The Many Faces of Nonviolence
by Emily Mattioli
Surrounded by thousands of people, an activist named Renaldo Pearson stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang, “the only thing we did right was the day we started to fight.” One of the thousands was Tania Maduro. She had stepped out of her Connecticut home in April 2016 to take part in the largest American civil disobedience action of the 21st century. It was a march from Philadelphia to Washington D.C., followed by a weeklong protest led by Democracy Spring demanding the removal of big money from politics and the expansion and protection of voting rights.
99 Rise, one of Nonviolence International’s former partners, created Democracy Spring to address problems that are keeping democracy in the United States from thriving. As a grassroots social movement, it uses civil resistance demonstrations to bring attention to voter suppression and the outsized influence of big money in politics. Maduro joined this movement in 2016 after learning about the extent of the issue.
Very few bills get passed in Congress without some input from wealthy donors and their lobbyists. And politicians have good reason to listen. The Washington Post found that better-financed candidates win elections 91% of the time. Through demonstrations, marches, and advocacy, Democracy Spring brings the issue into the public view so that the people will demand greater regulation of money in politics.
Another obstacle that Democracy Spring addresses is voter suppression. While Maduro was initially motivated to end corporate corruption, she soon experienced the threat to voting rights first-hand. She lived out of state due to her work for Democracy Spring, but she went back to her home state of Connecticut to vote in the 2016 primaries. However, officials turned her away, saying that she was ineligible because she did not vote in the last election. Voters laws vary by state, but nearly all of them disproportionately make it harder for minority populations to vote.
The 2018 Midterm Election is one of the most recent displays of voter suppression. The Center for American Progress documented many barriers, from strict registration laws to administrative mistakes, that kept thousands of minority voters and college students from casting a ballot. Similar to Maduro’s experience, many Ohio citizens couldn’t vote because they had not made it to the polls for the previous two elections. These discrepancies, and many more, make voting more difficult for specific populations in the United States, creating unrepresentative election outcomes.
Maduro contends that one of the greatest challenges to rallying people behind these causes is that the discussion surrounding them is very academic, leaving many without the vocabulary or understanding on how to address the injustice. This is one of the reasons why nonviolent direct action is an important tool for the movement. NVDA is unique because it is accessible to everyone and will help the conversation to become more prevalent. Both big money in politics and voter suppression threaten American democracy. While partisan divisions may seem insurmountable, this is something that all Americans can come together on. Nonviolence International supports 99 Rise’s and Democracy Spring’s efforts to enforce a democracy where money does not corrupt and every citizen has an equal opportunity to vote.
Follow Tania Maduro on Facebook to keep up with the Pro-Democracy Movement.