‘Democracy Awakening’ Rally Brings Thousands to the Capitol to Demand a Better Democracy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 17, 2016

Contact: Laura Epstein or Drew Courtney at People For the American Way

Email: media@pfaw.org

Phone Number: 202-467-4999

Speakers including Rev. William Barber II, Cornell William Brooks, Dolores Huerta, Kathleen Turner call for money in politics reforms, filling the Supreme Court vacancy, protection of voting rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, thousands of people from across the country joined the Rally for Democracy at the U.S. Capitol, as part of the three-day ‘Democracy Awakening.’ The rally featured national leaders, celebrities, and performers, all sending a message to Congress to reform democracy to ensure that every voice is heard.

Rally speakers called for money in politics reforms, filling the Supreme Court vacancy, and the protection of voting rights. Key speakers included Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP; Rev. William Barber, pastor and Moral Monday architect; Dolores Huerta, civil rights leader; Kathleen Turner, award-winning actress and advocate; Ellen Weintraub, Federal Election Commission Commissioner; and many other leaders and activists from across the country. Key statements from these and others are below.

After the rally, attendees marched around the Capitol and past the Supreme Court, ending at Columbus Circle for a faith vigil. Faith leaders told the story of “The Golden Calf” and explained how idolatry of money in the United States today is stifling our democracy and underscores why we must get money out of politics

In addition to today’s events, ‘Democracy Awakening’ events included teach-ins on Saturday. On Monday, hundreds of people – including 60 organization leaders and high-profile individuals – will risk arrest while others participate in a day of advocacy urging members of Congress to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, protect voting rights, and curb the influence of corporations and the wealthy in politics.

More than 300 organizations have endorsed the landmark mobilization. It is a broad coalition of organizations representing the labor, peace, environmental, student, racial justice, civil rights and money in politics reform movements. People are coming from throughout the country, by bus (19 states), air, van and car. They are coming from such states as Michigan, Kentucky, Florida, Connecticut, Tennessee and California.

Key statements from today’s events:

Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way: “This is a movement moment. Americans feel enormous frustration towards a system where voters have to stand in lines for hours, where every day Americans can’t be heard over the roar of big money, and where some members of Congress are trying to prevent our courts from functioning. Congress has solutions in front of them, and we’re going to keep making noise until our elected leaders take action to create a democracy that works for all of us.”

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, pastor and Moral Monday architect: “Fifty years after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, we have seen the Supreme Court nullify its preclearance protections while congressional leadership has refused to fix it for more than two years.  This is immoral, an attack on our democracy, and a threat to the furtherance of every other progressive ideal – we cannot stand quietly by. We must now stand up all over the country and reawaken the spirit of true democracy.”

Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP: ““The right to vote is the closest thing we have to a civic sacrament. It is enshrined in our temple of democracy. Yet we are going into the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. When more than 33 states pass new laws requiring a photo ID to vote, but cut back and shut down the government offices where voters can obtain the required cards, the need to act is clear. This is a profound challenge and assault on our democracy. That is why we are here today. An NAACP member by the name of the Rev. James Edmund Prioleau, my grandfather, stood for the right to vote 70 years ago. I stand in his name–and his legacy stands with us.”

Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO: “The AFL-CIO is proud to be part of this Democracy Awakening. The unions of the AFL-CIO are committed to broadening our democracy – to having the voices and votes of working people heard. That’s why we will continue to fight the corrupting influence of corporate cash.”

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch: "It’s time to be bold and visionary. Only a massive grassroots movement can build the political power necessary for taking back our democracy and ousting the plutocrats who’ve stolen it. That’s why I’m thrilled to be one of thousands rallying this weekend at Democracy Awakening—supporting calls to restore voting rights and repeal Citizen’s United. I’m proud that Food  & Water Watch is one of the more than 200 groups coalescing to demand that people and the environment are prioritized over profits.”

Jim Hightower, radio commentator and activist: “Democracy Awakening is us – grassroots people rising up to restore our sovereignty over big money. Progress on every one of our issues is hopelessly walled in by corporate bribery funds, K Street lobbyists, crony capitalism, Koch-headed ideology, and nefarious voter suppression. This is the start of something big, and we want you to be there to help make democracy happen again.”

Dolores Huerta, civil rights leader and People For the American Way board member: “Without a strong democracy movement, we won’t be able to make progress on the biggest issues we face: climate change, immigration reform, protecting workers’ rights, raising the minimum wage, empowering women and so much more. I’m coming to D.C. this month to demand that Congress listen to the American people and stop blocking democracy reforms. Si se puede!”

William H. Lamar IV, pastor at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.: “Now is the time for a new politics to emerge in this nation. Poor and working class Americans now know what Black Americans have always known. The myth that holds America captive is fraudulent. Persons cannot hope to rise by hard work and determination when the political system is rigged to favor big money and highest bidder public policy. Democracy  will not be given to the people by those who have purchased the people’s government. The people must accumulate power – across dividing lines – and demand something new. People power must supplant money power! Money is not speech. Money corrupts speech. Undisclosed money corrupts absolutely!”

Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA: “A functional democracy is a precondition for a healthy environment, economy and society. The daily protests may slow after the Democracy Spring and the Democracy Awakening, but the movement will continue to grow. The people have made it too big and too strong to ignore.”

The Rev. Ezra L. Tillman Jr., pastor of First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, Michigan and member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Micah Leadership Council: “As a father, husband and pastor in Flint, Michigan, I have experienced personally and through the lives of my members and friends, the kind of tragedy that can happen when democracy is threatened. When elected persons place non-elected persons in positions to value cost-cutting budgets above the health and well-being of everyday people, democracy is threatened. I’m coming to D.C. for the Democracy Awakening because democracy is not for some but for all. This is a Humanity Matters issue. We stand united, with a unified message, that it's time to choose the well-being of People over Politics.”

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen: “Fundamental reform to expand and deepen our democracy, we know from America’s history, follows from one thing and one thing only: mass movements. With our democracy in crisis, now is the time for Americans to mobilize to ensure the right to vote and to get Big Money out of politics. Democracy Awakening is the start of something, not the end, as the democracy movement enters a new phase of intensity, mobilization, aggressive activism and disruption of business as usual.”

For pictures from the event, more information on the ‘Democracy Awakening,’ or to schedule an interview, please email Angela Bradbery (abradbery@citizen.org) or Laura Epstein (lepstein@pfaw.org).

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