By Madeline Black
This article appeared in the November/December 2015 edition of Public Citizen News.
Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign, hails from Milwaukee. She has organized with and for the survivors of the world’s worst chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, and with several other environmental campaigns. Travels in China, France, India and Madagascar have given her an appreciation of what a unique and precious thing a functioning democracy is. In 2011, she moved to Washington, D.C., and soon began working at Public Citizen.
Freechild enjoys gardening, cooking new dishes and puttering around the house. She loves to read fiction but is also addicted to periodicals like The Atlantic, The Economist and The Nation. She is passionate about addressing the problems of classism and racism in everyday interactions and engages in local solidarity organizing in her spare time.
Q: Could you explain the Democracy Is For People campaign and your role in it?
FREECHILD: We are working to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — which permitted unlimited election spending by the wealthy and corporations — and related cases. The campaign focuses on empowering citizens to press for the amendment at the local, state and federal levels.
I provide strategic direction for the campaign to make sure we are as collaborative as possible, so we build power as a movement. I also help our members and supporters gain the organizing and media skills and make the connections to other citizens and organizations that are necessary to succeed.
Q: What challenges has the campaign faced?
FREECHILD: The main challenge is creating the conditions to build nonpartisan local alliances in an era of partisan polarization. The second challenge is getting Generation Xers and those younger to commit to serious and sustained collective organizing. The kinds of advocacy-oriented student and citizen groups that could focus on pressing issues seem to be fewer and smaller than they were even 15 years ago. Finally, there is an overall lack of funding for sustained progressive grassroots organizing. I am endlessly thankful for our members’ support — they are the lifeblood and the key funding for our grassroots work on money in politics.
Q: What projects are in the works for Democracy Is For People?
FREECHILD: First and foremost, we are working to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. But we’re also working on mandating the disclosure of election spending, so that everyone knows who is spending in elections, and on small-donor public financing of elections, which would enable good candidates to run and win elected office even if they aren’t able to find ultrawealthy donors.
Q: You have a very unique name. Does it have a special meaning or story behind it?
FREECHILD: My parents chose a Native American first name. It made me feel exceptional growing up — mostly in a good way. I think each person has a contribution to make, but standing out can help you realize you have something unique to offer sooner.
Q: What is something that people might not know about you?
FREECHILD: I’m happiest when I am dancing.
— Interview by Madeline Black