Allegheny student protests in ‘Democracy Awakening’

Hundreds of people were arrested in the District of Columbia as part of a new protest movement called Democracy Spring on Monday, April 18. The movement involves protesters who have been enacting a series of sit-ins in the District over the past week. Before that, the same protestors marched to the District from Philadelphia, a 140-mile trip. All of these actions have been to draw attention to the issue of corporate influence in politics and voter suppression.

The exact number of arrests have been contested, as some news outlets are reporting 300 whereas others are reporting more than 400. Metropolitan Police have reported arresting 1,240 people as part of Democracy spring, but other outlets put the number of total arrests at around 1,400.

Democracy Awakening is a related group that held a conference April 16 through 18, which included trainings, teach-ins and opportunities to join Democracy Spring for a protest rally in front of the Capitol Building on Sunday, April 17. The rally lasted two hours and featured a variety of speakers, including a member of the Federal Election Commission and Cornell Williams Brooks, president of the NAACP.

The protesters then marched past the Capitol, the Supreme Court Building and multiple congressional office buildings to end at Union Station with a faith rally. The next day, Democracy Spring participants were arrested on the steps of the Capitol for what Metropolitan Police code cites as “crowding, obstructing or incommoding.” According to The Hill, some individuals who were arrested on Monday were Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, as well as top officials with the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the AFL-CIO and the NAACP.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the events on Saturday and Sunday as part of Democracy Awakening and I can say that this was incredible. Our democracy is at stake and we need a solution now. The Citizens United decision resulted in the legal concept of corporate personhood, meaning that corporations are people and have the same voice as individuals. I clearly do not have the same amount of money as Walmart, and because of that decision, that corporation’s voice is now more important than mine. The Supreme Court needs to make a new decision that says Walmart or the Koch Brothers cannot drown my voice with monetary influence. Democracy is in our hands, and it is up to us to fix these violations before it is too late. We need to get big money out of politics and get rid of corporate personhood or the idea that corporations have the same voice as people.

We need to stop voter suppression and restore the Voting Rights Act, so that states like Arizona cannot get away with closing their polls early and leaving hundreds of voters standing in line.

As part of the protests, I had a transformative and inspired experience being called to action and being around so many passionate people fighting for our democratic right to vote. My classmates and I arrived late Friday night and spent the morning walking around the District before the conference started. We attended the opening remarks, which laid out the issues surrounding Citizens United and voter suppression. We saw a panel on the fight for the District to become the 51st state in the union, a controversial topic that is gaining a lot of support.

Next, a talk was given on criminal justice reform and democracy, specifically about getting voting rights back for ex-prisoners. Saturday finished with a talk on solutions and what citizens can do to restore our democracy and fight to get big money and corporate influence out of politics.

The rally took place Sunday afternoon at the Capitol Building. After the rally, we marched from there to Union Station, where the protest continued with another rally. We were not part of the Monday protests, as we had to return to Allegheny for classes, but it was powerful to be part of something so important and fundamental to our democracy.