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Jan. 27, 2016

‘Democracy Awakening’ Comes to the Nation’s Capital in April

At Mass Convergence on Washington, D.C., People Will Demand That Policymakers Address Barriers to Voting, Curb the Influence of Wealthy in Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C – Thousands of people will converge on Washington, D.C., this spring as part of an unprecedented movement to demand a democracy that works for all Americans, one in which everyone has an equal voice and elected officials are accountable to the people, not the wealthy.

The landmark three-day mobilization, called “Democracy Awakening” and scheduled for April 16-18, brings together two advocacy communities in one movement. Together, they will press for reform proposals focused both on restoring and expanding voting rights protections, and curbing the influence of wealthy interests and corporations on elections. Polls show that the public overwhelmingly agrees on the need for reforms in both arenas, but this will mark the first mass demonstration calling for change on both these fronts.

More than 100 groups representing a diverse array of issues are organizing Democracy Awakening. Lead organizations include the American Postal Workers Union, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Democracy Initiative, Every Voice Center, Food & Water Watch, Franciscan Action Network, Greenpeace, NAACP, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Student Debt Crisis and U.S. PIRG. A list of all endorsing organizations is available here.

Democracy Awakening will feature a rally and march on Sunday, April 17, as well as targeted actions at the “Congress of Conscience” on Monday, April 18, that will call for voting rights protections, measures to curb the influence of money in politics and more. Democracy Awakening will include teach-ins and cultural events throughout the weekend.

For both money in politics and voting rights, the U.S. Supreme Court has eviscerated laws that once protected the voices and votes of everyday Americans. Congress has solutions in front of it, but has failed to pass them into law or even hold a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“That’s why it’s time for us to fight back on a scale that’s never been done before,” announces a video about Democracy Awakening created by Brave New Films.

City by city and state by state, a national movement is growing to ensure voters are fully heard. In communities throughout the country, voters have turned back efforts to impose discriminatory barriers to voting, won measures for public financing of local and state elections, and passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other rulings.

Solutions being sought as part of Democracy Awakening include legislation to restore the protections against voting discrimination that were struck down by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County, modernize voter registration, prevent deceptive practices that keep people from the ballot box and ensure equal access to voting for all.

Activists also will call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and allow elected representatives to set commonsense limits on money in elections. They will press for increased disclosure of the source of election spending and public financing of elections.

Democracy Awakening will follow a march and demonstrations organized by 99Rise and Avaaz as part of a separate event called “Democracy Spring.” The march will go from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in early April.

Why It Matters

Representatives of some of the organizations participating in Democracy Awakening explain why they are involved:

“We’re not talking about the nostalgic disenfranchisement of 1965. Once again, states with the worst histories of discrimination are pushing for new barriers to block the young, the poor, the elderly and minority voters from the ballot in 2016,” said Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP. “We must answer the call for action.”

“Americans’ frustration – and despair – is reflected in countless polls that show staggering majorities of our citizens believe the system is rigged to favor the rich and powerful,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “These views transcend party, region, race and gender. The American people know the system is not working for them, and that a broken system is blocking us from addressing our great challenges.”

“Protecting voting rights and pushing for money in politics reform are two sides of the same coin,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way. “When people face barriers to casting a ballot, and when wealthy special interests can overpower the voices and priorities of everyday Americans, our democracy simply isn’t working.”

“A handful of wealthy and corporate donors are hijacking our political system through mega-contributions and a systematic assault on voting rights that can only result in a breakdown in democracy and the belief by the average person that her or his vote doesn’t matter,” said Christopher Shelton, president of Communications Workers of America. “This spring, CWA members are ready to join the millions of others in this movement and to do what it takes to win back our democracy.”

”Americans across the country are demanding a democracy where everyone has an equal voice and our elected officials are held accountable to the voters,”said Marissa Brown, executive director of the Democracy Initiative.“Thousands of people will join together in Washington, D.C., for a Democracy Awakening – a call to conscience for our elected officials.”

“People are fed up with a political system that too often works for big donors at the expense of everyone else,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Every Voice Center. “And at the Democracy Awakening this spring, in Maine, in Seattle, and in cities and states across the country Americans are coming together to demand a democracy in which one’s influence isn’t determined by the size of their wallet.”

 “As long as our government is controlled by corporate interests, we’ll never be able to protect our food, ban fracking, or prevent disasters like we’ve seen in Flint,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Our democracy is broken, and for the sake of our food, water, and climate, it’s time for us to fix it.”

“The Democracy Awakening mobilization will galvanize the emerging movement that’s challenging America to live up to its promise of government of, by, and for the people,” said Annie Leonard, executive director at Greenpeace USA. “That promise means politicians putting people first by supporting voting rights and rejecting the campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies which manipulate our political system.”

“Student Debt Crisis wholeheartedly believe that borrowers, students and young people are facing an uphill battle when it comes to higher education reform due to the influence of billionaires and corporations on our political system,” said Natalia Abrams, executive director of Student Debt Crisis. “Until we get money out of politics and restore voting rights, our voices will not have the power that we, the people, deserve. It is our hope that once we get rid of the corporate stronghold on our democracy we will see reforms such as free college and some form of student loan forgiveness.”

“As Franciscans and people of faith, we're working to remove the road block of unchecked money in politics as issues such as immigration, care for creation, and gun safety are not moving on Capitol Hill,” said Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network. “As we continue to advocate for these core issues, we must also work to alleviate the root of the problem in order to see real progress.”

“Voters want to be heard in our elections – they want a government that works for them instead of mega-donors,” said Andre Delattre, executive director of U.S. PIRG. “As an independent voice for American consumers, U.S. PIRG has made voter empowerment a top priority. Democracy Awakening is a chance for us to push lawmakers for real election reforms.”

“Democracy Awakening is the American Postal Workers Union’s chance to become bigger than ourselves,” said Debby Szeredy, executive vice president of the APWU. “We are a union representing our members and all of America as we fight to provide a Postal Service that is prompt efficient, affordable, with decent living wage jobs and benefits that communities have valued for years. Democracy Awakening connects us to the political revolution that has become crucial.”

“Our democracy faces serious threats. Everyday Americans know our system is out of balance, and what’s worse, our constitutional right to free speech has been reduced to a whisper as a few wealthy special interests spend billions so their voices are heard over everyone else,” said Miles Rapport, president of Common Cause. “This spring, Common Cause’s 400,000 members join with Americans from all walks of life to lift our voices and demand change through a series of important actions during two weeks in April, highlighting the importance of voting rights and reducing money’s influence so together we create a 21st century democracy that works for every American.”

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