Hundreds Protesting Political System Arrested On Capitol's Steps

Apr 11, 2016
Originally published on April 14, 2016 5:04 pm

Police needed most of Monday afternoon to arrest all of the sit-down protesters outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington at a demonstration in favor of changing the rules on political money, voting rights and redistricting.

More than 600 turned out for the protest, and more than 400 were arrested in closethe sit-in at the Capitol steps, U.S. Capitol Police reported. The nonviolent protest was led by Democracy Spring, a coalition of more than 100 progressive groups.

The protest was cheery and peaceful. Police blockaded the marble staircase with a chain and a cordon of officers. Demonstrators sat in front of the chain and on the plaza, talking, chanting, singing and taking pictures as police led them away one by one. Police, badly underestimating the potential crowd, initially brought a single bus to Capitol Plaza to haul the protesters away.

In a rally preceding the protest, organizer Kai Newkirk of the group 99Rise told the crowd that "we send a message — to everyone in our country who needs a government that represents us all — that this House is your House too, and now is the time to stand up and to take it back."

The coalition wants a "Congress of Conscience" to pass legislation limiting undisclosed and big-donor money, giving more clout to small donors; to restore powers in the Voting Rights Act; and to put an end to gerrymandered districts that insulate incumbent lawmakers from election challenges.

Newkirk has been campaigning to limit political money since 2014, when he interrupted a Supreme Court hearing to object to rulings that lifted restrictions on big donors.

Democracy Spring plans four more daily protests this week. April 16-18 it will be joined by another large coalition, Democracy Awakening, for a teach-in, speeches and another sit-down demonstration.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Two very different views of money in politics were in the news yesterday. On this program, we heard from David Bossie. He's the guy whose lawsuit led to a Supreme Court ruling that eliminated some limits on political spending.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DAVID BOSSIE: Our victory was good for anyone across the political spectrum, not just conservatives. And of course, we didn't go to the Supreme Court to allow corporations to be able to participate in the political process. It's an outcome.

INSKEEP: An outcome many protesters here in Washington, D.C. did not like. Two progressive coalitions called Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening began a week of demonstrations yesterday. They took their places in front of the capital until police arrested more than 400. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The hundreds of protesters arrived with banners, posters and a megaphone. They sat down at the foot of the capital steps.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Whose democracy?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Whose government?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our government.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Whose country?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our country.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Whose house?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our house.

OVERBY: They were from Democracy Spring, a coalition demanding that the Congress deal with three issues - the influence of corporations and the wealthy in politics, new restrictions on voting rights and the gerrymandering that gives scores of House members safe seats. Neither chamber was in session during the protest. And of course, the odds of Congress dealing with these issues is just about nil. Democracy Spring's strategy is to strip away the Washington-insider nuance and cast the issues in stark terms. Kai Newkirk, one of the organizers, spoke to the protesters before the demonstration.

KAI NEWKIRK: To every member of Congress, to every candidate for any office in our country, they must decide. Will you stand on the side of the people, on the side of democracy, or on the side of big money and corruption?

OVERBY: Democracy Spring planned to protest every day this week. The Democracy Awakening coalition comes in at the weekend, with more civil disobedience planned for next Monday. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.