It’s a great week for democracy.
Public Citizen is preparing for Democracy Awakening this weekend – three days of workshops, trainings, rallies, music, advocacy and direct action to kick big money out of the political process, end limitations on voting rights, and to demand the Senate vote on a Supreme Court nominee.
This week we saw the DC community, and the nation at large, stand behind Democracy Spring. Organizers of that movement marched from Philadelphia to Washington, DC before holding daily rallies and sit-ins at the Capitol to demand the end to corporate corruption of government. Over 400 people were arrested in one day, filling the nearby jail to capacity – and arrests of peaceful protesters continued throughout the week.
CAP Action also gathered a group of fierce advocates for the public interest earlier this week. They discussed the challenges to voting rights and transparency that are currently convoluting our political process and disenfranchising millions.
Representative Steve Israel also joined the discussion, lamenting his own experiences with fundraising, both as a candidate and as the former head of the DCCC. There is a constant and overwhelming demand for more fundraising to match the monetary might of conservative donors.
“I’m a recovering Congressman – I’ve announced I won’t be running for reelection,” he said.
And he would probably agree with the assertion that politicians are just playing the game that they’re forced to, given the state of “pay to play” politics. Politicians understand that their ability to make substantive change for their communities is reliant on their ability to continue getting elected — but similarly, getting reelected is reliant on their fundraising abilities.
But Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, acknowledged that voices in power willing to speak out on the problems presented by money in politics are often already on their way out the door.
Rep. Israel, of New York, lambasted the fundraising mentality in a January op-ed in the New York Times, and just last week he was featured in a segment on political fundraising on John Oliver’s HBO show, Last Week Tonight.
The panel went on to discuss the limitations that money in politics presents and the challenges to ballot access that are restricting a more honest democracy.
The Supreme Court is at the center of the debate, with controversial decisions in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, Citizens’ United, and Shelby v. Holder.
But, as Professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy noted, transparency is a singular bright spot in the Citizens United decision, when the judges voted 8-1 in favor of disclosure. But creating rules and necessity for disclosure has been an ongoing battle for a SEC rulemaking to ensure donations to nonprofits that create or lobby for legislation are public knowledge.
In addition to Belotti and Citizens’ United, the Supreme Court also gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 in the case of Shelby v. Holder – making it more difficult to ensure franchise in districts historically inclined to restrict it.
Voter ID laws in states across the country have made it harder for both elderly and low-income individuals to practice their right to vote.
And this is the first election without the protections of the Voting Rights Act.
Marcia Johnson-Blanco, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, pointed out that Arizona’s voting system has been continuously “[In] Arizona they went from 400 precinct polling places in 2008, to 200 in 2012, and then to 60 in the last primary.”
Both Democratic presidential candidates announced this week that, in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee, they will be suing the state of Arizona for inadequately protecting voters in their March primaries.
A rejuvenated Supreme Court is the rational path toward overturning Citizens United and bringing fairer elections to those that are suffering disenfranchisement under restrictive state laws.
We deserve an accountable government, for the people.
And that’s why we’re mobilizing to make a change: Get money out of politics. Ensure the right to vote for all Americans. And #doyourjob by voting on a nominee to the Supreme Court.
Solutions to our generation’s problems with corporatization of government and bought politicians can be found by being heard and making demands for change.
The Democracy Awakening Rally on Sunday, April 17th at 1PM will bring together thousands of activists, representing over 270 organizations that work for equality, justice, and democracy all year round.
Public Citizen will be meeting at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian (at Independence Ave and 4th St. SW) on Sunday at 12:30PM, and walking over to the rally as a group.
I hope you’ll join us.
Keira Thompson is the online advocacy organizer for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.