How the Media Ignored Democracy Spring, One of the Most Important Movements of Our Time

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How the Media Ignored Democracy Spring, One of the Most Important Movements of Our Time

David Darby was soaking wet, his feet were covered in blisters, and as he leaned into the biting wind and rain coming in off the Atlantic, he wondered how many of the 136 miles he and his group of roughly 150 fellow Democracy Spring protesters had left on their walk from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to Washington, DC. The monotony of the journey and the pain in his feet were getting old, and his spirits—much like his boots—were dampened. Darby looked up and realized they must be reaching another county line, as their police escort was in the midst of changing as the group entered a new jurisdiction. That’s when Darby saw a familiar face climb out of the cruiser and smile warmly at the group—shocked, David recognized the officer as a fellow marcher, one who had been with group for roughly two days. The officer emerged from his cruiser, gave a warm nod of recognition and told his fellow marchers, “Don’t be so surprised! This affects us all, you know?”

Darby and the others eventually made it to D.C., where Democracy Spring joined with other advocacy groups for what became one of the largest acts of peaceful civil disobedience in our nation’s capital’s history. While Democracy Spring’s stated mission was bringing awareness to issues of voter suppression and campaign finance reform, the protesters were joined by advocates from a different group each day—those fighting for the rights of students, the elderly, the environment, racial justice, workers rights and more—and the wildly varying groups were able to come together so easily for a simple reason. Each cause has seen its progress stalled—or stopped—by the massive amounts of money being given to politicians in the form of campaign donations from the established powers that be.

Over the course of eight days in Washington, over 1,300 arrests were made— including 400 in one day, the largest amount in D.C.’s history—enough to completely overwhelm and briefly shut down the capital building. Among the arrested were actress Rosario Dawson, the founders of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig and Miss New Jersey Sameera Kahn. At one point Darby and others zipped tied themselves together in the lobby of the capital building, explaining they were there to peacefully protest and raise awareness about the influence of money in politics and our deeply corrupted system. It made for quite a scene, and the electric feeling in the air and overwhelmingly positive responses were exactly what the peaceful protesters had hoped for. Days after the protest 90 members of the House of Representatives would sign a letter demanding action on five bills that would directly affect exactly the sort of campaign finance and voter rights issues that brought about the protest.

The proceedings were journalistic gold, the kind of story any reporter—much less one at a 24-hour news channel—lives for. A peaceful, successful protest that saw conservatives and liberals joining together for the greater good and anarchists marching side-by-side with cops and church volunteers. The photos alone would be intriguing.

So what was the total coverage of the protest on MSNBC, the “most liberal” of the news networks? A whopping 29 seconds. Fox News? A mere 20. CNN, another “left leaning” outlet didn’t even bother to cover the protest. Not a single mention.

How did this happen? How did an inspiring story of the citizenry banding together and overcoming personal politics for the greater good come to be completely ignored by the mainstream media?

While I spoke with Darby on the phone the week after the protest, I couldn’t believe this story had slipped through the cracks—there was clearly a willful decision made to bury the story, and bury it deep. But all of the networks disregarding such a story? What was going on here? As I listened to David excitedly recount his story the reasons began to take shape: the Democracy Spring accomplished something our utterly corrupt and money drunk system will not—and cannot—abide, a united and informed citizenry.

Embarking on a 136-mile trek down the East Coast in mid April is bound to get draw attention. The freezing temperatures and the unforgiving rain, sleet and snow are sure to test all but the most adamant and passionate of protesters. As the group slowly made their way to D.C., an inspiring thing began to occur, and did so in state after state, city after city. People who stopped to ask what it was these maniacs were doing walking on the side of the road responded with admiration when they heard of the group’s mission. Some so much so that they joined the march—and not just tattooed anarchists and dreadlocked hippies either. Outspoken Republicans, Jesus-loving church ladies and the aforementioned police officers were moved to action by the sacrifices this band of socially conscious nomads were making.

Speaking with David I could hear a quake of prideful excitement in his voice whenever he spoke about the conservatives and cops who helped them along the way. Walking from Philly to D.C. is a hell of a trek, and every 10-15 miles or so the group would stop, shake hands with their police escorts and set up camp for the night, usually in a church. One evening at the start of the march when the group had swollen to 200, the marchers arrived in a town to find that three very different churches had coordinated on their own to make sure the Democracy Spring walkers had sufficient space to sleep and enough to eat. Everywhere they went, the marchers were greeted warmly—not an easy feat in today’s acrimonious political climate where both parties are not only at war with each other, but are experiencing an amount of internal strife not seen in a generation—or perhaps ever.

Maybe most remarkable (and encouraging) story of the protest’s affect is the behavior of the police officers along the route and in Washington. David told me that each and every time there was a peaceful “sit-in” that resulted in mass arrests, the police would make sure everyone was as comfortable as possible (the huge number of the detained resulted in long processing times), and would often offer words of encouragement and take the time to shake the hand of the protesters upon release. He spoke of how important it was to “move one of the pillars of influence”, to the side of the protesters, and it’s abundantly clear why. When considering the volatile climate of distrust between much of the citizenry and the police, it’s exciting and encouraging to hear of this sort of interaction.

Even the cops who weren’t on the scene seemed sympathetic to the cause: as Darby and a friend were driving in nearby Virginia one their way to a protest, they suddenly saw the telltale flashing lights in the rearview. When handing her ID to the officer, David’s friend informed the cop that she had been arrested the day before for peaceful civil disobedience, but would be of no trouble to him. When the officer asked the woman to step out of the car and follow him back to his cruiser, David’s heart sank, as past and very recent abuses of power by police ran through his mind. However, five short minutes later his friend was back and beaming while she explained that the officer simply wanted to thank her for everything she was doing, shake her hand and to send her on her way back to the protest without a speeding ticket.

So if this event clearly inspired those on ground, experiencing what was happening in real time, where was the coverage by the mainstream media? This is an actual news story, not a tale of Kardashian woe or reality television drama. These are the types of stories you dream about in journalism school. So where was everyone?

The answer is depressingly simple. The American media, by in large, has been bought and paid for and turned into an industry, a commodity, an asset to be traded amongst politicians and the smiling executives of massive media conglomerates who have rigged the game before most of the population even knew what was at stake.

The fox isn’t in the hen house—he owns it.

America is no longer a series of individual states with widely varying needs, wants and opinions—a characteristic that’s a significant part of what made the US such a unique and powerful country—not truly.

We have instead become a large grouping of faceless and boundary-less corporations who have far surpassed the power any state might possess, while operating wholly outside of regulation and retaining the rights on actual, breathing humans. It’s easy to guess what happens to the power of the individual under such a system—it disappears. This isn’t some crackpot liberal dystopian idea that may occur; this has already occurred—and with the Supreme Court’s despicable Citizens United decision in 2010, it has occurred not only with our government’s blessing, but with it’s full on endorsement.

We are all implicit in this in one way or another, and the only way for meaningful change to occur is through radical bipartisan efforts across the board with the greater good in mind—which is exactly why something like Democracy Spring received 29 seconds of coverage on MSNBC. It’s as simple as following the money: the supposedly liberal—these distinctions mean little to nothing when operating under an omnipotent corporation’s umbrella—media outlet is owned by News Corp, Rupert Murdoch’s publishing behemoth that is also one of the biggest sources of donations for American politicians of every stripe (they also own the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, NBC Universal and many other outlets).

The people pulling the (your) strings behind the scene are so confident in this sea change’s permanence that they’re not even hiding their avarice in secret meetings that occur behind closed conference room doors—they are openly stating it for the public record. The ones behind these choices are flat out telling the American people they think they’re too lazy and stupid to do anything about it. Take president and CEO of CBS Les Moonves’ recent statements at a Morgan Stanley media and tech conference in San Francisco:

“They’re (the presidential candidates) not even talking about issues. They’re throwing bombs at each other and I think the advertising reflects that. I’ve never seen anything like this and this is going to be a very good year for us… It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald, go ahead, keep going… Super PACs may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.”

It’s as if Moonves is a real life Jack Donaghy, but without Alec Baldwin’s charm and Tina Fey writing for him (he would probably be tickled at the comparison), and possibly without a soul. This goes beyond the idea of good ole American Capitalism and into the territory of blatant disregard for what’s best for the country—to say nothing of common decency or morality—and into behavior that is so corrupt it seems utterly devoid conscience. And this greedy bastard is saying it from a podium! He is preaching the green gospel of the almighty dollar from on high and laughing while doing so—because he and those of his ilk see no way they can possibly be stopped. And with an estimated 4.4 billion dollars in campaign money flooding the pockets of these media conglomerates this year alone—what’s a little joyously arrogant stomping of populace’s civil liberties?

This sort of systematic corruption cannot exist without two culpable sides working together, and these sort of money-as-moral-compass behaviors have become depressingly engrained in today’s political climate. These are not aberrations—this is the norm. These actions are in the American politician textbook now. Literally.

A slide from a 2012 Power Point presentation given to freshman by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that was obtained by The Huffington Post makes no bones about what’s important in a new member of Congress’ suggested ten-hour day. The committee recommends four hours of “Call Time” and another hour for “Strategic Outreach”. That’s over half of a Congressperson’s day spent allocating funds—every single day. Not “Fundraising Fridays” or “Money Raising Monday”—the suggestion is that 60% of one’s career in Congress should be spent hoarding money. The DCCC charitably suggests an hour for “Recharging”, which leaves a whopping four hours a day to be spent on the work for which they were supposedly elected. This is one of the first things these young politicians are told: collecting money is far and away more important than the issues your constituents hold dear.

Amazingly, none of these depressing truths seem to dampen David’s spirit, and as we talk he excitedly tells me how rare it is to have so many first time protesters be willing to risk arrest for a cause they just joined. He tells me of Democracy Spring’s dedication to training and informing new members on how they can most efficiently and successfully start their own actions. We talk about the movement’s plan to protest those who oppose campaign finance reform on their home turf, disrupting their press conferences and speeches to demand to know why they oppose reform. Listening to him it’s hard not be hopeful, and two things become abundantly clear as we end our conversation. We, the people, are our only chance to affect any sort of meaningful change—and if a change is indeed going to come, the revolution will most certainly not be televised.