A little over a year ago, we embarked on a journey that would forever change our lives. With Democracy Spring, we marched from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. and then risked arrest in front of the Capitol. Our demands were simple: get big money out of our political system and end the systematic assault on voting rights.
We admit that before the march we weren’t sure what to expect. A week and a half walking with nothing to do but count the miles? It sounded grueling. But how wrong we were. Our days filled up with laughter, learning, and new friendships—one of which, our own, turned into the book Daring Democracy inspired directly by our experience of that march.
"Step-by-bold-step a Democracy Movement is growing in America."
We were particularly struck by the emotional thrill. Yes, we know, it’s not exactly what most people first associate with democracy. We, though, experienced lasting emotional shifts—that of being a part of something bigger than ourselves, which made possible the satisfaction of overcoming fear, bonding with strangers we would never otherwise have met, and realizing our own power as citizens in taking responsibility for, or “ownership” of, our society’s biggest problems. When we sat down to put our experience to words, we came to call these emotions the Thrill of Democracy.
After two weeks of protest with Democracy Spring, we did not, of course, reform America’s broken democracy. Given a decades-long, billionaire-funded campaign undermining democracy, especially from the right, to do so would have required hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in sustained protest. Their actions would have to make politicians’ anti-democracy tactics so toxic that failure to enact reform would cost them their jobs.
In the future, we believe this breakthrough is possible. But for those few weeks in April our deepest hope for Democracy Spring was that it would inspire those participating and those observing to take the struggle for an accountable democracy to their home states; to continue to develop and help grow a grassroots movement—a Democracy Movement.
And, it’s happened.
For the past year, courageous participants from Pennsylvania have been organizing a nine-day march from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, the state capitol, for democracy reforms. Their demands are common sense, non-controversial, and have huge potential impacts: Ending the state’s gerrymandering (manipulation of congressional and state-district lines to control who is elected), capping gifts to state legislators, and automatic voter registration (AVR).
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Needless to say, Pennsylvania could certainly benefit from these reforms.
The state is so badly gerrymandered that The Electoral Integrity Project ranked the state as tied for fifth worst for redistricting process in the nation. It scored 11 out of 100 “for the way it draws legislative and congressional district boundaries.” And, shockingly, Pennsylvania is one of ten states that does not prohibit gifts to state legislators or their staff. This, according to the organizers of the March on Harrisburg, “is a large mechanism of corruption in Harrisburg.”
Given that low-income Americans are less likely to register, no doubt because of greater time pressures and limited transportation, placing the burden on the state government to register citizens is a step in the right direction. Automatic voter registration can be a game changer, greatly increasing the number of people registered to vote. Oregon, which implemented AVR in January 2016, saw record gains in the number of people in their voter rolls, adding over 200,000 new voters, almost half of whom voted in November.
Step-by-bold-step a Democracy Movement is growing in America. In the last election alone, 14 of 17 movement-endorsed, democracy-reform ballot initiatives passed across the country. The March on Harrisburg is but the latest exemplar of this growing movement’s power, grit, and innovation.
Perhaps most important are the courage, knowledge of democracy reforms, and smarts about strategic action embodied in the March on Harrisburg. This trio is just what’s needed in today’s world full of despair, the greatest of all enemies; and for which there’s one sure antidote. It is taking action together. For this reason, on May 13th we will be in Philadelphia to speak and endorse this historic action.
We hope to see you there.