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.
Here’s an infographic that explains how money affects congressional elections, via Visually:
Note that 91% of all congressional elections go to the person who spends the most money. That’s telling.
Our collective demand to Congress is that it take immediate action to end the corruption of big money in politics and ensure free & fair elections in which every American has an equal voice. We have identified at least four reform bills that are already pending before Congress as exemplary actions that can be taken. These include proposed legislation that would implement robust small-dollar citizen-funded elections, combat voter suppression, and empower citizens with universal suffrage; it will also introduce a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.
Our proposed reform bills are: the Government by the People Act & Fair Elections now Act; the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 & Voter Empowerment Act of 2015; and the Democracy for All Amendment.
It’s not just a liberal movement, either. Along with groups like Black Lives Matter and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), those protesting included members of Take Back Our Republic, a conservative finance reform group that also wants big money out of politics and a return to the ideas we were taught in school–that one voter gets one vote.
Democracy Spring has also been joined by Democracy Awakening, which is focused on making sure that everyone has the right to a fair vote, protest discriminatory voter ID laws, and want a fair hearing on President Obama’s supreme court nominee. That’s a lot of people coming together for some very important causes.
While some may compare the demonstrations to Occupy, which was criticized for its lack of plan and cohesion, Democracy Spring has learned their lessons well, creating an event that’s both focused and well-organized. “Here what you have is a very professional, carefully calibrated and wonderfully orchestrated means of dealing with law enforcement in Washington,” Cornell Brooks, national president and CEO of NAACP, said to USA Today.
Democracy Spring’s website even includes rules for civil disobedience and insists that anyone who joins and might “risk arrest” be properly trained in civil disobedience (which includes information not only on how to behave, but how to get legal help).
If these protests are so peaceful, you may be saying to yourself, then why are people being arrested? It’s a good question, the answer to which may soon be misconstrued by people who only read headlines. People, including Rosario Dawson, aren’t getting arrested because they’re clocking people with signs and overturning garbage cans, but because of a D.C. statute that bans crowding and obstructing.
Those arrested were charged with violating a D.C. statute prohibiting “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding,” which are misdemeanors, said police spokeswoman Eva Malecki. All of those arrested were Democracy Spring-related participants. Most were processed and then released on the scene.
On Sunday, Malecki said demonstrators remained “orderly and respectful,” just as they had through the previous week.
Rosario Dawson, who grinned through her arrest and release, commended the police force for being polite and non-threatening, telling The Young Turks that she and the group of people she’d joined “for solidarity” had been told they’d be arrested several times (and in the nicest way possible) before actually being processed and released. By the 18th, she said, the group will have racked up more arrests than any other protest in the Capital, guaranteeing not only that we’d be talking about it, but making it a historic event. Whether this will gain the group the traction it desires is still to be seen, but it looks like the event has definitely lived up to the way it bills itself–“the largest sit-in to save democracy in American history.”