Taking their first steps "along the path to a better future," roughly 150 people on Saturday began a 140-mile march from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., marking the official launch of the mass civil disobedience campaign known as Democracy Spring.
"Some of us will have never marched for anything," read a statement from the movement in advance of a rainy kick-off rally at Independence Mall. "Others will have had our first taste of activism decades ago. Some of us will be taking time away from work to march. Others will be retired or unemployed. Some of us will have been moved by the invitation of a friend. Others will have read a compelling call to action. But we’ll find each other at the Liberty Bell."
"Because over the last five years," the statement continued, "nearly half of the country has passed new state laws that disenfranchise everyday voters. As access to the ballot has become more difficult, people of color, the elderly, and the working poor have been most affected. Meanwhile, billionaires and big money interests have marshalled vast wealth to dominate elections, corrupting budgets and laws to serve the interests of a few at the expense of the rest of us."
Hence the movement's dovetailing demands: "Congress must act now to end the corruption of money in politics and ensure free and fair elections."
The Democracy Spring effort—which organizers describe as "poised to possibly be one of the biggest and most impactful acts of civil disobedience in a generation"—is supported by climate, labor, healthcare, and social justice organizations, along with more than 6,000 people who have signed up to participate.
In the nation's capitol, a rally is planned for April 11th at the Capitol Building, where demonstrators will call on members of Congress and candidates for office to take the Equal Voice for All Pledge, which commits them to "fight for pro-democracy reform." In the absence of such a pledge, activists and reformers plan to stage a mass sit-in each day for at least seven days at the Capitol and Congressional offices.
Speaking to Yes! Magazine about why about 3,000 have pledged to risk arrest, Democracy Spring organizer Elise Whitaker said: "It’s fine and good to have rallies and demonstrations. But there’s this energy around wanting to do more, something that’s outside of institutions, something that feels a little more punk rock, honestly. This is how far we’re willing to go. It matters that much to us."
She continued: "That’ll send a strong message to the American people in a way that hopefully helps galvanize support so we can make meaningful changes soon. We need to win on this issue soon so that we can push on other things like the dire straits that our climate situation is in and the threat to people’s lives in terms of racial and migrant justice. We need to win on this, and we need to win soon."
Another organizer, Alejandra Pablos, told Yes!: "This is an election year, and all eyes are on this conversation. We’re not the only ones talking about this, but we want to use civil disobedience to give the issue a big platform. I have thousands of people pledged for sit-ins, and it’ll be continuous for almost seven days. People really hear folks when they’re doing something like that."
Meanwhile, Moral Mondays founder Rev. William Barber and New York "preacher's preacher" Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., this weekend launch a separate, but similarly themed, 15-state tour under the banner: "The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values."
Decrying "racism, poverty, inequality, denial of health care, voter suppression, warmongering, environmental abuse, attacks on equal protection under the law, and xenophobia," the tour will see faith, civil rights, and social justice leaders visit North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, and Washington, D.C.
According to a press statement:
In light of the repeated misrepresentation of so-called "evangelism" in the public square, and the lewd amounts of money and political energy being spent to hijack the democratic process, Reverends Barber and Forbes and their many friends in the social justice clergy who have agreed to join them, have been called to seek a moral awakening and a Third Reconstruction in America. The deaf ear, the blind eye, and the sharpened tongue of the extremist toward the victims of their mean policies cry out for a prophetic awakening. Have they no conscience? Are they blind to the inequalities of income and assets? To the suffering of hungry children? To the least of these--the poor, the sick, vulnerable? What motivates their attacks on the hard-won voting rights of minorities? How can they look their own children in their eyes, while they promote climate warming, environmental and criminal injustices?
“In reference to the Vietnam War in his 1967 sermon, Dr. King told the nation that ‘silence was betrayal,'" Barber said.
"If silence was betrayal in the 1960s, revival is a necessity in 2016," he continued. "Way too much of our national discourse has been poisoned by hateful language and policies. The extremists see nothing wrong with insulting the poor, the sick, our children, immigrants, communities of color, voting rights, women, LGBTQ people, the environment and religious minorities with their language and their policies. True faith and true evangelicalism place love, justice, and compassion at the center of our public life."
Watch a live stream of Sunday's Revival Tour launch here.