My Democracy Spring–a report from a Tikkunista at the D.C. Demonstrations for Money Out of Politics
My Democracy Spring
by Michael Kramer, a member of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls
I arrived at the required preparatory meeting (for people intending to risk arrest) a few minutes early, and there was a group of about 30 people on the street waiting for the doors to open. Many had participated in the march from Philadelphia with a crowd that, reportedly, started at about 150. The crowd had grown and shrunk along the way, swelling to about 250 on the last day. There was great praise for the logistics: sometimes there was enough money to put everyone up at a motel, other times on church floors. The food was far better than expected – at least as good as at home.
Marchers were joined by hundreds of others who arrived to participate in the protests at the Capitol this week, and the time of action at the Capitol would start the next day. Chatting with people waiting to enter the preparatory meeting, I met some from Washington (state), North Carolina, Michigan, New York, California, and Florida, converging here to be arrested for the sake of promoting a change from the existing plutocracy to the representative democracy that our constitution defines. I’d be surprised if any state was not represented. The attendance at this meeting was over capacity, so after about the first ~200, people had to be turned away for another meeting that was hastily set up. Other meetings would run twice daily for those who arrived later in the week. Presentations, discussions, and activities covered the history and effectiveness of civil disobedience, body language and tactics for dealing with the police, the legal implications and consequences of the coming action, and connection with each other, sharing why we had (individually) come. I was choking back tears a lot of the time, just over the inspiration of seeing so many who care about the miserable state of affairs in which we find ourselves – that big money donors have continued to increase their power in government at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. Bribery of our representatives has been legalized and given pretty names. Lobbyist. Contribution. And individual, caring citizens had come together to do something, when doing nothing about it has become personally intolerable.
That night, I prepared my sign, “DISGUSTED INTO ACTION”, got a little sleep, and, at11AM, joined hundreds of other protestors getting ready to march to the Capitol building. We heard from several inspiring speakers who stoked our hope, pride, and sense of purpose, as the crowd swelled to about a thousand. And then we took over the street, marching toward the Capitol steps. I was asked, by an observer on the sidewalk, whom we were supporting, so I stopped to explain what we were about. The idea – that money has undue influence in legislation – is nearly always met with understanding and agreement. (I think I recruited my waitress at breakfast that morning to join the protest.) We arrived, sat down, continued our chants and songs, and were advised that we had received our final warning from the police. Those not wishing to “risk arrest” backed off toward the sidewalk, as over 400 of us remained. We continued our chants and positive demeanor as busload after busload of us were taken away. The police had started out individually escorting protestors to be cuffed, frisked, and taken to a bus, but after awhile, as they saw how peaceful and cooperative we were, they would just approach the crowd and say, “OK, we need ten more,” and people would stand up and present their wrists. It was announced that we were the largest mass arrest ever at the US Capitol. Yet, where were the corporate media? This action was not in their interest. But I just saw Jim Hightower’s email about it. His organization, along with 120 others (including Network of Spiritual Progressives) are endorsers. Democracy Now covered the story on Tuesday.
This went on from about 1 to 3PM, until Lieutenant Leonard advised us that we could sit there awhile longer since there was no more room for us at the two precincts where we were being taken. Arrests resumed after about 45 minutes. We were taken by a bus that would have seemed extremely comfortable if not for the fact that our hands were bound behind our backs. After a 10 minute drive, we were let off into an improvised corral outside a police station. As space became available, we were led in and processed. They just took some information and IDs – no fingerprinting, no jail cells. I told the officer, “this is my first time; be gentle with me” and he laughed. Then, after about 5 hours of processing time, they let people go with a citation to appear at the central station and pay $50. During this wait, it was pretty uncomfortable wearing the zip ties around my wrists. The police accommodated requests to have them replaced with looser ones if tightness was a complaint, and to put them on with hands in front if shoulders were hurting, which I finally asked for. All those hours of waiting – I got out at 9:30PM - became trying for many, according to the remarks going around the room (I counted 200 people seated and about another 20 standing). In spite of my hunger, I felt a lot of patience, having become a soldier in a great, peaceful army fighting on behalf of the 99.9%. When I finally stepped out onto the street, I was greeted by about 15 supporters, high-fiving me and thanking me for taking this stand. They had food and drink, and led us to bathrooms nearby. What a bunch of mensches – all of us there.