American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Civil Disobedience for Campaign Finance Reform
Randy Kehler, a long-time activist, organizer, and tax resister, lives with his wife Betsy Corner in Colrain, MA.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, October 26th, following a rally on the East Steps of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, nine of us, calling ourselves a "Democracy Brigade," walked into the Capitol Rotunda and unfurled a 30-foot black banner that read "Stop Crimes Against Democracy: End Campaign Finance Corruption Now." While three of us held the banner, others in the group conducted a spirited public reading of "A Citizens' Address to Congress." The address, penned by Ronnie Dugger, founder and co-chair of the Waltham (MA) based Alliance for Democracy, reads, in part:
"Here in the Capitol every day Congress is committing crimes against democracy. Bribery. Theft. Despoliation. Criminal neglect of the sick and dying. Congress is selling, and Congress is killing, the ideal that has been cherished for centuries by Western Civilization: democracy."
Other Brigade members, meanwhile, distributed to tourists and other onlookers inside the Rotunda a leaflet addressed to Congress which outlined what may be their most serious crime against democracy: "Taking money from corporations, industries, and other Big Money interests you are supposed to be regulating on our behalf."
"In 1997-98 alone," says the leaflet, "you and your parties took $9,900,000 from food processing corporations, $11,400,000 from defense corporations, $28,000,000 from oil, gas, and chemical companies, $31,200,000 from insurance corporations," ensuring that we will not have, among other things, a safe food supply, nuclear disarmament, clean air and water, or universal health care.
Both our leaflet and the Citizens' Address made clear what members of Congress must do: (1) pass reform legislation that includes full public financing of all federal elections, thus allowing candidates to finance their campaigns without being forced to commit these crimes; and (2) until such legislation is in place, excuse themselves from voting or deliberating on any legislation affecting the economic interests of their corporate-related campaign contributors.
Less than 10 minutes into our action, we were surrounded by a phalanx of Capitol Police, handcuffed, placed under arrest, whisked away to the station, and booked for violating District of Columbia Code 9, Section 112(b)7, which prohibits demonstrating at the US Capitol.
Brigade members included Chuck Collins from Boston-based United for a Fair Economy; Frances Crowe, long-time peace and justice activist and former field staff for Western Massachusetts AFSC; author and journalist Ronnie Dugger; Patricia Hamman, community activist from Ortanna, PA; Rev. Harry Kiely, retired pastor of the Dunbarton Methodist Church in DC; Steve Shafarman, activist, writer, and physical therapist from DC; Harold Stokes, community activist and retired science teacher; and M.A. Swedlund, Western Mass. organizer for Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections.
As far as we know, this was the first time nonviolent civil disobedience has been used to protest campaign finance corruption. However, three weeks later, civil disobedience for campaign finance reform made its second appearance. This time it was at the state level, where the same corrupt system prevails and attempts to clean it up often meet with equally fierce resistance from state politicians.
On Nov. 15th, 15 proponents of Massachusetts' Clean Elections (public financing) law, surrounded by 150 chanting supporters, staged a sit-in outside the entrance to Gov. Cellucci's office in the Statehouse, refusing to move until the Governor met with them. This action stemmed from a late-night attempt by the Legislature, five days earlier, to add a poison-pill rider to the state budget. The rider would have completely gutted a sweeping reform measure that had been passed overwhelmingly by Massachusetts voters in November of '98. Eventually, the governor agreed to meet, and a day later he vetoed the rider.
Taking up nonviolent civil disobedience in no way means abandoning all the other important work that's been steadily gaining momentum-the research, public education, legislative lobbying, ballot initiatives, and constitutional challenges to the current, money-based electoral process. Instead, it should be seen as a supplement to this work, one that is as essential to this country's emerging political reform movement as it was to the labor, women's, civil rights, and other historic social movements of our past.
Just as, in the mid-1980s, continuous weekly sit-ins at the South African Embassy in Washington, DC marked a turning point in the US government's behavior toward the pro-apartheid government of South Africa, so we can hope that an escalating wave of similar actions demanding publicly financed election campaigns will prove to be a watershed in the struggle for a more just, democratic, and people-controlled rather than corporate-controlled political system.