The half-hour protest was led by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a Chicago-based civil rights advocacy organization founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson wasn’t at the demonstration.
The small group called on Congress to vote on a measure that would restart federal funding. The protesters said closing the government deprives many millions of Americans needed government services, especially the elderly, the poor and children.
This was the first of what may be several Rainbow PUSH Coalition protests of the shutdown, although none others are currently scheduled, said Janice Mathis, an Atlanta attorney who is a national vice president of the organization.
The organizers chose the CDC because of its reputation as a valued scientific agency that investigates disease outbreaks and works to prevent illness, she said.
“I think everyone supports the work of the CDC,” she said.
The shutdown’s crippling of the agency “speaks to everyone about how nonsensical this is,” she added.
About 9,000 of the CDC’s 13,000 employees have been placed on furlough during the shutdown. A wide range of the agency’s work has been dramatically slowed or halted, including lab testing for dangerous bugs and scientific research into multi-state sicknesses.
About half of the protesters were from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents roughly 2,500 of the CDC employees in the Atlanta area. They chanted: “We want to work!”
However, only one protester was a current CDC employee — Cedric Andrews, an assistant site manager.
CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds declined comment on the protest or the shutdown, other than to say the agency’s ability to do its job has been significantly impacted.