Mass Arrests at Democracy Spring D.C. Protest


     WASHINGTON (CN) – Another hundred protesters found themselves in handcuffs Wednesday as the U.S. Capitol saw its third consecutive day of rallies against political corruption.
     Though an uptick from the 85 arrested Tuesday, the number is still a fraction of the 400 arrested on the first day of the so-called “Democracy Spring” protests.
     Living up to its mission of getting big money out of politics, and ensuring free and fair elections, the group had two factions this afternoon filling the air with chants.
     “What do we want? Democracy! When do we want it? Now!” one group cried. The others shouted, “people over profits!”
     “We want a government that is not for sale,” one woman’s sign read.
     Adam Eichen, a spokesman at the protest called it “very clear that the American people are upset at the way our democracy is functioning at the moment.”
     “Eighty-five percent of Americans want fundamental change in the way we fund our elections,” he said, citing a 2015 New York Times poll in which 84 percent of Americans said there is too much money in politics.
     Eichen said the movement has four demands, which are embodied in four bills currently winding their way through Congress.
     The proposed legislation would restore aspects of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013 and would overturn the court’s ruling on cases like Citizen’s United, which rolled back legal limits to corporate money in federal elections.
     Eichen stressed that the group is nonpartisan, and contains people of all political persuasions from diverse backgrounds, spanning a wide range of ages who agree on one thing: getting money out of politics.
     Democracy Spring’s goal is to get Congress to hear them, and take action.
     “These aren’t controversial issues,” Eichen said, calling the inaction of Congress “inexcusable.”
     “This really is an issue that bridges what seems to be an impassible partisan divide plaguing our nation,” he said.
     Eichen said the group is prepared to conduct ongoing sit-ins, in the tradition of Martin Luther King.
     “This is not an act of violence, this is not an act of hate,” he said. “This is an act steeped in a profound tradition of American society.”
     “There are people willing to risk arrest for the first time, and consequently there have been people in the past few days who have been arrested for the first time,” he continued.
     Joan Gero, 62, a professor of anthropology at American University, was one of them.
     Sporting one of the blue wrist bands police had affixed to arrestees, Gero pulled off a small Bernie Sanders pin from her shirt as she spoke. Protest organizers discouraged partisan displays today, she noted.
     “I’m in this personally because I’m old enough to remember a different America,” Gero said. “That’s true.”
     Raising her hand above her head, the professor said she remembered “when kids didn’t come out of college up to here in debt.”
     “One salary in a family could sustain a modest, middle-class family, and you could save on that,” Gero said. “Now you get two people, and they can’t make ends meat, and kids don’t have jobs. … We’ve gone wrong.”
     With a distinguished career in her area of archeology studying the Inca in the Andes Mountains in South America, Gero said civil-disobedience training before today’s protest had her confront any illusions about what an arrest would mean.
     “I had to admit that I did think it was cool to get arrested – put in on my CV,” she said. “But for black people, that’s not true – for black people it’s not cool. The effects of being arrested are much more devastating. They get a record, and they can’t get jobs. So it isn’t funny to be arrested, even though I came here kind of naively thinking that would be fine.”
     The clinical precision of the arrests struck Gero in particular.
     “It was all so prearranged and so civil,” she said, calling her arresting officers “very kind.”
     Police separated the protesters into two groups, and cordoned off a large chunk of the plaza outside the capital. A line of officers corralled one of the groups away from the steps, and formed a barricade with their bodies while other officers arrested the group of roughly 100 protestors gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
     Police officers lined a handful of them up at a time, placed blue bands around their wrists, and escorted them to a gated-off area away from the larger group. Only the last protester on the steps refused to cooperate. Police officers picked him up and carried him away.
     The protesters arrested were released immediately.
     Gero found the coordination disconcerting.
     “When you’re really seriously challenging the system, when you really want the system to know that this is not acceptable, that the way things have devolved is seriously upsetting, and you want to reject it and challenge that and get arrested for that, then this kind of smoothed-out process is odd,” she said.
     As officers arrested the protesters, the remaining demonstrators cheered and chanted, “thank you!”
     Gero says those thank-you were directed at the police officers, whom the group considers part of the 99 percent. Their salaries, health care and pensions are risk along with everyone else’s, she said.
     Eichen said Democracy Spring “represents a restoration of hope in the American system.”
     The group believes that, “things can and will get better,” he said. “Together we can lift up all voices and make every person feel as though they are a part of this country and that this country represents them.”
     Democracy Spring was not alone in protesting congressional inaction Wednesday. The Congressional Progressive Caucus rallied outside the Supreme Court and called on Senate Republicans to “do their job.”
     “Refusing to do their job would mean a pink slip for most Americans, and yet Senate Republicans continue to hold our judicial system hostage because they want to set separate rules for President Obama,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., a Caucus member.
     “Let’s be clear – President Obama fulfilled his constitutional duty to nominate a justice and now the Senate is obligated to perform theirs,” Grijalva said. “There’s no exception for election years or for the political affiliation of a sitting president.”

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