Published March 20, 2010
But some of the protesters targeted a handful of black members of Congress and one gay lawmaker as they walked from the House office buildings to the Capitol to vote.
Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga, and Andre Carson, D-Ind., both members of the Congressional Black Caucus, allege that a group of protesters hollered at them and called them the N-word.
"They were just shouting. Harassing," Lewis said. "People being downright mean."
Lewis was one of the most pivotal figures of the civil rights struggle. He spoke alongside Dr. Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial during the "I Have a Dream" speech. And Alabama State Police fractured the congressman's skull as he led a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what became known as "Bloody Sunday" in 1965.
"It's okay, I've faced this before," said Lewis of Saturday's incident. "I haven't heard anything like this in 40, 45 years. Since the march to Selma, really."
Andre Carson is one of only two Muslims in Congress and was born nine years after "Bloody Sunday." Carson conceded he wasn't used to hearing such epithets.
"The beauty is that I was walking with a good sage who had been there before," Carson said, who with Lewis at the time.
First elected in 1970, Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., is one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
"You don't see any black folks in these groups," said Rangel. "Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever."
Rangel suggested that some of the protesters knew Lewis' story and deliberately went after him.
"They knew what he represented," he said.
Fellow CBC member Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said nothing would surprise him from some of the bands of health care protesters.
"I have never heard anyone campaign for their freedom to be uninsured. I've never heard anyone campaign against Medicare," said Scott. "That's what you're dealing with."
But African American lawmakers weren't the only targets of the protesters' invective. Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., alleges some of the demonstrators also castigated Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is gay.
"I don't even want to repeat it," said Crowley when asked what they said to Frank.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Capitol Police said she was unaware of any law enforcement inquiry into the incidents.