What Democracy Spring Should Have Said

I participated in Democracy Spring’s April march on the Capitol and got arrested with them the first day. In no way am I spokesperson for this group. I only share the thoughts of many who marched with me during that momentous time. I cherish that experience but mourn the recent post they made here. In this post I borrow some of their language but reshape it to reflect what many of us wish they had said.

In the weeks after the Democratic National Convention ended with our demands for electoral reform ignored and dreams of victory for a political revolution unfulfilled, many of us have asked, “Which way forward for Democracy Spring — for a revolution to win real democracy in our country?” It is a question that can only be answered through unified struggle, principles, and solidarity with the multitude of Americans who also demand electoral justice in this country.

Democracy Spring is a non-violent, non-partisan movement organization fighting to win fundamental democracy reform. We see the task of ending the corruption of big money in politics and guaranteeing the universal right to vote in free and fair elections as the best available path to swiftly winning reforms to address the profound crises of our time, from devastating climate change, to historic economic inequality, to mass incarceration and deportation. We believe that the democracy fight will not be won without building a movement of mass, nonviolent, civil resistance that can disrupt business as usual and galvanize popular will to force change.

We are nonpartisan and not affiliated with any political party; our organization is a home for people united by a progressive moral vision and a commitment to solidarity with the other egalitarian struggles that motivate us, from the movement for Black lives to the struggles for immigrant rights, feminism, queer and trans liberation, climate justice, peace, and more.

However, we cannot ignore that the 2016 presidential election is upon us. Though we have little faith in the current electoral system in the Unites States of America, we still believe in the importance of voting. District gerrymandering, purging voters from rolls, voter ID laws that disenfranchise mostly minorities, electronic voting machines that are easily hackable, a lack of a paper trail for vote verification, up to eight-hour lines at targeted polling places, and campaigns colluding with national parties all make for a voting system that is easily rigged. A recent Gallup poll shows that close to 40% of the American public does not believe that their votes will be accurately cast and counted in the coming election.

Add to this the obscene amount of money that corrupts our politicians and it is easy to see why a majority of Americans dislikes both candidates that have been funneled through our two-party system: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In fact, in a new high since Gallup started telephone polling in 1988 on this issue, 43% of Americans identify themselves as independents. Only 30% identify themselves as Democrats while 26% identify as Republicans.

Surely, there is no better time for a Democracy Spring movement. Americans of all party affiliations know that our electoral system is corrupt. For this reason, our non-partisan stance remains critical to our movement for change. We want to destroy the barriers that divide us as a people and break the stranglehold that powerful interests have on our two-party system — a system, in fact, that gives us just one party for the corporate elite. It is time for the American people to reclaim their voice; clearly, they will not find that voice in candidates beholden to corporations and special interests.

We believe that wherever people have won the right to vote — almost always through bitter struggle that renders voting sacred and the duty to exercise it profound — voting becomes an essential weapon of nonviolent struggle against the subversion of our democracy. Strategic voting and participation in elections, no matter how compromised or corrupt, is in almost every conceivable circumstance a necessary means of shaping the political terrain on which our movements fight. Voting for candidates who position themselves more closely to our movement’s demands will not in itself deliver any fundamental change, but supporting those candidates who call for free and fair elections, who are not beholden to corporate interests, and who welcome a robust debate through multiple parties helps build the momentum for the national reform we demand.

The disconnect between what the American people want and what they get is profound. Again, much of that is due to the stranglehold the two major parties hold on the electoral process. For decades many of us have found ourselves holding our noses and voting for the “lesser of two evils.” Those of us who did vote for a third-party candidate, such as Ralph Nader, were accused of being “spoilers.” We see that same scenario being played out now that the 2016 primaries have ended. Many of the establishment figures have stepped forward to declare, “OK, kids. You’ve had your fun with Bernie Sanders. Now it’s time for you to take your toys home and let the adults take care of this.”

As David Cobb of the Green Party told us recently, “Primaries are where progressive ideas go to die.”

We cannot allow that to happen again. If the current election cycle has shown us anything, it is this: the American people have had enough of politics as usual. Young people, in particular, supported a candidate who called for nothing less than a political revolution. According to a recent Washington Post article, Bernie Sanders easily won more young votes (those under 30) during the primaries than both Clinton and Trump combined. Surely, the revolution is at hand.

So how do we handle an election where one of the major candidates is a billionaire and the other hobnobs with millionaires and is over halfway to raising the stated $1 billion goal for her campaign, with much of that money coming from big banks and other corporate interests? We expect neither of these candidates to sign our Equal Voice for All Declaration. We know that neither candidate will work hard to put an end to Citizens United, corruption at the ballot box, or for publicly-funded elections. After all, these figures epitomize the pay-to-play politics against which we struggle.

There are other candidates in the presidential race, but our current, fraudulent system positions them as “spoilers” who only serve to divert votes from the major parties. The official website of Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party does not even mention electoral reform. Publicly, he has expressed opposition to publicly-financed elections and stated that the only necessary campaign finance reform is 100% transparency. Jill Stein of the Green Party, on the other hand, calls for empowering the people by “abolishing corporate personhood. Protect voters’ rights by establishing a constitutional right to vote. Enact electoral reforms that break the big money stranglehold and create truly representative democracy: public campaign financing, ranked-choice voting, proportional representation, and open debates.”

Clearly, there is only one candidate who embraces Democracy Spring’s goals as a movement. However, we believe a non-partisan stance is much more important in this contentious election than for us to advocate for any one candidate. We all have a difficult choice to make. Fortunately, our movement is not solely focused on one election. We will be working just as hard the day after the election as the day before. The change we demand requires a long struggle: on the streets, throughout social media, in the halls of Congress, and yes, at the ballot box. We must continue to show up at events and we must continue to demand that our voice is heard.

This election, we will not pack up our toys and go away. Democracy Spring has energized lots of people; our April march and subsequent arrests at the Capitol garnered national attention. We want to continue pushing, continue fighting, and to continue growing. We hope that you will join us in the fight for electoral reform and justice for all. We are open to all who want to see an end to pay-to-play politics and the beginning of fair and free elections.

And we hope you vote wisely this election cycle. As President John Quincy Adams said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”