The American people have reached their limit with our nation’s campaign finance system, with recent Bloomberg polling showing 78 percent of Americans believe the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited corporate campaign donations should be overturned. Since the 2010 ruling, the country’s wealthiest families are enabled to endlessly fund political campaigns to suit their interests. In fact, the Koch brothers plan to spend a total of almost $900 million. Not only does this give them an advantage in elections, but it also provides them with a platform to influence legislation for their own benefit at the expense of everyday citizens.
Democracy Spring is an organization dedicated to ending the corruption in campaign finance. On April 2, activists embarked on a 136-mile journey from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. Sit-ins at the Capitol building began on April 11, and hundreds were voluntarily arrested on that day. That number grew to an estimated 1,400.
The co-founders of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and actress Rosario Dawson were some notable people among those arrested. So far there has been minimal, if any, televised coverage by the major news outlets throughout the country. Some activists stated that this is because the parent companies of those news organizations have donated to politicians or their Super-PACs, (for example, Time Warner, which own CNN, has been a significant backer of Hillary Clinton), thus coverage of this movement would be counterproductive to their political “investments.”
It is also worth noting that unions, including those comprised of media workers, donate to politicians. For example, the Communication Workers of America union has donated to and endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president; Sanders’ campaign accepts donations from unions and not corporations. However, the rules and regulations unions must follow, compared to that of corporations are remarkably different.
There was a vastly diverse collection of faces at the protests, traveling far and wide. Each one with their own unique perspective and justification for making their voices heard. Here are their stories:
Meet Ric, an attorney from Denver, CO. He attended the protests because he believes that our country is no longer an authentic democracy. He suffers from a spinal cord disability and uses the wooden poles he is holding (as pictured above) to help him walk for longer periods of time. Ric joined up with the Democracy Spring in Perryville, Md., and began his roughly eighty-five mile long march to Washington D.C. to make his voice heard.
“We all had blood in our shoes we were in the foxhole together, these are good people, these are strong people,” he said. “Whether left or right, republican, or democrat it’s a non-partisan issue—it’s a human issue.”
On April 11, while making his way up the steps of the Capitol Building and attempting to knock on the door, he became the first activist to be arrested. Despite his daring move, he had nothing but praise for the Capitol Police.
“They treated me like royalty…in handcuffs.” Ric laughed. “They have been so kind, respectful, supportive, competent, and professional.” He is awaiting two court dates and was arrested a total of three times, including on Friday when Ric, along with twelve other activists, zip-tied themselves inside the Capitol rotunda.
Although he feels strongly on a number of other issues, Ric said he believes the country’s priority should be to overturn Citizens United to get money out of politics and create fairer elections.
Lilian Hernandez (sunglasses)
Worried about raising her daughter in a country that is not on her side, Lilian Hernandez, a bartender and waitress who traveled in a van with friends all the way from Brevard County, Fla. On a low budget, Lilian began her journey on late Thursday night and drove all day Friday. Her daughters future compelled her to fight for a change. “I want to be able to leave her with a movement, if we start it now maybe we leave her with the opportunity that when she grows up the democracy she is being taught to believe in actually matters, actually works for her, and that her vote works for her.”
Lilian has never attended a movement like Democracy Spring. “We had our doubts before coming here,” she said. However, upon arrival she was taken aback by the amount of unity she saw. “Everybody’s offering water, hats, food.”
She claims that Democracy Spring is truly helping unite Americans the way that it should; with smiles, love, and social transformation. “It’s been an absolutely amazing experience, I am actually really proud and humbled at the same time, if that makes sense, to be apart of it and be here and be accepted as part of the group.”
Shilpa Shenvi is a medical editor from Laurel, Md. and believes that money in politics is the central problem in America. “It is the root of all of the different types of injustice we see, whether it’s gun violence, racial injustice environmental injustice, it all goes back to our congress being bought and paid for by special interests.”
Although she has never risked arrest, Shilpa deeply admires and respects those who have made that sacrifice. In order to help reduce the amount of money in our campaign finance system, she believes voters need to get more involved with the local level instead of just the national level. Due to conflicts with her job, Saturday was her first and only day at the protests. She continues her efforts as a member of a local environmental group called Greenbelt Climate Action Network, an organization that helps educate about climate change and alternative energy resources.
Josie Zelenik-Hash is a registered nurse from Cleveland, Ohio. She drove with her husband, and was one of the many that were arrested on Saturday. Josie is a passionate activist who was also arrested back in 2011 for protesting about the Keystone XL Pipeline.
“The system is broken and when you have a broken foundation, you can’t build anything on top of that. We have a responsibility,” she said.
There are a number of issues Josie feels very strongly about and she is always constantly looking for ways this country can improve. “I had to come out here because all of this money is ruining us.” Josie believes in a society that proportionately represents all of its constituents, and not just those with wealth and power.
Each person at Democracy Spring had his or her own background and purpose. Campaign finance is an issue that affects everyone and is something both liberals and conservatives can unify behind.
Charlie May recently graduated from the Ramapo College of New Jersey, receiving a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. His main focus is politics, national security, foreign affairs, money in politics, and investigative pieces. He hopes to bring a fresh, unique perspective to Bold.