MarchOnHarrisburg Occupies Governor Wolf's Office, Demands Action on Gerrymandering
On Tuesday, June 26th, MarchOnHarrisburg, along with organizers from Democracy Spring, MILPA (Movement of Immigrant Leaders in PA,) and PA-Poor People's Campaign, stormed Governor Tom Wolf’s office on Tuesday, demanding that he call a special session and force legislators to return to the Capitol to vote on a clean redistricting bill to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.
On Monday, June 25, the Pennsylvania State Legislature left for their summer vacation without voting on a piece of reform that takes the power to redistrict out of incumbent hand’s and puts it in the hands of citizens. The reform has been supported by a historic grassroots coalition that has lobbied nearly the entirety of the Pennsylvania Legislature, spoke with tens of thousands of voters, and mobilized thousands of people to rally at the Capitol. Governor Wolf has the power to bring legislators back into session to vote on this Constitutional amendment, before the legislation dies on July 6th and we are stuck with a corrupt redistricting process until 2032. While Governor Wolf was not in the office, protestors committed to camp out in the office until we heard a statement from Wolf that he would call legislators back from their vacation and return to session.
Protestors entered the office chanting, “The leaders are bought. The leaders are sold. The people want reform and the leaders went home,” and “What do we want, REPRESENTATION? What did they do? Go on vacation!”
Protestors then rolled out sleeping bags with the words, “WOLF CALL LEGISLATORS BACK NOW!,” preparing to stay in the office until they received a commitment from Governor Wolf to call a special session.
"Our politicians are neither responsive nor responsible to the people of Pennsylvania. Until we end corruption, our politicians will not see us, hear us, or care about us, and Harrisburg will continue to produce chaos and suffering.” said Rabbi Michael Pollack, Executive Director of MarchOnHarrisburg announced inside the office. “We lobbied this entire building and we organized, educated, and mobilized the public, and the House poisoned two bills and then the Senate poisoned another bill. We now demand that Governor Wolf calls the House and the Senate back to Harrisburg to pass a clean redistricting bill this week.”
During the camp-in / teach-in, participants took turns explaining why they were in the office, risking arrest.
"We are at a decisive point in the American story,” said Renaldo Pearson, co-Mission Director of Democracy Spring. “We won't be able to address the existential and common challenges that we face as a planet and nation, until we fix our democracy first. What March on Harrisburg is doing to counteract partisan gerrymandering here is a shining example of what needs to be duplicated in states across the country with pro-democracy initiatives. March on Harrisburg's work to balance the scales for democracy could not be more important.”
After a couple of hours of occupation, the protestors negotiated a public meeting with Wolf’s chief of staff, Mike Brunelle, to discuss Wolf’s position.
During the meeting, Brunelle expressed that Governor Wolf believed in the redistricting reform and was in full agreement with us, which is why he vetoed a proposed map of Republican-redrawn congressional districts in February, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in January that the state's congressional maps must be redrawn this year.
“We are asking the Governor to take a bold step and to be a leader for the people of Pennsylvania, not with words, but with action," Xelba Gutierrez, a MarchOnHarrisburg organizer, told Brunelle, "We have been talking about this for months and there is always an agreement. We want more than agreement, we want action.”
“The people of Pennsylvania are the ones that get to decide if Wolf has been a leader, not himself, or his staff. We are the ones that can tell you if he has been a leader. We are here sitting down, and the time is ticking. The maps will be drawn again, and in a way that is not right, and that silences us all. We need Wolf to be bold, and a be a leader NOW.”
Following the meeting, Brunelle said that he would discuss the matter with Governor Wolf later that day. However, we continued to camp out in the office until we heard from Wolf.
During the occupation, capitol police prevented protestors from using the bathroom, drinking water, or eating. Finally, after more than five hours, protestors exited the office to gain access to bathrooms, water and food.
Over the next couple of days, we are asking all Pennsylvanians to call Wolf’s office to demand that he call legislators back into session.
If we do not hear from Wolf by the end of the week, we will back.