Americans Are Now Risking Arrest to Fight for Free and Fair Politics
While tens of thousands of French citizens have been rising up against the political system across the Atlantic, another protest has been taking the fight to the nation’s capital. This year in America, nearly all of the presidential candidates have racked up hundreds of millions of dollars from Super PACs and special interests and the top 0.1 percent of Americans now owns about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of Americans combined. These sobering revelations point to a broken system where the wealthy have stronger political pull than the average American. Now people are saying, once again, that enough is enough and taking a fight that blossomed and wilted in Zuccotti Park a half decade ago to the steps of the Capitol building.
The demonstration, called Democracy Spring, has support from over a hundred organizations, as well as celebrity backing from Mark Ruffalo, Bernie Sanders, Talib Kweli, Zephyr Teachout, Noam Chomsky, and dozens more. It’s the latest attempt in a years-long battle to bring political power back to the people and it all started hundreds of miles away from Washington D.C. on April 2nd. It was in Philadelphia’s Ridley Park where a dedicated group representing about 140 activist organizations met to begin a days-long march through Delaware and Maryland. Then, on Sunday, they took to D.C., setting out on the second phase in their action plan to raise awareness about the fight to take the green out of Washington. No, not marijuana. Political contributions.
On a bright Monday afternoon a few days ago, police rounded up 425 peaceful protesters into vans and shuttled them to holding cells, which was the ultimate goal of the protesters anyway. The mass arrests were the biggest spat of arrests to happen in at least a decade in D.C., and may have been the biggest protest arrest movement since the Vietnam War. That’s just the beginning—over 3,500 people from 33 different states have pledged to be arrested over the course of the week. Yesterday, 85 more people willingly spent the night in jail in the name of democracy.
Although symbolic arrests echo the memory of Occupy Wall Street, the Democracy Spring organizers have come to D.C. with a solid plan and a set schedule. Every day this week, protesters who slept overnight on couches or at St. Stephens Church are meeting for a morning action briefing and nonviolent civil disobedience training to make sure the movement doesn’t devolve into a violent spectacle like so many other protests before it. From there, hundreds of activists walk to the Capitol and pop a squat until they’re arrested or the sun goes down. By 6:30PM, they’re at a debriefing meeting to prepare for the next day.
— The Progressive Mind (@Libertea2012) April 14, 2016
It’s a clear level of organization that even includes themed days, which may give you horrific flashbacks to the spirit weeks in high school, but are actually instated for a purpose. Every day’s protest focuses on different social issues. From elders and racial justice to students and climate, the organizers want to give voice to as many issues as possible. Think of it as their own week-long stump speech for change.
The question, of course, is whether this is all talk and no plan of action. That’s been the case with other protest movements that have brought attention to issues, but then found difficulty transitioning those issues into institutional change. For Democracy Spring leaders, the movement circumvents this issue by focusing on four key pieces of legislation already in the Senate. The bills, which cover everything from campaign contributions to the right to vote, include: The Voting Rights Advancement Act; the Voter Empowerment Act; the Democracy for All Amendment; and the Government by the People & Fair Elections Now Acts. All four are up for vote in Congress and could drastically change the election to give power back to the people.
As the country gets set to elect its next president, along with 435 representatives, 34 senators, and thousands of state and local office holders, timing is key. The Supreme Court may have given corporations the legal right to pour money into the pockets of politicians in 2010 with Citizens United vs. FEC, but if enough people speak out and get arrested, there may be hope for a return to democracy after all.
Stay tuned to Milk for more of the democratic revolution.
Images via NPR, Getty, Yahoo, and The Nation.