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Ciera Pennington: Every voice should be heard

By By Ciera Pennington

Our democracy is premised on the fundamental tenet, “one person, one vote.” But we still must fight to ensure that every voice is heard and every vote counted.

Barriers that shut Americans out of the political process — including restrictive voting laws and a campaign finance landscape that lets big money shape elections — prevent us from effecting change on key fronts, from climate change to health care and immigration reform.

Our main goal at West Virginia Citizen Action Group is to increase the voice of the average citizen in public affairs. American voters want to be heard. Voters, especially West Virginia voters, have developed a strong sense of apathy, though, in a large part because many politicians seem to work for special-interest groups and big money, not the people. Thus, Congress, beholden to moneyed special interests, continues to fail we the people. And voters continue to feel their voice become smaller and smaller.

It is time to amplify our voice and take our democracy back.

That’s why WV CAG is going to Washington April 16-18 for a mass convergence on the nation’s capital called Democracy Awakening. This event reflects an unprecedented movement to demand a democracy that works for all Americans, one in which everyone has an equal voice and elected officials are accountable to the people, not just corporate interests or the wealthy.

Democracy Awakening will feature three days of demonstrations, teach-ins, direct action, music, a rally and citizen advocacy for a “Congress of Conscience.” We will encourage our representatives to champion critical reform measures on voting rights and money in politics, and we will demand the U.S. Senate follow the Constitution with a fair process and up-or-down vote to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

More than 170 groups representing a diverse array of issues are organizing Democracy Awakening. Lead organizations include the American Postal Workers Union, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Democracy Initiative, Every Voice Center, Food & Water Watch, Franciscan Action Network, Greenpeace, NAACP, National Nurses United, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Student Debt Crisis and U.S. PIRG.

We are mobilizing because recently adopted measures in nearly two dozen states impose draconian voter identification requirements, limitations on voter registration and cutbacks on early voting, facilitated in many cases by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision which invalidated part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and denied millions of Americans the right to vote.

We are mobilizing because after the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United, mega-corporations and the rich are pouring eye-popping sums into elections. These kingmakers get an outsized voice in who runs for office, who wins and what policymakers do.

And we are mobilizing because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has created a constitutional crisis with his unprecedented assertion that Senate Republicans will block consideration of the president’s nominee for Supreme Court. Such obstructionism has virtually shut down the legislative branch of our government. It shouldn’t shut down our judicial branch too.

The goal, then, of Democracy Awakening is to protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of the vote, and get out the vote. That means fixing a badly broken Voting Rights Act by passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act. It means prodding Congress to empower small donors. It means passing a constitutional amendment to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and get unlimited billionaire money out of politics. It means having a complete and fully functioning Supreme Court.

We must have fundamental reform that makes our democracy work and enables us to tackle our great challenges together.

Check out democracyawakening.org for more details and a full agenda of the weekend’s events.

Pennington is field director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group. You can reach her at ciera@wvcag.org.

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