For those of you who have not heard, Democracy Spring is a movement that is working alongside organizations who believe in campaign finance reform. Basically, they want to keep big money out of politics. You might ask yourself, ‘Is this just another lame, unorganized attempt to replicate the Occupy Wall Street movement?’ I am happy to tell you that it is quite the opposite.
On their website, Democracy Spring has detailed daily schedules that include civil disobedience training, rallies, and marches to the capital building where they sit, knowing full well their actions are illegal and will result in arrest. Each day of the rally has a specific theme that relates to how money in politics has affected average citizens. I wanted to see for myself what their protests were really like, and after I went I found I was both impressed and angered by the influence money really does have in politics.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016 was racial justice day for Democracy Spring protesters. Organizations relating to race issues like #blacklivesmatter, as well as friends and families of incarcerated people were speaking in front of Union Station, exciting the crowd before the big march to the Capitol. Not knowing who to speak to first, I walked around amazed by how different each individual was at the rally: young, old, female, male, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. It was incredible.
I finally digested the whirl of excitement and spoke with Karen, a local resident in DC pictured below. I asked her why she is here today, and she told me, “I am most passionate about #blacklivesmatter and climate change and with the oil companies being able to shovel money into the government we are never going to get the movement we need. I hope [the protest] gets Citizens United overturned and we are going to stride toward stopping billionaires from having a larger voice than every other citizen. I am involved in [the] climate change movement and there is a lot of overlap with a lot of different movements going on. It’s a bunch of different movements coming together for the one thing that could help us all.”
Next, I spoke with one of the representatives from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an organization that works toward improving wages and working conditions in the restaurant industry. The representative, Morgan, discussed the reason they were there. “I don’t know if you knew this but the federal minimum wage for tip-held jobs is $2.13. And the reason that it is so low is because the money, power, and influence of the restaurant association and their lobbying efforts to keep the minimum wage so low. So this is the blatant example of influence of money and power in politics. We specifically are here today on racial justice because so many people in the restaurant industry are people of color and are largely affected by this economic injustice.”
This quote in particular made me mad. As someone who works in the restaurant industry, I knew that my minimum wage was $2.13 but I had always been told that waiters make enough tips for it not to matter, but now that I think about it I do not earn DC’s $10.50 minimum wage every night.
The person that I had anticipated speaking to the most was Stuart Anderson, an executive director of family and friends of incarcerated people and a local DC organizer for democracy spring 2016. He spoke passionately about the democracy spring movement and gave a detailed account of how it started and why it was necessary. He described the origin of the movement as wanting “to do a march symbolic to historical marches, we’re going to march to Washington, we are going to start somewhere that symbolizes liberty so we’re going start in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and we’re going to walk to DC and build more momentum and raise this issue before the halls of justice.” His passion and conviction were moving, so when I asked him what the movement’s reason for existence, I knew I would be swayed to yelling and marching beside him. He said, “On the first day, more than 400 people were arrested. On day two, upwards of a hundred people were arrested for the cause of taking money out of politics. So that’s what we are trying to do: we are trying to take money out of politics because when you take money out of politics, you create a better situation for people across the country. So today we focus on racial justice and in the cause of racial justice, again if you take money out of politics our views and perspective of racial justice and how we deal with other people changes.”
It was an amazing experience to participate in this movement as a American University college freshman, who’s goal was to embark on the AU political journey, forgoing sports and theater and trading in everything for late-night debates and protest victory stories. For any AU student who has yet to cross the treacherous trail to WONKdom, you can change that with a quick click to Democracy Spring’s website. Once there, you can look at the list of partnering organizations, and find out how you can help by either donating (I know you are all poor college students, but come on guys), volunteering, or spreading awareness of how money has influenced issues you deeply care for.