Not for doing anything wrong, really. In fact, if the authorities arrest me, it will be for standing up for what’s right. Or, more accurately, I’ll be sitting down for what’s right–by participating in a peaceful sit-in at the US Capitol. I don’t yet know the details of the process, but I am certain why I’m doing it: to help reclaim our People’s democratic rights from the moneyed elites who have bought our elections and deeply corrupted our government in order to impose a corporate plutocracy over you and me.
I’m also certain I will not be alone in the paddy wagon. That’s because thousands of mad-as-hellers will be converging on Washington to launch a nationwide mass mobilization of people power to halt Big Money’s control of our political system. As I write this, more than 2,000 of us have already pledged to engage in the timehonored tactic of peaceful civil disobedience by “sitting-in” for democracy.
But you don’t have to go so far as to risk arrest to join this democratic moment, for the April mobilization will offer a wide variety of ways to protest the plutocrats without leaving your comfort zone. It begins April 2 with a patriotic rally at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Then for you hardier ones, there’s a 10-day, 140-mile democracy trek from Philly to Capitol Hill. On Saturday, April 16, there will be teach-ins, workshops, and non-violent direct action trainings, and on the 17th a big, colorful protest march, followed by a “Rally for Democracy” on the Capitol lawn. The 18th will be a “Congress of Conscience,” a day of direct action and advocacy during which we commoners can demand, in person, that our Congress critters expand voting rights and end their corporate money addiction.
Throughout this People-A-Palooza, there will be an energizing balance of seriousness and fun: how-to workshops, tub-thumping speeches, cultural exchanges, pop-up musical performances, art exhibits and shows, and other activities. And it won’t even end in April. The convening groups and the rank-and-file people energized by the mobilization will be taking the demand for action back to the grassroots and directly into the myriad 2016 campaigns for public office. Two large coalitions, Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring, each distinct but mutually supportive, are coordinating this pro-democracy rebellion.
What if America had an election and governing system in which every voice is heard and every vote counts equally–a democracy that works for all of us? We can! If we build it. That’s the message and motivation behind this potentially game-changing coalition of more than 100 issue-based, progressive organizations, including:
- Labor champions such as Amalgamated Transit Union, American Postal Workers Union, Communications Workers of America, and National Nurses United.
- Socially responsible businesses such as Ben & Jerry’s and Main Street Alliance.
- Enviro stalwarts such as Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network, and Sierra Club.
- Public interest advocates such as Campaign for America’s Future, Common Cause, Demos, Every Voice, Institute for Policy Studies, MoveOn.org, People For the American Way, Project Vote, Public Citizen, and U.S.PIRG.
- Media groups such as Brave New Films, Center for Media and Democracy, Daily Kos, ReThink Media–and The Hightower Lowdown.
- Issue-specific constituencies such as the American Association of University Women, CodePink, DC for Democracy, Jobs With Justice, National Council of Jewish Women, National LGBTQ Task Force, National Organization for Women, NAACP, and Student Debt Crisis.
Based on intense and inclusive socialmedia organizing and a very diverse network of community activists and “roots” groups, this vibrant coalition is leading the Liberty-Bell-to-Capitol-Hill march (April 2-11) and coordinating mass actions and sit-ins at the Capitol (April 11-16). The “Spring” (referring both to nature’s season of rebirth and the physical act of leaping forward from a constrained position) will also enlist those who can’t be in Philadelphia/DC. There will be call-in days, webcasts, Twitter storms, online petitions, local solidarity demonstrations in front of the district offices of lawmakers, and a basket full of other fun/ effective ways that lively imaginations will conjure up to amplify the message that our democracy is broken and that “we” (i.e., The People) now intend to fix it.
Five strong groups–99Rise, Avaaz, Democracy Matters, Energy Action Coalition, and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union–form the steering committee. More than 100 organizations, including the Lowdown, have endorsed the effort and are involved in a dozen or so working groups that are divvying up the numerous chores that must be done to create a successful mobilization. And hundreds of local volunteer leaders are connected to more than 50 “regional organizing hubs” set-up throughout the country to coordinate community outreach and serve as the organizing and mobilizing engines to generate mass participation for the more than two weeks of Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening events.
Among those who’ve pledged to put their butts on the line are Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, anticorruption Congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout, law professor Larry Lessig, food activist and author Frances Moore Lappe, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, core Occupy Wall Street organizer Winnie Wong, actors Gaby Hoffman and Mark Ruffalo, community activist Paulina Gonzales, and The Yes Men–plus your spunky Lowdown contingent of “cat wrangler” Jay Harris, “internet emissary” Deanna Zandt, and me. As Kai Newkirk, director of 99Rise and sparkplug of this spring protest puts it, we’ll be “Standing up for democracy by sitting in.”
The time has come. Six years after the Supreme Court’s malignant Citizens United ruling, nearly every American plainly sees how our nation’s historic, political ethic of citizen equality–“one person one vote”–has been buried in a roaring avalanche of corrupt, corporate money and voter suppression. Moreover, nearly nine years after Wall Street thieves wrecked our economy, the great majority also plainly sees that the court’s turbo-charge of money politics has produced economic policies that richly reward the plutocratic robbers and coldly abandon the robbed. The Republicans’ threat to ignore their constitutional duty and block the president from appointing a successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ups the urgency and the ante. There’s no need to convince the American people that they’ve been stiffed. As they reveal in poll after poll, they know it, for they’re experiencing it personally, and they’re furious at the business-asusual/politics-as-usual establishment that has done it to them. A major, non-partisan survey taken last September by Public Policy Polling found:
- 80% of Republicans and 82% of Democrats “strongly agree” that special interest money has too much influence in political campaigns. Only 4% in either party disagreed.
- 85% of GOP primary voters and 86% of Dems agree that elections would be less corrupt if candidates focused on small donations from ordinary people, rather than on big money from special interests.
- 62% of Repubs and 72% of Dems agree that America needs public funding of elections. Similarly, a New York Times/CBS poll last summer found that across the entire political spectrum.
- 85% of Americans think that officeholders “promote polices that directly help” the special interests that funded their campaigns;
- 85% say that the present system of financing political campaigns must either be “fundamentally” changed (39%) or “completely rebuilt” (46%).
- 77% say the unlimited amount of money that wealthy interests can now give to candidates should be … well, limited.
This powerful anti-Big Money sentiment is also part of what has fueled establishment-stunning Bernie and Donnie presidential runs, and it’s why we democracy rebels should shift now from complaining about the plutocratic corruption of our country to stopping it. The people are ready, and this hyper-political year is the time to move, for (1) the presidential and congressional elections will focus public attention on the political system for months to come, and (2) corporate and political cash will be on full display (from the Koch Brothers’ Billionaire Money Bash to the garish corporate sponsorship of both parties’ national conventions).
While all of the establishment forces (and too many of our progressive leaders) have dourly told us commoners that we must resign ourselves to the new Citizens United order of court-sanctioned rule-by-money, the people themselves have not accepted that. But where could they turn for help since the leadership of both political parties either enthusiastically welcomed government of, by, and for the 1-percenters (the GOP) or–with a wink and a nod–agreed to go along with it in exchange for getting their own share of bigmoney donations (the Dems)? For six years, the broad public has been yearning for someone, something, some moment, to arise and rescue the founding ideals of 1776.
Well, here it is! And who are our rescuers? Us! You, me, and all the thousands of mavericks in Philadelphia, Washington, and around the country who will fire a new democratic “shot heard ’round the world.” This will signal to the millions of members of the groups forging the two coalitions, and to the media and public at large, that we are not helpless in the face of an American plutocracy. And we can go on the offensive to inspire many millions more to shuck the idea that the majority is powerless and to step up with a renewed sense of our own possibilities.
The moment is ripe to rally a People’s rebellion, intervene in this year’s elections with a clear change agenda, and make this moment the turning point for implementing those changes. Just getting such a myriad of diverse reform forces to join hands in such an effort is an auspicious sign that maybe–just maybe–we can bind our forces into an effective populist movement for the long haul, rebuilding America’s democratic promise for the greater good of all.
Given the opportunity, don’t we have to go for it?
WITH NEXT MONTH’S UPCOMING ACTIONS PROMISING to electrify the movement for democracy reform, now is an important time to get involved, stay involved, and spread the word. You can start by visiting DEMOCRACYAWAKENING.ORG. In addition to the schedule and outline of the April 16-18 events, there you can find information on affordable transportation to Washington and affordable housing while in DC. (Click on the “Logistics” tab.) It will be cherry blossom season in mid April, so make your arrangements as soon as you can! Follow them on Twitter at @DemAwakening and on Facebook.
At DEMOCRACYSPRING.ORG, you have the opportunity to sign up for the Philadelphia-to-Washington march and/or to make a pledge to risk arrest by participating in the civil disobedience in DC. The organizers have pledged both training and legal support for direct action participants. You can also sign up to volunteer or just participate in the rallies. Follow them on Twitter (@DemSpring) and on Facebook.