Neither wind, nor rain, nor a slippery sidewalk could stay furloughed federal worker Paula Metcalf from her self-appointed rounds.

Paula Metcalf reads her letter outside the locked door to McConnell's office (photo by Berry Craig)
Paula Metcalf reads her letter outside the locked door to McConnell’s office (photo by Berry Craig)

She rolled her power chair right up to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Lexington field office door. In her lap was a packet of letters urging the majority leader to end President Trump’s shutdown that’s keeping thousands of Uncle Sam’s employees off the job or working without pay.

The door was locked.

“Take the letters! Take the letters!” chanted the protesters, representing about half dozen unions, who accompanied her.

Metcalf works at the census bureau office in Jeffersonville, Ind. She belongs to American Federation of Government Employees Local 1438.

AFGE, the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council co-sponsored Wednesday’s “Demand Mitch McConnell #CallTheVote and #StopTheShutdown” rally at his posh Corporate Drive office suite.

Most of the protesters were from southern Indiana and central Kentucky. Many arrived via chartered buses from Jeffersonville and Louisville.

The rally began in a midday downpour and a stiff breeze. The elements dampened the protesters but not their ardor.

Bill Londrigan fires up the crowd. (photo by Berry Craig)
Bill Londrigan fires up the crowd. (photo by Berry Craig)

Kentucky State AFL-CIO president Bill Londrigan and others began the rally by addressing the crowd from the bed of a pickup truck.

“We want to bring a message to Mitch McConnell, the one person that can stop this shutdown right now,” Londrigan said through a bullhorn. He added that the rally was called to show solidarity with federal workers “that are hurting, that have no paycheck, that are looking at eviction, that are losing their health care.”

He urged everybody to follow him into the building with letters to the Senate’s top Republican, “urging him to stop the shutdown now.” The messages included late notices for unpaid bills and eviction notices.

Londrigan urges the crowd to applaud a speaker. (photo by Berry Craig)
Londrigan urges the crowd to applaud a speaker. (photo by Berry Craig)

Before the crowd headed indoors, Victoria Martin, local 1438 president, borrowed the bullhorn from Londrigan and didn’t mince words. She said about half of her members at the census bureau live in Kentucky.

“Where in the hell has Mitch been?” she demanded. “He’s been hiding from the American people, putting the president over the country and the American people he is supposed to be serving.

“He is the senate majority leader; he is not leading anybody right now….We want you to get off your ass and call the vote and end the shutdown.”

“Where in the hell has Mitch been? He is the senate majority leader; he is not leading anybody right now! We want you to get off your ass and call the vote and end the shutdown.” – at the #StopTheShutdown rallyClick To Tweet

The Senate is supposed to vote Thursday on two competing bills to reopen the government. The McConnell-Trump GOP measure has money for the president’s controversial border wall; the Democratic legislation doesn’t. Neither is expected to pass.

Jeremy Lannan, an AFGE national vice president, came from Washington to join the rally. “They say it take a village to raise a child. We’re not raising our children; we’re starving them right now, and this is not right.”

Metcalf, clad in a purple parka covered in a clear plastic poncho, read her rain-spattered letter to McConnell from her chair, which was parked on a concrete sidewalk. The letter said most furloughed workers lack money to buy food and pay medical bills.

“Please stop the shutdown so all of us government employees can go back to work, to our normal lives,” the letter asked. “How would you like to be without food and shelter? It’s been 33 days now, having to ask for help, wondering where our next meal is coming from.

“It isn’t easy. We’re all struggling. This nonsense needs to stop.”

Her letter also said that federal workers were “victims of this government shutdown and this game that you are playing. We want to go back to work. We are human beings.”

Reese Greer speaks to the crowd (photo by Berry Craig)
Reese Greer speaks to the crowd (photo by Berry Craig)

Reese Greer, who also belongs to Local 1438 at the census bureau, suspects that “a lot of people don’t understand the extent of damage being done by the shutdown. People who are not directly involved with it don’t see the people who’ve got to swallow their pride and go down and file for food stamps because they’ve got three kids at home, and they’re a single parent. Those kids have to be fed, and their parents doesn’t have a check coming in, and they don’t know how they’re going to pay their bills.”

Greer, who said her first name “is spelled just like the peanut butter cup and just as sweet and twice as nutty,” knew McConnell was in Washington. She vowed that if she could speak to him, she’d say, “Man up, don’t be so afraid of standing up against Donald Trump and for the people.”

She said if Trump showed up at the rally, she’d tell him to resign. “It takes a real man to admit when you are wrong,” Greer added, recalling that on the campaign trail the president said he’d apologize if he made a mistake but claimed he’d never erred.

“What’s his next trick? Walking on water? We’ve got plenty of water here for him today.”

When the protesters entered the building, they discovered that McConnell’s staff had locked the office’s glass door and wouldn’t open it, even when Metcalf stopped in front of it, and protesters knocked on the windows.

A protester tapes signs on the windows of McConnell's office (photo by Berry Craig)
A protester tapes signs on the windows of McConnell’s office (photo by Berry Craig)

While some protesters chanted “Take the letters! Take the letters!” others taped on the windows homemade black and white signs demanding “#CallTheVote.”

Somebody called the cops. When officers arrived and ordered the protesters out, the chant switched to “This is what democracy looks like!”

Led by Londrigan, everybody filed out peaceably.

A platoon of newspaper and TV reporters gathered for the rally, which lasted about an hour. Most stuck around to also interview protesters who, after exiting the building, converged along rain-soaked Harrodsburg Road. While they waved, sported signs and held a big AFG-state AFL-CIO banner, more than a few motorists honked horns in support.

Clark Williams, of Lexington, chair of the People’s Campaign, chatted with Londrigan.

“Today was very telling,” Williams said. “Here you had faithful public servants coming merely to deliver letters to Mitch McConnell’s office and his staff apparently was instructed not to receive letters from his own constituents who have been out of work for 33 days.

“He really doesn’t care about the people he’s supposed to be representing in Washington.”

“Here you had faithful public servants coming to deliver letters to McConnell’s office & his staff apparently was instructed not to receive letters from his own constituents. ... He really doesn’t care about the people he's supposed to be representing.”Click To Tweet

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Berry Craig
Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of five books on the Civil War in Kentucky. The last one, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media in the Civil War. His critically-acclaimed Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase, also from the University Press, has been reprinted in paperback.