In this era of heightened partisanship and congressional inaction, citizens are taking action by standing up for what’s right. Renaldo Pearson, 2019 National Citizen Leadership Conference Citizen Leader Award winner and director of external affairs at RepresentUs, took it one step further by walking for what’s right.
Pearson organized a protest last month to demand an end to political corruption, leading the nearly 700-mile Democracy911 walk from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. This demonstration culminated on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, with protesters calling for an end to political corruption.
The Democracy911 platform included demands that “all presidential candidates pledge to address comprehensive democracy reform in the first 100 days of their administration” so that “the U.S. Senate passes a bipartisan alternative to HR 1 (the For the People Act) implementing three reforms: protect our right to vote, make elections secure and competitive, and end political corruption (including campaign finance reform).”
Pearson says the myriad threats to democracy can’t be addressed until we fix the most fundamental one: big money in politics. The unbridled flow of money into the political system affects voters on both sides of the aisle, ushering in corruption, gerrymandering and lack of transparency. But alongside the growing grassroots movement for the 28th Amendment to get big money out of politics, more citizen leaders like Pearson—a D.C. native and alumni of Morehouse College, the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—are rising up to reclaim their voice in democracy.
In this Q&A, Pearson shares his insights on activism and the importance of the Democracy911 walk.
Why do you care about the issue of political corruption? Why do you feel it’s so critical to address this issue at this time considering all the issues our nation faces?
I care about the issue of political corruption because it’s the single most intersectional issue of our time. Across the gamut of public interest, wherever there is obstruction preventing a highly supported policy or solution from addressing a major problem facing the public, corruption is the culprit—be it voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, or the corrupting influence of big money in politics. Even now, as we face unprecedented existential emergencies—like the new normal of more mass shootings than days in a year, or the new deadline of less than 11 years before it’s game over on global warming—it’s corruption that prevents us from even addressing these life-threatening phenomena.
Why did you choose to walk as a form of civic activism?
Gandhi walked; Rosa Parks sat and the black Montgomery community responded by walking instead of taking the bus; Otis Moss Sr. walked; James Meredith walked; and so did Granny D Haddock (all long distances). I thought it was important to declare a state of emergency on our broken and corrupt democracy, but I’m only one man. So, to have maximum impact, I thought it was important to use this form of escalating nonviolent direct action to continuously sound the alarm over 7 weeks so that this message could have the greatest chance of sticking and reverberating—while also taking solace in symbolically tracing the footsteps of these great forebears.
You started on the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and in the final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What historical context did you see for this walk and how is that context relevant today?
I thought it was important to start on the anniversary (54th) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (at the King Memorial Tomb) because not enough attention has been paid to the fact that the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013 [Shelby County v. Holder], making our generation the first to witness America become LESS democratic. In the wake of this decision, we’ve seen hundreds of polling places close en masse, and unprecedented millions purged from the rolls. I thought it was important to send a message to news pundits and presidential candidates that when they continue to debate about 2016 and 2020 outcomes without mentioning these actions, they do so at the risk of dismissing—if not disrespecting—the blood-drenched sacrifice of the Civil Rights Movement. My grandparents did not sacrifice their lives for the right to vote just to see the votes of their children and grandchildren purged (or gerrymandered and hacked) a generation later.
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