Hundreds arrested at U.S. Capitol for demanding restoration of democracy

ILCA, Third Place, Saul Miller Award for Political Action

WASHINGTON – Demanding the passage of four bills that would limit the ability of billionaires to control American politics, over 400 people were arrested yesterday for sitting in at the U.S. Capitol. Many of the demonstrators had marched some 150 miles from Philadelphia to dramatize the fact that the voice of working people is being drowned out by the super rich.

“Today, I join others in non-violent civil disobedience in order to … draw attention to our corrupt campaign finance system and rigged voting laws,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), one of about 100 national organizations, unions, churches and community groups backing the demonstrations at the U.S. Capitol and the Philadelphia to DC march.

The marchers, including people from at least 33 different states, were welcomed by churches and community groups along the route and joined by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, author-activist Frances Moore Lappé, Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D. Md., actor Sam Waterston and actress Gaby Hoffman.

At the Capitol, as they sat in front of the east side of the building, demonstrators chanted “one person, one vote” and “money out of politics.” One sign read “Things go better without Koch,” a reference to right wing billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch who have announced they are throwing some $900 million into political campaign this election cycle.

The demonstrators also protested state voter suppression laws such as the requirement that voters obtain and show “valid” IDs.

Some participants in the sit in protested the Democratic Party’s designation of  “super delegates” – party figures, such as members of Congress, who are given votes at the Democratic National Convention but who are not elected in primaries or caucuses. (In the Wyoming caucuses last weekend, for example, Bernie Sanders won the vote overwhelmingly but Hillary Clinton walked away with the majority of the delegates.)

The demonstrators were arrested on charges of “unlawful demonstration activity.” Police handcuffed them before putting them in vans and buses.

Yesterday’s sit in is the first in a series of demonstrations scheduled to take place every day this week. Some 3,600 people, including prominent elected officials, activists and celebrities have pledged to participate and risk being arrested.

The organizations sponsoring the sit-ins have formed a coalition called Democracy Spring.

The coalition is calling on Congress to pass four bills: the Government by the People and Fair Elections Now Act, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Voter Empowerment Act and the Democracy for All Amendment.

Together, these bills would create a public campaign financing system and restore a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court that requires federal oversight of voting procedures in states that have histories of voter suppression and discrimination. The bills would also overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that allows corporations to spend unlimited sums in elections.

This coming weekend, a related coalition, Democracy Awakening, will hold teach-ins, panel discussions and lobbying activities protesting the growing number of state voter suppression laws.

Sunday, April 17, there will be a march and rally at the Capitol and on Monday, in what is being called A Conscience Day of Action, hundreds of people from both Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring will stage a civil disobedience action.

“This is a huge moment for our country,” said Democracy Spring lead organizer Kai Newkirk. “Almost every American agrees our democracy is seriously out of whack; that our elections and government are dominated by wealthy special interests.

“And yet Congress is doing nothing,” Newkirk continued. “So we say: ‘no more’! This inaction is not acceptable. The enthusiastic public response to Democracy Spring demonstrates Americans’ deep frustration with a political system they no longer feel hears their voices. Democracy Spring [and Democracy Awakening] will turn widespread frustration into a powerful force to fulfill our country’s promise of government of, by, and for the people.”

Photo: Alejandra Pablos of Arizona leads a chant as voting rights reform demonstrators stage a sit-in at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, April 11, 2016, urging lawmakers to take money out of the political process.   |  J. Scott Applewhite/AP


Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.