The Makings of a New Democracy-Reform Coalition?

The Makings of a New Democracy-Reform Coalition?

(Photo: AP/Susan Walsh)


A broad coalition of 160 civil-rights, pro-democracy, and other progressive organziations have announced plans for an ambitious Democracy Spring campaign that will culminate with a massive rally and sit-in at the capitol in April.

The campaign includes a 140-mile march that is scheduled to kick off on March 2 from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in the name of ending big money in politics, restoring the right to vote, and guaranteeing free and fair elections. Organizers say the campaign is designed to pressure a corrupted Congress to take any type of action on reform—admittedly a tall task.

Already, 2,000 individuals have committed to joining the march, including such prominent democracy advocates as progressive activist Mark Ruffalo; Harvard law professor and reform advocate Lawrence Lessig; and New York congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout. Marchers will call on Congress to pass a viable campaign-finance reform bill.

The rally’s mobilization campaign will kick off on March 1 with a “tele-town hall” featuring the heads of the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, among others. (Reich is a co-founder of The American Prospect.)

Organizers have dubbed the scheduled sit-ins and rallies on the capitol April 16-18 a "Democracy Awakening." The event brings together players in the progressive movement who often work on parallel tracks but not always in unison, most notably civil-rights and campaign-finance reform advocates. In addition to the usual political money reform suspects, the campaign brings together environmental advocates, religious groups, civil-rights organizations, and labor unions. Participating groups include, the NAACP, and the Communications Workers of America, who have all committed their support.

Diverse players have come together “to really try to build a deeper and broader democracy movement,” says Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “While the communities are mutually supportive, we have never done anything jointly on this scale.”

It’s part of a deliberate strategy to broaden the focus of democracy reforms beyond money-in-politics to address voting rights and redistricting as well. A report released this month by reform groups like Public Citizen and Common Cause titled “Our Voices, Our Democracy” specifically articulates the need to work across party lines and diversify the democracy reform tent at both the state and federal levels.

This push for a broader reform coalition comes on the heels of President Barack Obama's call in his State of the Union speech for renewed public dedication to bolstering democracy, specifically through campaign-finance, redistricting, and voting reforms.

“Protecting voting rights and pushing for money in politics reform are two sides of the same coin,” Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way, said in a statement. “When people face barriers to casting a ballot, and when wealthy special interests can overpower the voices and priorities of everyday Americans, our democracy simply isn’t working.”