After marching 100 miles from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, a group of activists demanding that the Pennsylvania state government "get big money out of the political system" were arrested at the state Capitol on Monday for, as one observer put it, "chanting too loud."
The March on Harrisburg protesters spent the first of the three-day civil disobedience campaign targeting House State Government Committee chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County), who as the gatekeeper to government ethics reform has blocked movement on House Bill 39. The bill, which has been sitting in Metcalfe's committee since it was introduced in January, would ban gifts to state lawmakers.
"We got arrested today to heal our democracy, to restore trust to the relationship between citizen and state, government and governed," said Michael Pollack, executive director of the March on Harrisburg, who was among the 23 protesters arrested Monday. "We were arrested so that our politicians can see us and respond with the ethic of public service and the truth that a culture of corruption and hyper partisanship has poisoned the public trust. We will continue to risk arrest this week to force the encounter with our state legislators so they will respond by acknowledging and ending a culture corruption."
According to the organizers, about 12 protesters were hauled away for refusing to leave Metcalfe's office while a second group of 11 people was arrested for chanting and blocking the exit to Monday's committee hearing after Metcalfe refused to hold a vote on HB 39.
— Michael Candelori (@mgcandelori) May 22, 2017
Pennsylvania is one of only 10 states that does not have any limitations on gifts to public officials. Consequently, "Lobbyists routinely dole out free meals, drinks and even tickets to expensive sporting events and recreational opportunities, like ski areas," the Associated Press observed. And according to the Electoral Integrity Project, is tied for fifth worst state in the country on electoral integrity.
In addition to the gift ban, the non-partisan group is calling for votes on two other bills that would strengthen democracy in the state: one that automates voter registration and another that ends gerrymandering.
"A democracy with endless gifts for legislators and severely gerrymandered districts, where the people's voice isn't heard is not a democracy," said Jed Dodd, chairman of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of Teamsters, who was also among the arrestees on Monday.
"We are tired of this," Dodd continued. "We are prepared to take our country back." The group has vowed other direct nonviolent actions over the next two days.
In a recent interview, Pollack explained that it is important that the organization is nonpartisan to foster dialogue with Pennsylvania's "double red legislature." The group has already met with almost all of its 253 members to lobby support for the reforms. "We are focusing on the system, not parties, and the environment in which they operate," he said.
In addition to getting the bills passed, Pollack said his goals are to build a community among people who care about these issues, and also make it clear that "until we get up and demand to be heard we can never expect our democracy to be fixed."
"Lastly," he continued, "we want to see what we are doing in Pennsylvania be exported to every single state. Every state has a deficit of trust and communication between citizen and state. We decided that when the march is over we are going to make all our materials open source, meaning that we will provide to anyone interested all the information needed to start your own March on Harrisburg. We'll give you everything that we've learned and everything that we've collected. And hopefully this will inspire more people to act to save democracy and repair trust in our republic."
— Nikki (@akwiltr123) May 22, 2017
— Small Planet (@SmallPlanetInst) May 22, 2017
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the number of people arrested and where.