Interview with Elise Whitaker, Field Organizer of Democracy Spring
(By Adam Eichen)
We are now almost through our third day of marching. How has the first few days of this march been?
It’s been awesome and a lot of fun. The weather has been really windy and cold for part of the march. But, overall, everyone has had a really great time. We thought it might be a little challenging to keep 150 people together, but everything has gone smoothly.
How’s the morale among participants?
Very high. Our feet are getting sore, but spirits are high.
Were there any particular moments yesterday that were particularly memorable?
There were many moments that were particularly powerful, but there is one I really want to mention. As we were walking through Chester, Pennsylvania, we passed by the Calvary Baptist Church, which is where Martin Luther King Jr. spent some of the early days of his life, from 1948 — 1951. There was this moment of lineage and of connection with past activism. It really grounded everyone.
As we were passing by the church, a bunch of people asked if we could take a group picture. We took the picture in front of a mural of Martin Luther King Jr. Everyone was really excited about being present in this historic space. And it really brought the connection home that we’ve made a lot of progress over the years, but we still have a long way to go to complete the legacy of the Civil Rights movement. We still need to transform our culture toward structural reform.
Stopping by this church also reminded me of the intersection between racism, classism, and voting rights. So many people are being targeted as ethnic groups for disenfranchisement, through voter ID laws and other restrictions preventing them from voting. One of our main goals is to ensure voting rights for all citizens. Voting rights and money in politics groups are uniting because we know how critical it is to have a free and fair democracy for all.
What kind of reasons are people giving for agreeing to march 140. miles?
I’m hearing a lot of different things. It’s been really great to hear them on a wide range of issues, from money in politics affecting immigration, to racial justice, to climate and environmental issues. They all want their voices to be heard so we can heal society. I think money in politics is a really unifying issue. It’s fundamental to making progress on all other issues.
How are protesters interacting with each other? Is there a sense of camaraderie that’s forming?
I’ve really been enjoying watching people interact. They make connections and learn about each other’s different qualities. I am personally getting the chance to talk with people who I have been organizing on the phone for the past few months, and also meet new people. There is definitely a sense of people taking care of each other. We are developing an identity as one group, one cause to aid many others.
How do you think the relationships formed with Democracy Spring will carry on after the mobilization has ended?
In my experience as part of Occupy LA, I met people there four years ago whom I haven’t seen since — yet I still speak with them. Our connections have only deepened, even across great distances. It’s relationships like these that are really important.
I think it’s really isolating when you feel passionately about an issue or injustice, but do not sense anyone around you who hears you and feels the same way. We are able to form a community around these common issues. This community is building the connections to press forward in the years to come.
How are you feeling moving forward?
Great. Feeling really energized. We had over 100 new sign-ups on our website, just yesterday. We are definitely getting the word out and inspiring new people. We are building the momentum to make this action impactful, today and for years to come. It’s been great to see how deeply our work has touched people. I know we are looking forward to building our work further over the weeks to come.
Adam Eichen (@EichenDoIt) is a member of the Democracy Matters Board of Directors and a Maguire Fellow, doing research on Comparative Campaign Finance Policy at Sciences Po, Paris.