California March for Democracy marchers were welcomed by Fresno community members and activists as they passed through Fresno to spread the word of and get support for their cause. Photo by Richard Iyall

480-Mile California March for Democracy Demands an End to Big Money Corruption in Politics

By Curt Ries

California March for Democracy marchers were welcomed by Fresno community members and activists as they passed through Fresno to spread the word of and get support for their cause. Photo by Richard Iyall
California March for Democracy marchers were welcomed by Fresno community members and activists as they passed through Fresno to spread the word of and get support for their cause. Photo by Richard Iyall

(Editor’s note: The California March for Democracy made its way to Fresno on June 6 and 7 on their way to Sacramento. For an update on how it went or for more information, contact Curt Ries directly.)

A March to End Corruption

On May 17, a dozen people walked down the steps of Los Angeles City Hall determined to march nearly 500 miles to the state capitol in Sacramento. Their goal: Demand an end to the crisis of big money corruption in American politics.

And make no mistake, it is a crisis.

Our republic has been deeply undermined by the corrosive influence of wealthy donors and corporations determining our political landscape by 1) overwhelmingly financing public elections, 2) employing lobbyists to promote their private interests and 3) tacitly ensuring politicians a lucrative career after their term in office has ended.

The result is a government that is responsive only to the will and interests of corporate America and the wealthiest 1%. The needs and dreams of “we the people” are irrelevant.

That is not democracy. It’s plutocracy. And it’s unacceptable.

That is the message of 99Rise, a grassroots collection of students, workers, activists and organizers, placing themselves squarely on the front lines of the struggle to take back democracy for the people alone.

Their first major campaign is the California March for Democracy, a 480-mile, 37-day march that ended with an occupation of the state capitol.

“Everyone already agrees that government corruption is a fundamental problem,” says 99Rise co-founder and lead organizer Kai Newkirk. “The trouble is that nearly everyone also agrees that nothing can be done about it, that there is no fight that they can join that has a real chance at winning.”

Newkirk is referring to a recent poll that found that although 96% of Americans think government corruption is a serious problem, 91% also think that it is essentially impossible to solve.

“We’re here to show people from across the state and across the nation that there are those already willing to sacrifice and endure hardship for our collective future,” says Newkirk. “The struggle to realize genuine democracy in this country is already under way. This march is about empowering people to join that struggle and take action.”

The Crisis of Democracy

The California March for Democracy comes on the heels of two Supreme Court decisions—Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC—that have enabled wealthy donors to give virtually unlimited sums of money to political candidates. In 2012, the most expensive election in U.S. history, a meager 0.4% of the population gave $200 or more to support candidates or political campaigns, whereas an astounding 132 individuals, or 0.000042% of the population, gave more than 60% of all Super PAC money. It was recently calculated that it took just 32 wealthy Super PAC donors to outspend the nearly 4 million Americans who gave small-dollar donations to the Obama and Romney campaigns.

Those numbers do not at all reflect the common sense and deeply cherished belief that every citizen should have an equal say in determining who represents them in government. What they tell us instead is that a person’s political power is determined first by their economic wealth. They tell us that the principle of “one person, one vote” is a farce, that we instead live by the rule of “one dollar, one vote.” And some people have a lot more dollars than the rest of us.

That is not democracy. It’s plutocracy. And it’s unacceptable.

The Movement and the March

Right now, people from across the country are rising up to say “enough” to big money corruption in American politics. From the New Hampshire Rebellion to the international March Against Corruption to the ongoing California March for Democracy, the 99% are coming together to speak out against our plutocratic system of governance and build a movement that can realize genuine democracy by pushing through a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee political equality once and for all.

“Now is the time to take action,” says Danielle Raskin, a leading student organizer with 99Rise, who has been on the march since its departure from Los Angeles. “But we need to be strategic. Only a diverse movement of the 99%, committed to direct nonviolent civil resistance, can create the fundamental change we all want to see in our country.”

Raskin says 99Rise finds inspiration in past social movements that have swept across the United States throughout its history. “The abolitionists, the woman’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement—they were all successful at defying the status quo despite overwhelming opposition because they were able to mobilize the general public to stand up and fight for their beliefs. The people of this country believe in democracy. Now it’s our turn to stand up and fight.”

The California March for Democracy is an opportunity for each and every American to get involved in this growing movement to end the corruption of our democracy. On June 22, marchers arrived in Sacramento and demanded that the state legislature publicly acknowledge this crisis of corruption and take immediate action to end it, beginning with the call for an Article V Constitutional Convention to get big money out of politics.

Members of the 99% nonviolently occupied the capitol building. On June 23, the Assembly passed the Assembly Joint Resolution bill No. 1 (AJR1) with a 23-11 vote! AJR1 calls for a Constitutional Convention to propose a 28th Amendment that states that corporations are not people and money is not speech. It is an exciting victory after walking 480 miles, and after 15 activists were arrested June 22 for sitting in front of the Capitol building.

99Rise is calling for the people of California and beyond to rally on state capitols and deliver their demands to state legislators. People can also amplify the voice of the campaign by signing the petition that articulates its demands.

“The time is now,” says Newkirk. “Help make history.”

*****

Curt Ries is a volunteer organizer with 99Rise from the San Francisco Bay Area. He coordinates public relations and communications with the California March for Democracy. Contact him at media@99rise.org or 415-847-5351.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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