workers' Day.
The demonstrators' chanting and singing drowned out the voice of Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, who was on the House floor proposing a tax on electronic cigarettes.
Lawmakers said they were determined to continue with debate and asked Jewett to speak louder.
Outside the door to the Senate, Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, shouted at the protesters.
"Let us get back to work," Flory said.
"We are working," one demonstrator replied.
Another group of demonstrators wound its way through the Statehouse and chanted "white supremacy has to go," referring to the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who had a critical neck injury while in police custody in Baltimore.
Statehouse Sergeant of Arms Janet Miller said the marches through the Statehouse lasted for 10 to 15 minutes. No permits are required for demonstrating in the Statehouse, but protesters are asked to refrain from disrupting proceedings in the House and Senate, Miller said.
Les Dimick, chief of Capitol Police, said the demonstration was "close to the line in that it shouldn't have disrupted proceedings."
"The House and the Senate had to stop debate so they could be heard while talking," Dimick said. "Some people would consider that rude."
About 200 demonstrators participated in the May Day rally, Dimick said. Not all of them entered the Statehouse, the chief said.
The Capitol Police brought in about 15 officers from other agencies to provide security for the event, Dimick said.
A sit-in protest during the inauguration of Gov. Peter Shumlin in January raised questions about whether the Statehouse has adequate security.
The House and Senate committees on institutions are studying ways to enhance security in the capitol, Dimick said.