What is #DemocracySpring?
(By Adam Eichen & Peter James Callahan)
(Photo: Washington Post)
Americans are sick and tired of corporations and billionaires bankrolling our democracy. Eighty-five percent want fundamental changes in the way we fund our elections and Congress’ polling numbers are lower than those for used car salesmen, colonoscopies, and even the band Nickelback.
Yes, America, Nickelback.
And this problem, like many of the problems in all our lives, stems from a single thing: money.
158 families and their corporations provided nearly half of the early money for the 2016 presidential election. As the New York Times explains, “Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.”
The result: The vast majority of Americans feel powerless and rightfully so. They functionally have no political power. A 2014 study by political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page corroborates this, noting, “citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence” on US government policy.
This had led some to question whether we can really call the US a democracy. Our electoral system in its current incarnation might better be classified as an oligarchy, for it truly is a political system controlled only by wealthy families.
Although proof of one’s political powerlessness might be deflating, many people have decided that they can no longer tolerate a system that represents corporations more than its own constituents.
They have chosen to channel their discontent through Democracy Spring: a non-partisan, non-violent mass movement taking to the streets in a few hours.
Starting at 10am, people will gather in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia for a mass rally. Afterwards, a group of marchers will begin a march to Washington DC — a trip over 140 miles. And, when they arrive at the nation’s capital on April 11th, thousands will join them, conducting a sit-in at the US Capitol.
In the face of this civil disobedience, politicians will face a choice: stand with the vast majority of Americans by passing meaningful election reform or arrest the people.
As of right now, over 150 people are ready to march and over three thousand individuals have pledged to risk arrest. These protesters will be joined by public figures such as Gaby Hoffman, Cenk Uyger, Frances Moore Lappé, and Lawrence Lessig.
Democracy Spring is poised to possibly be one of the biggest and most impactful acts of civil disobedience in a generation.
So who are these people fighting to fix our democracy?
Are they actually representative of the supermajority of Americans who want election reform?
In many ways, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
In true non-partisan fashion, Democracy Spring participants are willing to gather across divisions to achieve a common demand; this means folks from across the political spectrum have pledged to both march and sit in.
The demographics of the participants are also quite varied — especially across gender, race, and socioeconomic lines. They will likewise contrast greatly in age, comprising both youth and ‘elders’ willing to stand for our democracy.
Moreover, Democracy Spring will include people of all political experience levels. Some attendees will be veteran activists, bringing know-hows from the Civil Rights movement to Occupy Wall Street. And, standing alongside them will be hundreds of first time protesters, quite a few of whom only recently became politically active.
The coalition is geographically diverse, too. Citizens from all over the country — from Oregon to Nebraska, Texas to Maine — will be in attendance. Countless Americans are spending large sums of money for plane tickets and driving numerous hours to be a part of the movement.
Each protester will have a different story for how money in politics affects them. But, whether it’s because of climate change, our broken healthcare system, or an unregulated Wall Street bankrupting the public coffers, our broken democracy is the common thread that unites them.
Democracy Spring is proving that no matter the odds, the American people are willing to fight for their democracy — something that should provide those who feel powerless significant hope. It’s ever-growing coalition also shows its increasing potential for transformative change.
Spring is coming. Join us.
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.
Peter James Callahan (@PJC_hp) is the Communications Director for Democracy Spring.