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Hundreds Arrested at US Capitol During 'Democracy Spring' Campaign Finance Protests

After organizing a march from Philadelphia to DC, Democracy Spring protesters occupied the US Capitol steps on Monday, calling for an end to corporate and dark money in politics.
Imagen por Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP Images

Lady Liberty was arrested on Monday afternoon.

That is, a protester dressed up as the New York icon was taken into police custody, along with hundreds of other protesters who refused to leave the US Capitol steps on Monday until Congress agrees to pass campaign finance reform.

The protesters were in Washington, DC on Monday as part of Democracy Spring, a loosely organized protest movement that began as a 10-day walk from Philadelphia to the nation's capital, and which is now attracting hundreds of campaign finance advocates to sit-in at the Capitol building over the next week.


The group is demanding that Congress "take immediate action" to create a viable small-dollar public funding system for federal elections, and is calling for a Constitutional amendment to overturn the US Supreme Court's controversial 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissionin 2009, which lifted restrictions on corporate money in politics.

A US Capitol Police officer estimated that more than 500 people were present at Monday's protest by the afternoon, but said that many more — he specify a number — had already been arrested for refusing to leave the Capitol steps.

Protesters line up, waiting to be arrested by police officers during the Democracy Spring protests at the US Capitol on Monday. (Photo by Sarah Mimms/VICE News)

Few of these protesters participated in the 10-day march from Philadelphia, but many flew and drove into Washington from all over the country to join them on Monday. Given their message, it's unsurprising that many of the attendees sported Bernie Sanders clothing and signs, but the group maintains that it is nonpartisan and not in favor of any candidate.

DemocracySpring began trending on Twitter nationwide just after 1pm on Monday.

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Over the course of the afternoon, Capitol Police had cordoned off the largest section of the crowd in the middle of the Capitol campus, sectioning off a few hundred protesters who were standing on the Capitol steps and refused to leave. Police announced that the latter group was under arrest, but would have to wait until officers could get buses out to the Capitol to remove them.


Protesters at — Sarah Mimms (@SarahMMimms)April 11, 2016

It took several hours on Monday for Capitol Police to shuttle protesters away from the building to be processed. Though protesters joked about a potential party atmosphere in DC jails tonight, a Capitol Police officer said that the protesters would merely be processed, cited with a fine, and released. Unless the protesters had outstanding warrants, the officer said, none would be spending the night in jail.

Cenk Uygur, who hosts the progressive online commentary show The Young Turks, was among those taken into custody on Monday. Uygur said it was his first arrest, but he'd proudly do it again.

"Not only would I do it again, I probably will do it again," Uygur said. "The next time we come here, I don't think they're going to have enough buses in all of Washington to arrest all of us."

Look at who's going to get arrested with me at the Capitol? — Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur)April 11, 2016

Uygur and other protesters stood in orderly lines, chanting in unison with those still awaiting arrest on the Capitol steps. They carried plastic zip ties around their wrists like badges of honor as officers loaded them onto the Capitol Police bus.

Six or more large buses full of protesters were taken into processing on Monday, as a thinning crowd of protesters outside of the police cordon sang and chanted slogans like, "I believe that we will win!" and "You are what Democracy looks like!"


Before all of the protesters on the Capitol steps were taken away Monday afternoon, Democracy Spring campaign director Kai Newkirk told the crowd, using the human microphone method popularized by Occupy Wall Street protesters, that they had broken the record for the most people ever arrested at the US Capitol. A spokesperson for the US Capitol Police did not immediately respond to a request to confirm that figure.

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But given the significance of the issue of big money in politics, several protesters said that they were disappointed with the turnout, which organizers had pegged at approximately 1,000 people.

"This is pathetic," complained a protester who had driven down from Pennsylvania, though she promised to be back tomorrow.

A man who was protesting with a megaphone shouted at tourists who were visiting the Capitol in the afternoon that this is their fight too.

By 5:30pm, most of the protesters on the Capitol steps had been arrested, while a few hundred remained vocal out on the main plaza as they brandished large signs. The protests are expected to resume at noon tomorrow through Saturday.

Follow Sarah Mimms on Twitter: @SarahMMimms