Democracy Awakening (DA) describes itself as “a broad coalition of organizations representing the labor, peace, environmental, student, racial justice, civil rights, and money-in-politics reform movements.” The coalition was officially launched during the weekend of April 15-17, 2016, when it joined its “sister mobilization,” Democracy Spring, in sponsoring a number of workshops and protest rallies outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Among the guest speakers at these events were such notables as anti-capitalist Medea Benjamin, Institute for Policy Studies Fellow Phyllis Bennis, Democratic Congressman Raúl Grijalva, labor activist Dolores Huerta, and film actress Kathleen Turner.
Foremost among DA’s concerns is its claim that “the right to vote, the right to be heard in our elections, and the right to bargain for better treatment in the workplace” are “all under attack in a concerted effort to increase political inequality by giving big donors and corporate interests more influence in our elections at the expense of everyone else.” The result of this state of affairs, says DA, is that “an elite group of wealthy Americans” has acquired “too much power.” To address the problem, DA calls for “releasing our political system from the chokehold of big money,” and thereby “not only returning the U.S. democracy to its rightful owners, the U.S. citizens,” but also “striking a blow to the military-industrial complex.” DA favors the implementation of small-dollar, citizen-funded elections where candidates are required to accept public money for their campaigns in exchange for a promise to limit how much they spend on any election and how much they receive in donations from any one source. Moreover, DA favors the repeal of Voter ID laws, which it regards as discriminatory schemes designed to disenfranchise nonwhite minorities. It also seeks to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which struck down a rule that barred corporations and labor unions from paying to produce and air campaign ads for congressional and presidential races.
Another DA priority is to permit the voters of Washington, DC to be represented in the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and the Electoral College. A failure to institute these changes, says DA, would render the city’s residents “a separate and unequal class, bearing all the burdens of citizenship but denied voting representation in the U.S. Congress and the rights of local self-governance.” Underlying this DA agenda item is the highly significant fact that it would serve to further empower the Democratic Party, given that the District of Columbia is composed overwhelmingly of registered Democrats.
DA also calls for sweeping criminal-justice reforms, on the premise that every facet of the justice system—e.g., the police, prosecutors, courts, and prisons—is infested with racism and discrimination against nonwhite minorities. By DA’s calculus, this discrimination is the principal reason why African Americans are incarcerated at disproportionately high rates when compared to other demographic groups. DA’s views on this matter are highly consistent with those of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Indeed, one of DA’s inaugural workshops in April 2016 featured a presentation by a BLM spokeswoman regarding alleged inequities in the justice system.
DA is strongly opposed to the agendas of the National Rifle Association (NRA), accusing that organization and “the powerful gun companies” of “resisting responsible [gun-control] legislation for the sake of profit—and thereby putting people in danger.” An April 2016 DA event in Washington featured a screening of Making a Killing: Guns, Greed and the NRA, produced by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films. According to DA, this film “tells the stories of how guns, and the billions made off of them, affect the lives of everyday Americans.”
Among DA’s nearly 300 member organizations are: 350.org, the AFL-CIO, the Agenda Project, American Family Voices, the American Federation of Teachers; the American Friends Service Committee, Artful Activist San Diego, Avaaz, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Brave New Films, Campaign for America’s Future, Code Pink, Common Cause, CREDO Action, the Daily Kos, Democracy 21, Democracy for America, Democracy Matters, Demos, the Earth Day Network, Friends of the Earth, Global Exchange, Greenpeace, the Institute for Policy Studies, Iraq Veterans Against the War, MoveOn.org Civic Action, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Occupy Wall Street, the Office of the Americas, Other98.org, Peace Action, People For the American Way, Project Vote, Public Citizen, the SEIU, the Sierra Club, Tikkun, USAction, U.S. PIRG, the United States Student Association, and United for Peace and Justice.