Democracy Awakening Actions Demand Reforms to Rein in Big Money's Influence in U.S. Politics

Posted April 13, 2016

MP3 Interview with Margrete Strand Rangnes, executive vice president, Public Citizen, conducted by Scott Harris

democracy

With the almost daily bombast and insults emanating from Republican presidential candidate and real estate billionaire Donald Trump, the 2016 election campaign has been more a source of crude media entertainment than an informed national debate about public policy and the future of the country. But while cable news channels and other commercial media outlets trip over themselves to fill the airwaves with Trump content to cash in on ratings-driven profits, the American people have come to believe that the U.S. political system is broken.

In a recent public opinion poll conducted by Gallup in March of this year, some 66 percent of those surveyed believe that the U.S. presidential election process is dysfunctional and in need of repair. One major factor contributing to Americans' loss of faith in the nation's machinery of democracy is an overwhelming bipartisan rejection of the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, that opened the floodgates of unlimited and unaccountable money in U.S. politics, where a handful of billionaires now have unchecked power to influence election outcomes.

With so much disgust at the way U.S. politics is run and the 2016 election campaign on track to be the most expensive in U.S. history, a coalition of more than 260 groups are supporting a series of protests in Washington, D.C. called Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening April 11 to 18. The activists are demanding voting rights reforms, the overturning of Citizens United and the filling of the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy. The actions, which kicked off on April 2 with a march from Philadelphia to Washington, will include teach-ins, rallies, and will culminate on April 18 with mass civil disobedience at the U.S. Capitol building. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Margrete Strand Rangnes, Public Citizen's executive vice president, a Democracy Awakening coalition partner who talks about the corrupting influence of big money in U.S. politics and the goals of the Democracy Awakening protest.

MARGRETE STRAND RANGNES: A lot of things are happening right now. A lot of excitement, lots of grassroots people. I was up at the rally today. People had flown in from Denver and Seattle, so pretty much every state being represented. We're expecting thousands of people here this coming weekend. And it's pretty exciting. We're coming together on three demands that are sort of core to our democracy. Get Big Money out of politics, restore voting rights and have a vote on the Supreme Court nominee. Our website is DemocracyAwakening.org, which has a lot of information about what's being planned.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell us a little bit about what ties all these issues together confronting the failure of U.S. politics to address key issues, the machinery of elections which a lot of people feel is suspect or a failed project in many respects, as well as the economy, which is failing most people. All these things seem to be linked in my mind – maybe many of our listeners minds' – and that I think is one of the major elements of bringing all these groups together that you've put together here in this week of actions.

MARGRETE STRAND RANGNES: At the bottom of what we're trying to do, whether you care about climate change or whether or you're fighting for your union and whether you are talking about health care, immigration, more people are starting to see that we cannot make progress on those issues when the system is rigged in the way it is right now, where the very wealthy pour unlimited amounts of money into the political system. We're going backward on voting rights and where we have a Congress that is completely broken at this point, the point of obstructions that we see now happening around the Supreme Court, and so forth. And we're left with this election cycle that is reduced to a pretty meaningless discussion oftentimes.

I think what we're trying to do is bring some of these issues back into the front. You know, we at Public Citizen did a report earlier this week talking about how none of the debates in the presidential race has there been a conversation about money in politics. What would you as a candidate do about Citizen United? How do you see the role of money playing? how can we make change? None of those questions were coming up. The fact that people's right to vote is being jeopardized, all of these questions are not being talked about. And that's what we feel are the important underpinnings of everything that we try to do. We have 270 organizations that are part of Democracy Awakening, from all the spectrums of different issues. Why? Because we have to deal these issues to make progress in any of the other things that we're working on. So that's part of what's exciting with the thousands of people that'll be coming with all of these groups working together. It's really creating a movement for some of these very fundamental issues that we have to address.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell us about some of the varied organizations and types of groups that are involved in the coalition that's put Democracy Awakening together.

MARGRETE STRAND RANGNES: It's anything from big unions like the AFL-CIO and the SEIU, to smaller groups. Jim Hightower is going be there, Friends of the Sierra Club. We have Southern Illinois People for Progress. I'm just looking at the website. There's a really great mix – the NAACP, Common Cause, Public Citizen. It's a big mix of both small and large, national and local, from every kind of issue area that you can sort of imagine that's coming together, and it's all listed on our website.

Part of what's exciting you know is that these are all groups that don't necessarily work on these issues as their core issue. You know, if you were in the Sierra Club you wake up in the morning and you want to address climate change. But now they're not able to really do that, and I think that the fact that large organization are starting to see that we also need to work on money in politics, you also need to work on voting rights if we're going to have an impact on climate. That's what you see reflected in these 270 groups that are participating.

BETWEEN THE LINES: As you look at electoral politics in this country, and how change is made in our own history and history around the world – it seems pretty clear that movements make change and elections rarely make change. That's my view anyway. What's your perspective on building a movement and its importance to make the changes that our elections often aren't capable of doing?

MARGRETE STRAND RANGNES: I completely agree with you and part of what I think is exciting about people coming together in Washington this weekend is not that there is a protest in D.C. What I think is exciting is that it is actually genuinely building on a movement that had been growing around the country for years. This is one of the ground (unintelligible) that are building your coalition, you're getting more and more people engaged, you're creating that nationally, you're take it out around the country. People on the ground are moving things forward and that does lead to change.

For more information, visit Democracy Awakening at democracyawakening.org on Facebook facebook.com/Democracy-Awakening-957368101008769/ and democracyspring.org/ and on Facebook at facebook.com/democracyspring/ and Twitter at #DemocracySpring; 99rise.org.

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