The last time I had been to Los Angeles City Hall was at night. Chalk dust rose off of asphalt and cops in military combat gear stood opposite tents surrounded by handmade signs. Occupy LA fizzled but the conversation it changed gave rise to countless grassroots initiatives and shifted the focus of many political non-profits and organizations. The new aim: End corruption. Get money out of politics.
One such organization is 99rise, co-founded by Kai Newkirk in 2012, which touts an impressive and continuing campaign of civil disobedience. The group's goal is to “build the nationwide movement waging nonviolent struggle to get big money out of American politics.”
From arrests at Bank of America protests in downtown LA to rallies in New York, 99rise activists put themselves in visible, controversial places knowing full well they may attract attention not just from media and onlookers – but from the police as well. And that's the point.
During the high profile McCutcheon v. FEC ruling in February, Kai stood up inside the U.S. Supreme Court and spoke out against the corruption of money in politics, filming as the court was in session. News of the action propelled the conversation on to the desks of corporate media. Soon after, 99rise announced plans for its next campaign: a March for Democracy across the state of California.
On Saturday, May 17, my band Rooftop Revolutionaries, along with speakers Marianne Williamson, Derek Cressman, Michele Sutter and others, performed and spoke at the kick-off rally for the March (#m4d as it's now being called) at LA City Hall. And then it began: a people's walk of 480 miles over 37 days from Los Angeles to the State Capitol in Sacramento. Why the march?
“We are marching because of the crisis of disruption of our democracy” by corporate money, explained Kai. This crisis – the corrosive influence of money in politics – manifests itself in every issue the country faces, he said.
Some figures: In 2012, it cost roughly $1.7 million to win a seat in congress. 1% of the U.S. population now owns 42% of the country's wealth, while the bottom 80% owns 5%. Today, 94% of seats in Congress belong to candidates who beat their opponent simply by out-spending them.
As the 99rise IndieGoGo campaign video points out, everything from unaffordable health care to GMOs in our food supply to under-funded education can be traced back to lobbying, the purchase of legislators by special interests, and the role of corporate money in silencing the will of the people.
The facts portray an oligarchy, a plutocracy – what many call a corporatocracy – not a democracy. Which is why it is the duty and the right of We the People to, as Kai put it, "step up and save our democracy.”
The march, due to arrive in the capital on June 22, has posed three tangible, legislative demands to California lawmakers:
1. Issue a formal call for a Federal Constitutional Convention to propose an Amendment that outlaws the corrupting influence of big money on electoral politics, by passing Assembly Joint Resolution 1 (AJR1).
2. Give California voters the chance to formally instruct U.S. Congress to propose such an Amendment, and the California legislature to ratify it, by passing Senate Bill 1272 (SB1272).
3. Start reigning in the unlimited, anonymous money pouring into elections by passing the DISCLOSE Act, requiring that top political donors be prominently revealed in every campaign ad they fund.
If the demands aren't met by the time 99rise reaches Sacramento, the group threatens to occupy the capital. “No matter what happens, we will force the leaders of America’s biggest state, one that has been first on so many things, to focus on what must be the First Issue for our nation to solve," added Kai.
"A call for change from California will send a message of hope that change is coming across the country.”
The Journey North
Now 11 days into the march, 99rise is keeping supporters up to date through their @99rise twitter feed and on Facebook. Besides some sore feet – apparently made better by applying frozen Gatorade – the March for Democracy has met support and solidarity at every stop.
After a few hot days climbing through the mountains of Santa Clarita into Antelope Valley, the march headed through Lancaster, Tehachapi, Stallion Springs and on to Bakersfield City Hall, which it reached on Tuesday, May 27. You can see a full list of the route and planned stops here.
Like so many grassroots efforts, 99rise relies entirely on donations. Money sent here will supply marchers with food, medical supplies and other resources they need to complete the 480-mile journey and send a resounding money-out-of-politics message to California legislators. Other help is welcome, too. “We’ll be staying at campgrounds, people’s homes, churches – wherever folks who believe in the cause can step up and provide hospitality for us,” said Kai said.
And if you don't have money to give, you can still be a powerful force in the movement by adding your name to this petition, which will be delivered to legislators in the capital demanding they take a firm stance against the corruption of money in politics. The conversation has changed. Now let's keep spreading the word.