WASHINGTON -- The Conservative Political Action Conference drew crowds of protesters on Friday, as members of the Occupy Wall Street movement and labor groups demonstrated against the annual confab as a powwow for the "1 percent."
Inside the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., students affiliated with Occupy silently interrupted a speech by GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. The protesters, wearing "We are the 99%" stickers over their mouths and shirts that read "If money is speech, poverty is silence," were escorted from the building by security.
While leading figures in the conservative movement continued to meet inside, outside the hotel the atmosphere was more raucous, with several hundred people rallying at noon beneath a giant inflatable "fat cat." They held signs, chanted, and set up a few tents at the bottom of the hotel's winding driveway.
But when protesters began marching up the driveway shortly after noon, several D.C. police officers impeded their path and instructed protesters -- and members of the media -- that they needed to move back. Police said the driveway was private property and that those still on it risked arrest. The protest began moving back down the driveway as CPAC attendees watched from the sidelines. Police continued to keep protesters and members of the media off the driveway but allowed the protest to spill off the sidewalk, blocking the street.
The protest saw a number of outlandish attendees, from the Brooklyn "Tax Dodgers," a faux baseball team who satirically support former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, to "Candidate Walmart," aka Ben Waxman, who said he was standing up for a corporation's right to run for president. It also drew a mix of Occupy protesters, union supporters and members of local groups.
"We're protesting CPAC's propping up of policies that don't force U.S. corporations to pay their fair tax share, and really promote obscene income inequality in this country," said James Adams, a coordinator with Our DC, another group of protesters that focuses on jobs. "The dreams of Americans who make up the 99 percent are being squashed by CPAC and their poster boy, Mitt Romney."
Although protesters expressed concern on issues from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to foreign policy, most said they were focused on economic policy.
"We're trying to create more jobs here in the District, and we feel by holding Congress and big corporations accountable for not paying their fair share of taxes, they can create more jobs by doing so," said Dwayne Devoe, another member of Our DC. "A lot of them are talking about creating jobs, but at the end of the day, what they're saying doesn't really relate to their message."
Jeanae Paul, a member of Good Jobs Baltimore, said she was trying to call attention to the plight of the jobless. "I've been unemployed for over a year now, and it's been really hard," Paul said. "I've been going on interviews, but there's no jobs out there. They're non-existent. And it's hard to feed my family, it's hard to buy clothes, to celebrate the holidays."
Paul said she made the trip to Washington because she wanted the Republican candidates for president to hear stories like hers. "It's important to let them know that we're people, too," she said. "We want to be heard. You know, they need to know the real stories, instead of listening to what their 1 percent is saying. Because we're the 99 percent."
Brendan Duke, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, an organization of 2.1 million members, told The Huffington Post that there were 600 protesters on hand, including 300 unemployed workers from the D.C. area. He said the protest was scheduled to last until 2 p.m.
Most CPAC attendees simply walked around the rally, but several stopped to speak with protesters.
Byron Sanford, a Catholic University student who supports Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), seemed sympathetic. "I agree with Occupy Wall Street on one of the things they stand for -- I think corporations are ripping off the American people," he said, admitting that he was actually more comfortable with the atmosphere outside the conference. "I feel much better out here."
Others were less impressed.
"I've been to a couple of these things, and it's pretty typical -- it's the same slogans," said John Sexton, who writes for Verum Serum, CPAC's 2012 Blog of the Year. "Individually, they can be very reasonable, but in groups, you're not thinking."
Another protest outside CPAC is planned for Friday evening.
Michael Calderone contributed to this report.
CORRECTION:The original version of this story quoted James Adams and Dwayne Devoe as members of Occupy DC. They are part of the group Our DC.
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