A group comprised mostly of graduate students spent eight hours at a congressman’s Greenwood office, eventually leading police to be called.
No one was arrested, but the group eventually left when they didn’t have access to bathrooms and couldn’t physically stay any longer, an organizer of the event said.
Most of the group consisted of Indiana University graduate students from Bloomington, who came to the Greenwood office of Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth to raise concerns about the tax reform plan and asking him to vote against it. Hollingsworth was in Washington, D.C., at the time.
A spokesperson for Hollingsworth called the visit an ill-conceived stunt, and that the group had demanded Hollingsworth vote against the legislation he supports.
The group of students asked to speak with the congressman after arriving around 2:30 p.m. Monday. They were told his staff was trying to get Hollingsworth on the phone, and they were to sit and wait, said Tracy Gotch-Hutchings, an organizer of the event through an IU student group Campus Action for Democracy, a chapter of community organization Hoosier Action.
Around 6:30 p.m., after the office was closed for the day, the group still was there, and Greenwood police were called by the landlord of the building. Two of Hollingsworth’s staff members also had remained in the office.
Officers spoke with the group, asking them to leave because they were trespassing on private property since Hollingsworth’s office is in a larger office building that houses other businesses. About half of the group left, but seven remained, sitting on the floor, and told police they were willing to be arrested to demonstrate the seriousness of their concerns, Gotch-Hutchings said.
An officer then spoke with Hollingsworth’s head of security, who said the congressman gave permission for the group to stay in his office, but only in his office, according to the Greenwood Police Department report. Police also were told that the office fell under the jurisdiction of U.S. Capitol Police.
The group was told they could stay, but only in Hollingsworth’s office, which meant they did not have access to the hallway of that floor, where the restrooms were located, Gotch-Hutchings said. If they stepped out of the office into the rest of the office building, they would be escorted off the property, she said.
“On Monday afternoon, a small group of grad students visited the Greenwood office, demanding that Representative Hollingsworth vote against the tax bill or they would stay in the office until they got arrested. Trey absolutely respects anyone who petitions their government, which is why our team stayed with this group until they left peacefully at 10 p.m. However, the students’ attempt at democracy by extortion was an ill-conceived stunt which would deprive hard-working Hoosiers of a simpler tax code and lower tax rates,” Hollingsworth’s Indiana chief of staff Rachel Jones said in a statement.
The group also was specifically told that if they urinated on themselves or in a container in the office, they could be arrested for vandalism, she said.
“We were put in a situation where we could stay in the office until our bodies forced us to leave,” Gotch-Hutchings said.
“We waited until were forced to leave, because of our own physical discomfort.”
Around 10:30 p.m., when the group left, they were escorted off the property by officers, Gotch-Hutchings said. The officers were not Greenwood police officers, who left after they were told the group could stay, Fillenwarth said.
The group was disappointed they weren’t able to speak to Hollingsworth, and that they were forced to leave by being denied access to a bathroom, she said.
The group had driven about an hour to Greenwood, bringing with them a petition with 500 signatures from the Indiana University community opposing the tax reform legislation. The legislation, as proposed by the House, would have taxed tuition waivers that many graduate students receive from their university, along with university employees whose spouses or children attend classes, she said.
Hollingsworth voted yes on the legislation.
The changes would increase graduate students’ taxes significantly, since they would be taxed on their pay of about $15,000 per year for doing work at the university, such as research or teaching, and on their tuition waiver, totaling as much as $50,000, she said.
“For us, this is really our life. Many of us have studied for years to become faculty members and teachers and researchers. This bill would have made our dreams impossible,” she said.
That piece of the bill could be taken out of the final legislation, but it still shows that the overall tax reform plan is not going to benefit most Hoosiers, and is instead intended to help the wealthy, Gotch-Hutchings said.