The largest political demonstration at the US capitol in all of American history occurred last week. It began with a march. Specifically, 160 people on a 10 day, 140 mile march from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to the steps of the US Capitol Building. A series of sit-ins occurred Monday, April 11 through April 18.
Approximately 3000 protesters took part and roughly 850 people were arrested as of April 15. The stated purpose of the movement: “we will issue a simple demand to Congress: listen to the People and take immediate action to end the corruption of big money in politics and ensure our elections are free, fair, and afford every American an equal voice, regardless of wealth.”
US Capitol police stated that this protest is unprecedented. They have never had as many people at the capitol at one time with the intent of risking arrest. The Democracy Spring Protest is literally historic.
The goal is to get four bills passed. The Voting Rights Amendment Act restores the protections against voting discrimination that were struck down by the US Supreme Court in its Shelby County v. Holder decision, and makes additional, critical updates to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voter Empowerment Act modernizes voter registration, prevents deceptive practices that keep people from the ballot box and ensures equal access to voting for all US citizens. The Democracy for All Amendment overturns the Citizens United Supreme Court decision by allowing Congress to set limits on political spending and differentiate between corporations and natural persons. Finally, the Government by the People and the Fair Elections Now Acts encourage small-dollar contributions from everyday Americans by multiplying small-dollar donations with 6:1 or 9:1 public matching funds which are only available to candidates who refuse to take big money contributions.
One of the other demands is for the Senate to confirm a Supreme Court nominee who will protect the voting rights of average Americans and end the corruption of big money in government.
Peter Callahan is the Communications Coordinator for the campaign. He expressed the concerns of the participants by saying, “Congress was originally meant to be the people’s house, and the people’s legislature should be a place where veterans and teachers and nurses and anyone else who wants to be able to run for office can.”
The view of most participants is that not only are businesses buying the legislation they want by electing who they want to office, but often the people they choose to elect are moneyed businessmen themselves, causing a spiral of capitalism slowly taking over democracy. This isn’t the socialist movement that some might make it out to be, but a defense of democracy as it was before the Citizens United decision.
Callahan mentioned an 85-year-old protester who took part in the 140 mile march. Callahan remarked about the blisters on her feat and remembered her saying, “This matters a lot to me, it matters to my children and grandchildren. I’m going to take a stand now because it’s the last chance I’ve got.”
Another story from the march was a farmer in Maryland who saw the protestors marching and gave them eight dozen eggs. Callahan said, “we don’t have a healthy functioning democracy right now and until we get that Americans across the political spectrum believe that we should take action on these issues.” Callahan also stated that, “until we fix voting rights and valid access for students, the elderly, low-income Americans, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, we are not actually going to have a representative democracy.”
What Callahan said isn’t a phenomena of the campaign, but appears to be relevant to American political discourse today. If you look at the support of both the Sanders and Trump campaigns it is clear that many Americans want a democracy that represents them but do not feel that the current system adequately does so. Despite the differences between the two campaigns, the common thread that unites them is a distaste for the idea that people deciding the policy of our nation be bought and paid for by a few moneyed special interests.
This is easily the most significant civil action this century, but it has not received the media attention worthy of how huge this is. “I think this is an historic event, we are starting to see a change in American politics where people are demanding that their politicians be more responsible to them,” Callahan said. “In this moment people are finally waking up to the fact that many of their politicians are bought and paid for and don’t have their best interests in mind.”
Aside from the sheer scale, one of the most significant aspects of this protest has been how peaceful it has remained. This is due in large part to the foresight of the organizers in providing peaceful protest training and teaching participants how to peacefully respond to a civil arrest situation. There have been absolutely no violent outbreaks.
Even if you don’t support this movement, you still have to acknowledge that it is on par with all of the significant civil rights movements of US History. The protests have gained traction on social media, but the lack of attention from national news sources suggest that they may not be taken seriously.