March on Harrisburg: Day 3

It’s now been three days since the twenty or so nonpartisan activists crazy enough to agree to walk 100+ miles left from Philadelphia, in the hope of saving democracy.

A year in the making, March on Harrisburg tackles Pennsylvania corruption through lobbying, a ten day march, and nonviolent civil disobedience. Participants have been visiting the Capitol building since January to take meetings with legislators to discuss three pro-democracy bills: SB 132/HB 39: Gift Limitations for Public Officials, SB 22/HB 722: Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission and SB 608/HB 193: Automatic Voter Registration. They have met with the entirety of the Senate and the majority of the House.

Today, while others were marching, members of the legislative team visited the office of Representative Corr (R-150.) MOH has met with Corr in the past during Citizen Lobbying Days. In previous meetings, he expressed aversion to Automatic Voter Registration and the Nonpartisan Redistricting Committee.

Yet, after the meeting with John Randolph, Maddie Whitehill and Al-Sheriff, found Vincent Dinnocenzo, District Constituent Outreach Specialist, receptive to their message with a promise to discuss with Corr after Whitehill explained the fiscal responsibility element of each of the three bills:

“Placing limitations on gifts for public officials realigns the legislature to eliminate wasteful spending that would otherwise go to pet projects. [Spending that would benefit special interests as opposed to what is necessary or beneficial to constituents.]”

Additionally, “The redistricting bill creates an eleven person commission; each of the members is volunteer. The commission members would be reimbursed for gas mileage and parking which is the same as a jury. Therefore, there is a nominal cost associated. Also, approval of the redistricting plans would require a number of public hearings, again with a nominal cost. Senator Boscola envisions the commission’s implementing the same redistricting software currently in use, adding no additional cost. The difference being that the software would be implemented that is used to assist to create a fair way to draw the lines, rather than using data inputs to predict voting patterns.”

Even AVR is cheaper: “Research by Caltech and MIT shows that voter registration currently accounts for one third of the budget’s of county and local offices…Under our current system, it costs around $4 for each new voter registration. There is also the added cost of updating voter information and maintaining the rolls. We do have in place a system called SURE Voter Verification. The automatic voter registration bill would implement this system on a statewide basis and drop the cost of new registration to around thirty cents.

The legislative team re-joined marchers for a delicious Mediterranean lunch from MOH chef Candace Conway and words of encouragement from Rabbi Deborah Waxman, President of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. After lunch, marchers spent time canvassing today as they moved from Collegeville to Pottstown.

“One woman I went up to said that she was interested in money in politics issue. That woman pointed to the [City Hall] building that was next to the square [that we were marching by.] She said that it was a corrupt building and she said how the former mayor had accepted money was corrupt. [Referring to former Pottstown Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer, whose 2011, received an incoming gift of $30,000 from a Philadelphia union and made outgoing donations of $10,000 to each of two Philadelphia City Council candidates on the same day,] Michelle Ziogas, March on Harrisburg participant, explained.

Enthused and ready for action, that woman took March on Harrisburg information about contacting legislators around these bills.

It was interactions like that, that allowed marchers to keep spirits high throughout the sixteen mile day despite the ticks (meaning, literal, blood-sucking Pennsylvania ticks.) Upon arrival in Pottstown, executive director Michael Pollack led a brief rally, before the group headed to stay at Unitarian Universalists of Pottstown. Evening activities included a story-sharing session, in which participants were able to mingle with members of the church, including Desiree Peterman, Chief of Social Action and Justice at the UU, who was first politicized through full-time, 60-hour a week organizing for Bernie Sanders’ campaign:

“The Bernie campaign opened my eyes to stuff that was wrong. That’s when I started to notice how broken the system is: through gerrymandering and other issues. I saw firsthand how flawed it was. After the election, I realized we had to tackle the root of the problem while still bringing people together. I’m a problem solver. I like to think, “How do we fix this? …By working on gerrymandering and systematic issues. But this is where we’re going to make change — by crossing lines…We have lobbying Congressman Costello (R-PA) and building a relationship with him. He has since attended their Climate March and listened to their lobbying efforts around health care.”

That’s exactly what the March is trying to do: focus on what connects, not separates us in the fight for democracy.

Reading tomorrow.