In an article published here Wednesday, Aaron Klein wrongly characterized Democracy Spring as an “Anti-Trump” campaign organized by “radicals…involved in shutting down Donald Trump’s Chicago rally.”
We want to set the record straight, make it clear where we stand on Trump, and reach out to the all the conservatives who agree with us that big money is corrupting our political system.
First, setting aside any opinions on it, the assertion that the Chicago disruption was the work of Democracy Spring is simply untrue. Over 100 organizations have endorsed Democracy Spring. Their independent actions (and funders – George Soros hasn’t given us a dime) are distinct from our collective effort.
Second, while the leaders, organizations, and the vast majority of participants in Democracy Spring have profound and severe disagreements with Donald Trump, our nonviolent, non-partisan campaign is not a response to him.
Nor is it a response to any single candidate, party, or election. Democracy Spring is a response to the corruption of our entire political system, a system dominated by big money and inaccessible to many Americans who face growing barriers to the ballot box.
No matter who you support for president this year, surely we can all agree that our elected officials should work for all of us – not just wealthy special interests and big campaign contributors. In fact, we know many voters support Trump because he calls out this corrupt system and claims to stand outside of it as a self-financing candidate.
To this, we say: we hear you. The system is corrupt. The economy is rigged. Big campaign contributors do pull the strings in Washington. Working people are right to be angry about trade policy and the betrayal of the middle class, working families, and the poor by an elite establishment that profits from the status quo.
But we also challenge Trump supporters to consider a few things. Our corrupt campaign finance system goes far beyond presidential races and will not change by simply electing a president who supposedly can’t be bought. Without serious policy solutions, whoever we elect Commander-in-Chief will still have to deal with 435 members of Congress who are more eager to appease their donors than their own constituents.
Trump has yet to propose any solutions that would ensure every member of Congress and candidate for local and state office in America are elected in a way that makes them, as James Madison wrote, “solely dependent upon the People as whole – not the rich more than the poor.” If our system only allows us to choose between candidates who are bought by billionaires and billionaires themselves, then it is not a democracy. It is plutocracy.
That is why more than 2,600 American patriots have pledged to risk arrest in Democracy Spring, a massive nonviolent sit-in at the U.S. Capitol this April. The campaign will force Congress to choose between putting hundreds of peaceful defenders of the republic in handcuffs, or simply doing their job and passing reforms to fix our broken system.
It’s true Democracy Spring is led by many organizations associated with the left. But there’s no reason it must remain that way. We are a nonpartisan campaign open to all. And conservatives and liberals agree when it comes to the urgent need for solutions to rebalance the system.
Last year, John Pudner, the political strategist who helped lead Rep. Dave Brat’s 2014 upset over former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, launched Take Back our Republic to advance conservative solutions to the problem of money in politics. For example, Take Back supports tax credits for small donations to political candidates to encourage more people to become involved in the political process. The group also supports more disclosure of large donors to ensure voters’ right to know who is trying to influence their vote and their lawmakers.
In a recent column, Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s chief White House ethics lawyer, explained why the current system fails to address the needs and concerns of conservatives. He wrote, “campaign contributions drive spending on earmarks and other wasteful programs — bridges to nowhere, contracts for equipment the military does not need, solar energy companies that go bankrupt on the government’s dime and for-profit educational institutions that don’t educate.” Moreover, he writes, “campaign contributions breed more regulation” as companies use campaign cash to win special legal advantages over their competitors.
Progressives would disagree on public funding to spur clean energy innovation and the characterization of more regulations as necessarily bad, but we stand fully with Painter on his core point: “[Today’s] system is a betrayal of the vision of participatory democracy embraced by the founders of our country.”
Indeed, there is an opportunity today for progressives and conservatives to stand together to defend our republic and win reform that will let us settle our other differences on an even, open playing field where the best ideas and the broadest support are what count – not the backing of a moneyed elite.
Yet – and allegiance to the values that truly make America a great country demand that we make this crystal clear – Donald Trump’s candidacy is making this kind of unity across differences incredibly difficult. We are a nonpartisan campaign but not an amoral one. We are compelled to speak (and I am confident that I can speak for us all) when I say that Trump’s statements, proposed policies, and threats of violence concerning undocumented immigrants, Muslims, the KKK, protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, and others have crossed a very serious line into the territory of fascism and hate speech.
America is better than this. Conservatives are better than this.
Democracy Spring is a nonviolent campaign and, in the tradition of the civil rights movement, will strive to reach out to our most bitter opponents. We will seek unity with all who agree that every American deserves an equal voice and a government of, by, and for the people. Rather than letting our differences divide us, conservatives and progressives of conscience should come together on this common ground and renew our republic.
Politicians from both parties broke the system. It’s going to take voters from both parties — and independents committed to neither — to force our representatives to fix it.
It’s time to demand that Congress listen to the people and pass common-sense solutions to return our government to us all.
Kai Newkirk is lead organizer of Democracy Spring.