The pro-democracy movement arrived at the US Capitol the week of April 11 in full glory, with rallies and non-violent arrests every day totaling about 1,400 people, making it the largest civil disobedient action at the nation's capitol this century. Calling the action Democracy Spring, a coalition of hundreds of organizations marched 140 miles from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to Washington, DC and organized daily demonstrations around three demands:
1) Get big money out of politics,
2) Allow all citizens to vote/stop voter suppression, and
3) Hold a vote on a Supreme Court nominee
Citizens have had enough and are mobilizing to restore our democracy. We must overturn Citizens United, the ruling allowing billionaires and Big Business to spend unlimited money to buy elections. We must restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act that was gutted a few years ago, enabling states to make it harder for citizens to vote. And we must push the Senate to do its job and hold hearings and a vote on the Supreme Court nominee.
Democracy Spring is a joint initiative of money-in-politics and voting rights groups, teaming up with the environmental, labor, faith, peace and student movements who know that, to advance any of the issues, we must address big money in politics.
People know the system is rigged by and for the wealthy. Now we are taking action in the streets and on the steps of the US Capitol, demanding action to reclaim our democracy. There are solutions to these problems, if Congress members are willing to act.
In six years, sixteen states and over 700 cities and towns have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Cities and states are putting in place election funding systems that rely on small donors and public matching money, as an alternative to Big Money.
As one speaker at a Democracy Spring rally said passionately:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...
If that sounds radical, note the quote is from the Declaration of Independence upon which our country is founded.
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet and 17 other books, joined the march from Philadelphia to DC, spoke at a rally, and participated in the civil disobedience arrest. Lappe called it "the best day of my life," saying it was exciting to see so many people turn out to defend our democracy, in a spirit not of anger, but of taking responsibility to take our government back from big money.
Several members of Congress also spoke at the rallies, most of them thanking the activists for mobilizing and pressuring their colleagues to take action. As Representative Keith Ellison told me backstage at the rally, "People think we have juice because we're in office. But we don't. The real juice is in organizing. That's why what you're doing here is so important." We need to put pressure from the OUTside to help friendly members get things done on the INside.
Celebrities joined in, including Mark Ruffalo, Rosario Dawson, and Ben & Jerry of ice cream fame. Some conservatives joined, including John Pudner, executive director of the group Take Back Our Republic, who said that many conservatives and small business owners are also concerned about big money influencing politics.
It's beautiful to see courageous citizens taking a stand for democracy. This is where patriots need to be, on the front lines of restoring democracy. The speeches and chants are inspirational. My favorite is "We are unstoppable. A new world is possible."
This struggle may last beyond my lifetime. It's still worth doing. When they built cathedrals in the Middle ages, they knew it would take generations to build, yet they each did their part, and eventually the cathedrals were built. They're still standing, hundreds of years later.
And yet, big change can happen fast. Look at the Soviet Union suddenly collapsing, the Berlin Wall coming down, and apartheid in South Africa being dismantled. Forms that suppress the human spirit will tumble, and sometimes surprisingly quickly. We need to do our job -- show up and demand Democracy.
Democracy Spring went from April 11-16, followed by a sister-action Democracy Awakening with teach-ins, a rally of 3,500 people and more mass civil disobedience from April 16-18. Join the movement. Keep pressure on Congress members to control money in politics, restore voting rights, and vote for a Supreme Court justice. Together, we win. And I'd like to win democracy back in my lifetime.