American democracy is under threat from two powerful sources:
The first is the power of billionaires and corporations to make unlimited "independent" campaign contributions which resulted in a $6 billion election in which the top 32 super PAC donors, giving an average of $9.9 million each, matched the $313 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small (under $200) donors combined.
The second is a coordinated attempt by many states to make it more difficult for minorities, senior citizens, and young people to exercise their right to vote.
These two threats have led to the growth of two movements to preserve and expand American democracy. The first is a Money Out of Politics movement -- given tremendous new momentum by the Citizens United decision -- which is demanding that the outsized influence of big money on our elections be eliminated, by legislation if possible, and by a Constitution Amendment if necessary. The second is a revived civil rights movement that is fighting to maintain the voting rights that the civil rights movement of the '6os fought for, and sometimes died for.
Until now, these two movements have been largely separate. The Money Out of Politics movement has been made up largely of white political reformers. The voting rights movement has been made up of largely of African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities who are following in the tradition of the civil rights movement.
Now, the voting rights movement and the Money Out of Politics Movement are finding common ground and creating a dynamic new coalition that will make each far stronger and will together create powerful momentum for resisting the growing threats to American democracy.
Among the many significant organizations backing this new coalition are the NAACP, Common Cause, African American Ministers in Action, People for the American Way, League of United Latin American Citizens, Public Citizen, Hip Hop Caucus, Rootstrikers, Sierra Club, Free Speech for People, National Women's Health Network, MoveOn, United Republic/Represent Us, Friends of the Earth, Consumer Action, US PIRG, and CREDO Action.
This coming three-day weekend is Martin Luther King's birthday, the third anniversary of the Citizen's United decision, and the second inauguration of President Obama.
It also provides the occasion for the first joint actions by this emerging democracy coalition. Activists in more than 75 towns and cities will rally to demand that lawmakers pass measures that limit the corrosive influence of money in politics and expand democratic participation at the polls. To find an event near you, click here.
In announcing the new coalition, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous stated,
"We are facing a dual attack on our democracy -- everyday voters are being disenfranchised while corporations are being hyper-enfranchised. We need to fix the fundamentals of our political system if we want to get down to solving our long-term problems."
"At the same time we've seen record amounts of unaccountable corporate money spent on elections, we've also seen a deliberate attack on the right of voters to participated in our democracy," added Public Citizen's Aquene Freechild. "Having so many diverse groups involved in this week's events shows how crucial this fight is."
The united actions this weekend culminate a year in which the movement to protect and restore American democracy has exploded in cities and towns throughout the nation. While organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund challenged voter suppression laws in court, millions of citizens asserted they would not allow their votes to be denied by standing in line for hours, as local officials tried to make it difficult to vote in many minority precincts.
Voters in Montana, Colorado and 175 cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, and more than half the cities in Massachusetts passed measures by margins of 75 percent to 81 percent instructing Congress to support a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United.
A year ago the Los Angeles City Council became the largest city to pass a resolution demanding the overturning of Citizens United. Last week the Los City Council took steps to place this proposition on the May 2013 ballot for a popular vote.
Looking at the increasing domination of American politics by a corporate plutocracy, it is easy to become discouraged about the future of the nation. But this growing -- and now increasingly unified -- democracy movement gives reason to keep hope alive. As Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing -- after they've tried everything else."