Organizers from March on Harrisburg gave a talk on nonviolent action, protesting and social lobbying at the Unitarian Congregation of West Chester on Friday, Feb. 23 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Organized by Adam Eichman, Rachel Murphy, Kyle Moore and Rabbi Michael Pollack, the presenters outlined the political corruption issues in Pennsylvania while sharing their stories of social and political lobbying in Harrisburg to end corruption and gerrymandering. They also seek fair democracy and legislation. About 68 people attended the event, which provided refreshments and a PowerPoint presentation.
Adam Eichman is the co-author of the novel “Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning and Connection for the America We Want” with Francis Moore. Being heavily involved with March on Harrisburg, he began his activism as a freshman in college with a “progressive organization” on his campus. He’s attended Occupy Wall Street, a movement that sought to challenge wealth inequality and unfair wages, eventually becoming president of Democracy Matters, where he then began focusing his work on activism and political change. He describes the heavy role of corporations in politics in his section of the presentation, as well as the issue of states upholding discriminatory voting practices. However, he recognizes a rise in democracy over the past several years.
“It means that there’s something happening in our society,” he explained. “There’s been a change in how we think about democracy itself.” Afterward, he gave examples of states that have upheld democratic reform, such as the 1996 Maine ballot initiative, which pushed for public financing of elections. Maine now has the highest number of working class representatives of any other state.
Rabbi Michael Pollack then outlined the issue of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. In 2012, Pennsylvania was considered to be the “45th least democratic state in the union.” Its district and legislative maps, according to Pollack, are drawn to benefit those running for representative and congress, not to represent the constituents of Pennsylvania. These maps would determine which representatives are sent to Harrisburg to vote on decisions. March on Harrisburg has proposed an “independent, non-partisan citizen’s commission,” which would allow for citizens to draw the district and legislative maps, without the influence of politicians or lobbying groups.
Rachel Murphy went on to describe the issue surrounding “gifts” being given to legislators from donor lobbyist groups to influence bill signing and legislation. Murphy serves as the art director for March on Harrisburg. She is currently a student at Temple University, taking a break from classes to focus on “democracy work” with March on Harrisburg. She became involved after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and realizing she was “not being represented” in terms of healthcare. When asked how college students can become more involved, she encouraged young college students to “find what’s important to them” in terms of taking action and pushing for social and political change.
Murphy was told that legislators have been given everything from Beyoncé tickets to briefcases full of cash as a means of “appreciation” from donors for supporting them with certain laws and regulations. She says that there have been over $145,000 in “reported gifts” given just in Pennsylvania—but there could be many more than have gone unreported by legislators and donors.
“Constituents don’t have access to their own representatives,” she said, “when lawmakers are being influenced by large monetary bribes.” House Bill 39 is currently being introduced and lobbied by March on Harrisburg which Murphy describes as “common sense legislation on what legislators can accept” from their donors and lobbyists. It would limit monetary prizes to under $200.
The group went on to demonstrate what a social lobbying session looked like where March on Harrisburg representatives try to convince legislators to sign anti-corruption bills such as HB39. This outlined issues such as “rampant sexism in Harrisburg” and legislators oftentimes not listening to the constituent lobbyists. The group then took volunteers to demonstrate “civil disobedience and direct action,” in which they had volunteers practice civil disobedience when legislators did not want to negotiate with them any longer. The group then took questions from the audience on civil disobedience.
Wrapping up the program, Murphy outlined key issues Pennsylvania faces outside of gerrymandering and bribing. Issues such as racism, corrupt prison bail and an unfair school district divide were among many others mentioned. They explained the work of the Poor People’s Campaign, which Murphy described as “a campaign against supremacy.” The Poor People’s Campaign seeks to uplift the voices of poor and working-class citizens, and include them in political and social action.
Natalie Midiri was called to present afterwards, and gave a brief description of her work as a self-described healthcare activist. In the past, she worked to help people who were facing home foreclosure and failing credit scores, most of whom found themselves in the situations they were in due to health crises in their families.
“70 percent of Pennsylvanians report not going to the doctors,” she said, due to healthcare costs. They “put off preventative care until they got sicker and sicker,” and were soon unable to afford their healthcare bills. She described current healthcare costs as “unprecedented” to the rest of the world, emphasizing the issue of “big money” in healthcare today.
As a final send-off of the program, Pollack told a story about Moses and how he faced God at the burning bush, listening to the struggles of the poor and the enslaved and how he sought to lead them from their suffering. Pollack urged the audience to listen to the voices and make change in any way that they could.
For more information on March on Harrisburg, visit their website. For more information on the Poor People’s campaign, visit www.poorpeoplescampaign.org. March on Harrisburg can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter @EndPaCorruption.
Samantha Walsh is a third-year student majoring in special education and English with a minor in autism studies. ✉ SW850037@wcupa.edu.