This is why I am involved with March on Harrisburg.
March on Harrisburg is a grassroots nonpartisan group dedicated to healing our wounded democracy and repairing the relationship between we the people and our elected representatives. We have a solid plan underway to pass three crucial and important laws in Pennsylvania, but it is important to first understand the disease we are working to alleviate: The deep disease in our society rooted in the way we relate to one another.
Sometimes it is an eye disease, and we don’t see the faces in front of us, or in the words of Rabbi Heschel, “We see the generality of the race instead of the particularity of the face.” Add to racism: Homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, islamophobia, sexism, political tribalism, and any other encounter we have where we barely see the face of the other and, without any information but an assumed identity, register serious judgements. Sometimes it is an ear disease, and we refuse to listen and we refuse difficult new information. Sometimes we do not listen to our own sounds unless they first boomerang back to us from an algorithm or an echo chamber, or we forget how to even make sound in the overwhelming static of punditry and lies. Sometimes it is a nose disease, and we don’t trust ourselves when we smell something rotten, and we forget the commandment of Jon Stewart, “If you smell something, say something.” Sometimes it is a tongue disease, and we don’t believe that taste in our mouths, and we’ve forgotten how to express it. Sometimes, it is a touch disease, and we shy away from outstretched hands because we dare not touch a hot issue for fear of getting burned.
On a societal scale, this disease has done serious damage to our democracy. It has corroded the relationship between citizens and our public representatives. Democracy is based in a marriage between the people and the state, between the government and the governed, and that marriage is in trouble, and it is too often abusive. Democracy is based in strong public trust, and that trust has been violated. Exhibit A: Trust in our government’s ability to ‘do the right thing’ steadily fell from 77% in the early 1960’s to 19% in 2015. Exhibit B: Notice which thoughts you think when you hear the word ‘politics.’ Democracy is rooted in open and direct communication between we the people and our elected representatives, and that communication has become distorted and is too often meaningless. Public polling consistently shows majority support for policies ranging from dealing with climate change to ending mass incarceration to a public healthcare option for all to raising the minimum wage to (at the very least) taxing fracking profits in Pennsylvania. And yet, there is a consistent disconnect between the will of the people and the law of the land.
March on Harrisburg are the marriage counselors striking at the root of the lack of trust, the poor communication, and the sorry relationship between people and government. We are addressing deep corruptions in the relationship, viruses in our societal software, glitches that distort information and yield chaos.
March on Harrisburg is dedicated to fixing three corruptions: We are pushing three bills that would ban unlimited gifts to State Legislators, end gerrymandering, and create automatic voter registration.
It is currently completely legal to give a State Legislator a brand new car, expensive home repairs, vacations for the family, the best possible season tickets to anything and everything, and any material bribe except for cash (“cash gifts” were only recently and temporarily banned). In Harrisburg these bribes are called ‘gifts,’ and Senate Bill (SB) 132 and House Bill (HB) 39 would ban them. It is written in Deuteronomy 16, “Do not take a bribe, because a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.” Those who take bribes do not honestly hear and see information that conflicts with bribes, and righteous voices are not heard. Isaiah cries out (1:23), “Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves. They chase after bribes, the widow and the orphan’s case does not come before them.” When bribery is systemic and legal, politicians become addicted to expensive lifestyles, and they do not honestly see, hear, or communicate with those who most need them. Those who do not give or accept bribes are excluded from the decision making process. We do not have a seat at the table. As George Carlin said, “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it!”
In Pennsylvania, the State Legislature draws their own district boundaries in an absurd corruption called gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is partisan redistricting. Gerrymandering allows for politicians to choose their voters, instead of voters choosing their public servants. It is a weaponized method of political segregation (and the racial, ethnic, and class segregation tied to political affiliations). It creates geographically bizarre districts with single party monopolies, it rejects competitive elections, and it encourages hyper-partisanship and well-funded fringe candidates. Gerrymandering is the reason why Congress generally has an approval rating of under 10% and a re-election rate over 90%. Gerrymandering disconnects the governed and governing, because as Karl Rove noted in 2010, “Whoever controls redistricting controls Congress.” Congress should be the People’s House, so we are working to pass SB 22 which would take redistricting power away from the State Legislature in Harrisburg and place it with an independent non-partisan commission.
Our third bill, Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), would automatically register Pennsylvanians to vote anytime they interact with a state government agency (with consent given). If we had AVR nationwide for the 2016 election, there would have been 50 million more registered voters. AVR removes the barrier of registering to vote and encourages participation. It makes issues of voter ID’s and voter fraud irrelevant. The United States is alone in the world in not having AVR, and it is promising to see AVR under consideration in the majority of State Capitols. In Harrisburg, it is called HB 193, and we are supporting it so we can open up the main line of communication in our democracy, voting.
Our plan to ban gifts, end gerrymandering, and create automatic voter registration has three phases: 1) We are meeting with all 253 Pennsylvania State Representatives and State Senators to learn and influence their positions on our bills. We are approaching our elected officials with loving patience and compassionate listening, and we are learning that many in the State Capitol are aware and are concerned about these problems. 2) We are marching 105 miles from Philadelphia to Harrisburg from May 13th – May 21st. We will hold rallies and teach-ins along the way, and the community necessary to sustain the movement for democracy will organically organize as we walk and talk. 3) We are doing nonviolent civil disobedience at the State Capitol from May 22nd – May 25th. We will force a loving confrontation with our State Legislators and push our bills out of committee and to a vote.
In our meetings with legislators, March on Harrisburg is holding our public officials to high account. Groucho Marx once quipped that politics is from the Latin ‘poly,’ meaning ‘many,’ and ‘tics,’ meaning ‘little blood sucking creatures.’ We are challenging State Legislators to raise the honor and integrity of their profession from politics to public service. March on Harrisburg is a loving intervention to demand that Harrisburg does its part to repair the trust and the relationships that sustain our democracy.
Holiness emerges from open and honest communication and relationship. We believe that when stumbling blocks and barriers between We the People and our government are removed, beautiful relationships will emerge, and democracy will thrive. The American Pragmatist, John Dewey, wrote, “When the emotional force, the mystic force one might say, of communication, of the miracle of shared life and shared experience is spontaneously felt, the hardness and crudeness of contemporary life will be bathed in the light that never was on land or sea.” It’s time to generate some light. Sign up at www.marchonharrisburg.org