It’s hard to imagine how the weather could be worse today in Washington, D.C. But freezing temperatures and the biggest snowstorm of the year weren’t enough to deter the approximately 40 protesters who slept in front of the Supreme Court last night in anticipation of the court’s arguments on same-sex marriage. And they’re not even looking for front-row seats.
One protester, who tells me his name is Aaron Black, says he and his fellow activists aren’t interested in getting into the chamber (Black appears to be an alias, his real name being Aaron Minter). Rather, they just want to be there.
Black, a resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, says he was one of the initial organizers of the Occupy movement. This week, he bused down to D.C. with a few fellow activists, including some who were also at the Zuccotti Park protests.
Despite appearances, Black says, the gathering in front of the Supreme Court isn’t connected to Occupy.
“We are here, you know, as part of a broad coalition of activists to make sure that we’re seen in front of these steps,” he tells me. “I won’t personally marry anybody till my gay brothers and sisters have the right to marry, too.”
One of Black’s fellow protesters, also a Brooklynite, interrupts us a few moments later.
“Quit lying, Aaron!” he says, laughing. “You’re not getting married because you’re a player!” Black pauses, looks over at him, and chuckles.
“No!” Black says, hesitating. “That’s not it. That’s not it. Don’t listen to this guy. Um, it’s a number of other reasons — no. It’s just, you know, it’s really great to be here and to be able to talk about this issue and be a part of this history.”
The weather seems to have undermined that just a bit. “It’s sucked!” Black says about the unseasonal precipitation. “I mean, the snowflakes were literally twice the size of my thumbnail.”
That hasn’t deterred him and other activists. A number of protesters have gathered in hopes of getting into the courtroom to hear the oral arguments. There’s a row of makeshift shelters — hastily constructed from tarps, umbrellas, camping chairs, and sleeping bags — housing the few dozen people who have been camping out for up to four nights. Some wear bright-yellow Human Rights Campaign ponchos and sip coffee and tea from paper cups. Off to the side of the steps, a lone man yells about the World Trade Center (building No. 7, to be precise). One of the protesters tells me he’s been there so long that they’ve memorized his 9/11-truther screed.
Black tells me he thinks Occupy helped get President Obama reelected by “changing the conversation” to an emphasis on income inequality. “It was a big deal,” he says. So too, he seems to hope, with the visibility of activists around the Supreme Court’s deliberations. He and his group will camp out Monday and Tuesday night as well.
But he tells me that he’s frustrated that some of the people are being paid to hold places in line for D.C. lawyers. Two other people waiting in front of the building later told me the same thing, though a third person, Andy Bakker, said he was unaware that anyone was getting paid.
Bakker has been here for days. He set up camp last Thursday, and he’s spent all weekend in front of the Supreme Court. He tells me he works as a courier, and says that since Congress is in recess, he has time to kill. He also says the campers have been using the congressional office buildings to go to the bathroom during the day. “But, you know, other than that, middle of the night, it’s pretty much Union Station,” Bakker says of his lavatory options.
He’s met a couple of people who support Prop 8 and DOMA, but most of the campers are hoping they’ll be overturned. “We had a preacher come through this morning,” he says, “but nothing too crazy, nothing too intense.”
Of course, things might get a bit more intense tomorrow. The National Organization for Marriage will be leading a march. Two protesters tell me that Westboro Baptist Church is also planning an appearance. Occupy alumni, traditional-marriage supporters, fringe groups — it seems like just about everybody wants to get in on the Prop 8 and DOMA hearings, snow or no snow.