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Protests Seek to Prod Congress on Political Money, Supreme Court

Liberal demonstrators to stake out Capitol in April

The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has spurred protests about the role of money in politics. (CQ Roll Call)
The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has spurred protests about the role of money in politics. (CQ Roll Call)

Activists from more than 100 progressive groups are mobilizing for demonstrations around the Capitol to prod Congress to pass legislation overhauling the campaign finance system, expand voting rights protections and to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  

Organizers with the AFL-CIO, Public Citizen and People for the American Way plan rallies, protests, a sit-in and other acts of civil disobedience in coming weeks.  

Though the Republican-controlled Senate and House are almost certain not to embrace any part of the protesters’ agenda, the events are designed to stoke interest in the left’s priorities during a volatile year in politics.  

Protests begin Saturday with a 10-day walk from Philadelphia to Washington that is expected to draw at least 100 marchers, said Kai Newkirk, the campaign director for part of the effort, dubbed Democracy Spring. An ensuing sit-in on Capitol Hill will continue, Newkirk said, until Congress takes action or the protesters are arrested.  

“This is a nonviolent movement,” Newkirk said. “We are in dialogue with the Capitol Police, and we seek to bring everyone to our side.”  

Conservatives say the activity is a sign of internal strife in the Democratic party.  

“The left has a well-organized network of groups capable of garnering media attention, but it is important to understand this effort for what it is — pushing the Democrat Party even further to the left,” said Dan Holler, vice president of communications and government relations for Heritage Action for America. “Democrats are in the midst of their own civil war, determining how far they can publicly move to the left. These type of rallies are designed to give Democrats the space to move left.”  

Even though unions have poured millions of dollars into super PACs during the current election season, the AFL-CIO’s associate general counsel, Angelia Wade Stubbs, said her union is joining the effort, which includes a call to reduce money in politics.  

“This is bigger than party, politics or even profits,” she said.  

The activists will also try to rally the Senate to take up the nomination of Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of conservative stalwart Antonin Scalia.  

They are also pushing for Congress to approve measures  that would restore portions of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down in the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.  

And they want Congress to consider a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which deregulated political giving and helped pave the way for super PACs. Also on their lobbying agenda is a bill that would provide Americans with a $25 tax credit to be used for campaign donations.  

Demonstrations around the Capitol will continue through mid-April, including an effort called Democracy Awakening that includes what organizers bill as a family-friendly rally on April 17 with performances by the musical group Sweet Honey in the Rock and speakers including NAACP President Cornell Brooks.  

Organizers say they plan to maintain pressure on lawmakers with events in congressional districts during the next recess, in early May.  

“This is about a movement that’s developing around the country,” said Marge Baker, People for the American Way’s executive vice president for policy.  

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