By now, you’ve probably heard the words “Democracy Spring” being bandied about by friends, colleagues, and the people eating brunch next to you last Sunday. You may have even read that Rosario Dawson was arrested during protests organized by the group in D.C. But she’s not alone. Since last week, nearly 1,000 people have been arrested for speaking out about economic corruption in congress. And they’ve vowed not to stop until the corruption of “big money in politics” is over.
Okay, so that’s a quick rundown, but what exactly is Democracy Spring and how is it hoping to change the world?
The movement’s self-stated goal is to highlight exactly how corrupt our government is — with regards to the way in which money is handled throughout the electoral process. It’s a non-partisan, non-violent effort that started with a march from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. (April 2 to April 11) and then continued with sit-ins and demonstrations that began on April 11 and end on the 18th (today). While the protests have been peaceful and contained, USA Today points out that the number of arrests, which had risen to 900 by Saturday, is likely to grow even higher on the last day of the demonstrations.
As activist Christian Chiakulas put it in a blog for the Huffington Post, Democracy Spring is meant to remind us that each person should have a vote, whether they’re very rich or very poor. But while that’s the way it should be, Chiakulas notes, it’s not what it reality looks like:
On January 21st, 2010, a date which will live in infamy, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United vs. FEC that the government does not have the right to restrict independent campaign expenditures by any corporation, union, or individual. This disastrous (we’ll get to why in a minute) decision had its roots in the 1976 decision Buckley vs. Valeo, when the court essentially argued that money spent to influence the outcome of elections is protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.
And here we’ve already run into the problem: if money is speech, then no, the lowest beggar on the filthiest street corner has absolutely no countervailing power against the richest entrepreneur in the most lavish estate. The radical egalitarianism embedded within the Declaration of Independence is ignored as surely today as it was when written.
While many might not even consider how the Citizens United outcome affects politics, The Washington Post points out that the ruling gives Republicans “an electoral edge,” one that those who don’t have a lot of money can’t afford to compete with (which helps explain the limited visibility of third party candidates). That’s what Democracy Spring is trying to stop: big money creating representation inequality.