"Voters don't care about money in politics." At least that's what people told me during the 1990s, when politicians found more and more loopholes to bypass the campaign finance reforms that had been implemented 20 years earlier after the Watergate scandal. Back then, the "savvy" experts were probably right -- after all, one of the worst abusers of the system was President Bill Clinton, who entertained big donors in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House and was still re-elected in a landslide.
But something has changed. Maybe it was the aftermath of the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, the worst in a string of actions -- judicial and otherwise -- that made the six-figure checks of the Clinton era look quaint. Today, it's possible for interested billionaires like the oil-drenched Koch Brothers or casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an election cycle.
And a lot of people are sick of it.
This fall, when I was attending Bernie Sanders rallies for my Bern Identity project, I also asked folks why they were there, and, issue-wise, "getting money out of politics" easily trumped college tuition, family leave, health care, and all the normal big issues. That's because here's what his supporters have come to realize: That there won't be action on climate change when Big Oil has rigged the game, and that we can't break up the big banks when the big banks have bought all the politicians. (Even Donald Trump's backers are getting it -- praising the The Donald for largely self-funding his unreality-based campaign.)
Turns out there are at least a few people who are really, really angry about money in politics, and they're coming to Philly on Saturday to strut their stuff -- literally. The mass protest called Democracy Spring is backed by a broad coalition of progressive groups, labor unions, the NAACP -- more than 100 organization in all. The plan is to gather in front of Independence Hall for a 10 a.m. rally, and then it's off on a 10-day, 140- mile march to the nation's capital, where a string of protests is planned. (The first day's walking will take them out MacDade Boulevard -- where the only history of civil disobedience was a mini-riot when the Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 -- to Delaware County's Ridley Park, about 10 miles.)
Somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 activists have said they plan to get arrested in D.C. as an act of civil disobedience -- and that number may grow. The effort is seen as just the beginning of a big push to a) pass legislation that will get mega-donations out of American politics and b) restore the voting rights that have been stripped by legislation and by the Supreme Court in recent years.
"Why do we subsidize chemical agriculture when we could be subsidizing healthy food so that everybody could afford it?" Frances Moore-Lappe, a well-known hunger activist who's planning to get arrested with the likes of actor Mark Ruffalo, Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig and others, told Yes! Magazine. "Why is it that Monsanto was able to spread its GMOs all over the country with no long-term testing whatsoever? Well, for most of these industries, and for Monsanto, it was their influence in government. So whatever your issue, I think that's what people are starting to realize."
Right now, just about the only media coverage that Democracy Spring is getting comes from the far-right media, which has branded the event an "anti-Trump protest" (????) aimed at causing mass chaos. The lack of attention, otherwise, reminds me very much of the early days of Occupy Wall Street -- which was ignored by the mainstream media and yet ultimately reshaped the national debate on issues such as income inequality and the minimum wage, and later gave rise to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.