Dozens of elderly activists demanding campaign finance reform were arrested Tuesday for staging a sit-in outside the Capitol Building as part of the week-long Democracy Spring protests happening in Washington, DC.
According to the US Capitol Police, 85 activists were taken cheerfully and willingly into custody, on top of the more than 400 protesters who were arrested during a sit-in on Monday. Democracy Spring organizers have said that number was an all-time record for a mass arrest at the Capitol Building, and they plan to keep it up. More than 3,500 activists have pledged to risk arrest in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience over the week, organizers said.
The goal of the protest is to pressure Congress to pass four already-introduced bills dealing with campaign finance reform, public funding of elections, and increased voting rights, including introducing a constitutional amendment overturning the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
According to the Democracy Spring website, more than 100 progressive groups have sponsored the event, and its steering committee include 99Rise, Democracy Matters, Energy Action Coalition, the United States Student Association (USSA) and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The action began with a ten-day march from Philadelphia to DC, and protests are scheduled to continue until April 18.
Tuesday was "elder's day," and the front of the march to the Capitol Building from Union Station was decidedly gray-haired. "We're here! We're elders!" the marchers chanted. "We're fearless! Get used to it!"
Dana Kelley, 76, came to DC from Philadelphia, though not by way of the march. She was holding a sign that read. "I'm not dead yet. I care deeply. I vote."
"All this happened on my watch," Kelley said when asked why she made the trip. "I'm thinking about my children and what kind of world I'm going to leave them."
Kelley said she had never been arrested before, but planned to be, and an hour or so later, she was.
After the march arrived at the eastern side of the Capitol Building, several dozen protesters took up seats and chairs by the steps. Capitol Police ushered the rest of the crowd away and restricted the media to an approved First Amendment–zoned sidewalk. Then the protesters were gently led off one by one—to cheers and applause from the rest of the marchers—and arrested for violating the DC code against "crowding, obstructing, and incommoding."
Unless the arrestees had outstanding warrants, they were processed, cited, and released without having to spend a night in jail.
Mickey San Miguel, 29, from Colorado, was one of the core group of protesters who had made the 140-mile march from Philadelphia for the cause.
"The only thing we want to do is allow political speech not just for you or me or the few or the wealthy, but for everybody," he said. "We want to build that momentum to give people hope."
Rain Castro, 66, a member of the Apache Nation from south Texas, joined the march in Philadelphia, but his knee gave out after a couple of days, so he caught a ride the rest of the way. Castro said he came because "the spirit told me to come."
"I never got involved in politics because I thought it was a white man's thing," he said. "I thought politics was totally corrupt." But after getting involved in a MoveOn petition, he heard about Democracy Spring, so he thought, "Enough is enough, and maybe should I should say something before I leave this world."
"Bernie all the way," he added.
Although organizers stress that Democracy Spring is strictly nonpartisan and will not endorse any political candidate, the Bern was definitely being felt among the crowd.
In fact, one of Democracy Spring's greatest victories came Monday evening, after the buses had pulled away with the last of the arrestees and the remaining protesters had wandered off. Adam Eichen, the deputy communications director for Democracy Spring, and about seven other people were waiting for an Uber to come pick them up outside the east side of the Capitol Building.
"Any good tweets?" someone asked.
Someone else gasped, and then they all started screaming like they'd won the lottery. Bernie Sanders had tweeted out the #DemocracySpring hashtag.
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