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Hundreds Arrested – Including Dozens of Organization Leaders – As Part of Democracy Awakening’s ‘Congress of Conscience’

April 18, 2016

Hundreds Arrested – Including Dozens of Organization Leaders – As Part of Democracy Awakening’s ‘Congress of Conscience’

Mass Mobilization Is Backed by 300 Organizations; Record-Setting Convergence Is Beginning of a New Phase in the Democracy Movement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the final day of a record-setting week of civil disobedience at the Capitol, more than 300 people were arrested today – including approximately 60 organization and movement leaders – as they demanded democracy reforms.

Today’s arrests came on the third and final day of Democracy Awakening. Combined with arrests made during the recent Democracy Spring, the protests constituted what organizers believe is a record for civil disobedience over democracy issues during this century. The message: On voting rights, money in politics and the recent vacancy on U.S. Supreme Court, Congress is failing to do its job and ignoring the will of the people. Democracy Awakening isn’t the end of something, but the beginning of a new phase in the movement for democracy, organizers said.

Those who planned to risk arrest included top leaders of the AFL-CIO, All Souls Unitarian Church, the American Federation of Government Employees, the American Postal Workers Union, Campaign for America’s Future, Democracy Initiative, Center for Popular Democracy, Communications Workers of America, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Every Voice, Food & Water Watch, Franciscan Action Network, Free Speech for People, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, Jobs With Justice, the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church; the NAACP, Oil Change International, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, the United Church of Christ, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, We Are Casa, the Yes Men and 350.org.

Also risking arrest were NAACP president and CEO Cornell William Brooks; the Rev. William Barber II, pastor and Moral Monday architect; radio commentator Jim Hightower; and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben and Jerry’s. Comments from some of those arrested are at the end of this release.

Thousands of activists from around the country streamed into the nation’s capital April 16-18 for Democracy Awakening, which featured teach-ins, a rally, a march and lobbying as well as the civil disobedience. The aim: to fight back against business as usual in Washington, D.C.

More than 300 organizations endorsed Democracy Awakening. Lead organizations of Democracy Awakening included the American Postal Workers Union, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Democracy Initiative, Every Voice Center, Food & Water Watch, Franciscan Action Network, Greenpeace, NAACP, National Nurses United, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Student Debt Crisis and U.S. PIRG.

Democracy Awakening is part of a broad movement aimed at advancing democracy reforms. The mobilization began April 2, with Democracy Spring, an event that featured a march from Philadelphia to Washington D.C., followed by six days of sit-ins at the Capitol.

On Being Arrested Today for Democracy

“I did not make the decision to get arrested lightly. I chose to engage in civil disobedience because I care so much for our country – and because I am so desperately concerned about our broken democracy. I am proud to join hundreds of fellow Americans in a mass civil disobedience action. We are standing up for democracy, by sitting down. The week-long democracy protests in Washington mark a new phase of the democracy movement, one in which we take to the streets in increasing numbers to deliver on the promise that our government is constituted by and belongs to We the People.”
– Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen

“The right to vote is the closest thing we have to a civic sacrament. It is enshrined in our temple of democracy. Yet we are going into the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. When more than 33 states pass new laws requiring a photo ID to vote, but cut back and shut down the government offices where voters can obtain the required cards, the need to act is clear. This is a profound challenge and assault on our democracy. That is why we are here today. An NAACP member by the name of the Rev. James Edmund Prioleau, my grandfather, stood for the right to vote 70 years ago. I stand in his name–and his legacy stands with us.”
– Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO, NAACP

“Democracy is supposed to be for all of us, but right now we have an out-of-balance system favoring the interests of big money. This can’t go on. I’m prepared to risk arrest to send a message that democracy should truly be of, by, and for the people.”
– Ben Cohen, Ben & Jerry’s co-founder

“Congress’ refusal to take action on voting rights, money in politics, and the pending Supreme Court nomination is systematically undermining our democracy and denying the American people an equal voice in our political process. This is the time to stand up and fight back. We need solutions for the real problems people face – massive student debt, jobs without real benefits, and equal pay for women. Democracy Awakening is the voice of thousands of Americans in Washington, DC and millions more across the country demanding action.”
– Larry Cohen, chair, Democracy Initiative

“As a teenager, I risked my life to come to this country as an immigrant and political refugee because the USA was a beacon of democracy. It pains me to see how unlimited corporate money and unfair restrictions on voting rights are now stealing our democracy from millions of poor and working class people and people of color. So on behalf of the unions of the AFL-CIO I am willing to stand up and be counted – and to sit down and be arrested – to call on Congress to take action to restore and expand our Democracy.”
– Tefere Gebre, executive vice president, AFL-CIO

“At a certain point, you have to say enough is enough. I have decided to risk arrest because we can’t continue to have a political system where ordinary people are shut out of the process. It’s not what our founders envisioned, and it’s not what democracy is supposed to be about.”
– Jerry Greenfield, Ben & Jerry’s co-founder

“Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we join forces and demand action to fix our democracy. The powerful few who have used their wealth to block progress in Washington are pushing our economy even further out of balance and making it even more impossible for people who work for a living to earn a living. That’s why I’ll be risking arrest – working people’s voices ought to be heard, and today we’ll make sure Congress knows that our democracy – and our economy – should be for the people and by the people.”
– Sarita Gupta, executive director, Jobs With Justice

“Today, I am risking arrest for the first time in my life. Not for doing anything wrong, but for standing up for what’s right. I’m doing this 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 the electorate.”
– Jim Hightower, radio commentator

“I am a theological evangelical conservative biblicist, which is why as a matter of faith, justice, and equality, uplift for the poor and standing against racism is at the center of my work in the public square. It is why I’m willing to risk arrest as a matter of conscience. In North Carolina, we have seen the worst attack on voting rights since the 19th century, including Racial Apartheid redistricting, ending same day registration, rolling back early voting, and strict photo ID – all being targeted at the growing black and brown progressive white fusion demographic in America, especially in the South. Since the Shelby decision on June 25, 2013, the U.S. Congress leadership for over two years and 10 months has refused to fix Section 4 of the VRA and to reinstate Section 5 by passing the VRAA. This is more than 1,000 days longer than Strom Thurmond filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964.These attacks are contrary to our deepest moral and constitutional values. If you control and suppress the vote, then you control and suppress progressive and constitutional policies. This is undemocratic and wrong.”
– The Rev. William Barber II, pastor and Moral Monday architect

“I am risking arrest for reasons theological and political. Our bodies are divine instruments of justice, peace, and beauty. When we offer our bodies against injustice we bear witness that God’s reign will defeat the designs of empire in this land and abroad. As my ancestors sang, ‘Walk together children, don’t get weary!’”
– The Rev. William Lamar, Metropolitan AME

“I’m willing to risk arrest, arm in arm with partners from the civil rights and the labor movements, in order to help fix our democracy. We will never get the kind of political progress needed to challenge climate change and systemic racism if corporate cash continues to mean more to politicians than the voices of the people.”
– Annie Leonard, executive director, Greenpeace USA

“We cannot sit by and watch obstructionists push an agenda of inequity, injustice, and inaction — and I’m willing to risk being arrested in order to make my voice heard in in the fight to ensure that every voice can be heard in our democracy. All too often, the costs of these assaults on our democracy fall on low-income communities and communities of color that already face disproportionate effects from pollution and the climate crisis. A zip code should never dictate the destiny of any American citizen. The Sierra Club stands with all our allies in Democracy Awakening and anyone calling for a just society because fighting injustice – knowing the difference between what is right and what is wrong – must be at the heart of our work.”
– Aaron Mair, president, Sierra Club

“I’m here today to stand up to the confluence of bigotry and big money has rolled back many of the promises of American democracy. I put myself on the line for my daughter’s generation, for her chance to live in a just society, an America where her voice and every voice isn’t drowned out by the megaphones of millionaires, and where she and her peers can influence the fate of the world in which they live.”
– Phil Radford, founder, Democracy Initiative

“We know that on our own, CWA cannot restore workers’ rights or win the financial reforms we need to put working families back on track. The same is true for the critical issues facing environmental groups, consumer advocates and social justice activists. We can’t go it alone. But when we join together, as we’re doing today and will do going forward, we know we can move our democracy forward.”
– Chris Shelton, president of Communications Workers of America