It’s not just the cherry blossoms busting out across Washington, D.C., but protests of all varieties.
In April alone, large contingents of activists campaigning around a broad range of local and global issues — immigration, corruption, spying, the environment, economic inequality and militarism — will march, sing, craft, petition, lobby, fast, sit, camp and ride horseback into the city.
As the snow melts in our collective memory, creative acts of resistance are taking hold on the wet ground of Washington. Here’s a look at five of them.
1. Act. Fast.
In the first week of April, more than a hundred women spent 48 hours in the nation’s capital at the close of a month-long national fast to end deportations and compel the administration to take action on fair immigration. Following the nationwide April 5 day of action against deportations, We Belong Together co-sponsored Act. Fast. to highlight the stories of women and children who are disproportionately burdened by our broken immigration system.
As with any fast, the women were faced with daunting questions about how to make this tactic relevant, not only as a personal statement and spiritual commitment, but also as an effective political action. Fasts and their political cousin, the hunger strike, speak most eloquently within a cultural context that acknowledges the power of fasting. That context has been commonly limited to religious communities and specific cultures that are not prevalent in the United States. This creates significant challenges for those wanting to use fasting effectively.
The women decided to boldly go public with their own personal commitment and willingness to risk. In this case, they multiplied their impact by fasting on the National Mall. They engaged passers-by by making the space welcoming and as open as possible. They set up the Courage Cafe — complete with “courage menus,” checkered table cloths and potted flowers. Sofas were also brought in to stage a comfortable living room space conducive for “courage conversations” about how ordinary people are urging Congress and the Obama administration to have the courage to take action now. Tables were also dedicated to sowing — and sewing — personal messages onto heart-shaped cloth and paper as “food” for courageous action that were delivered en masse to Congress members.
2. NSA: Stop spying on us
The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to move a bill within the next month that, like its Senate counterpart, would essentially legalize mass surveillance. At the same time, the USA FREEDOM Act, which would make some changes to current NSA spying in favor of privacy, is languishing in the House Judiciary Committee. To influence its chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, to stop dragging his feet on moving the bill out of committee, a coalition of national groups called for constituents to take action on April 10 around the country.
In Washington, two-foot by three-foot LED lit letters spelling “#STOP SPYING” were deployed by The People’s Campaign for the Constitution in the early evening in front of the White House. Harnessing these Light Brigade tactics to illuminate the dark unconstitutionality of the national spying apparatus is a logical response.
3. Representation Day
With the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the McCutcheon case, now unceremoniously referred to as Citizen’s United 2, it has become ever more clear that policy decisions are increasingly being made by whomever can write the biggest campaign check, or bribe. For a small number of folks, that is great news. For the rest of us, who can’t afford to buy access, it’s akin to taxation without representation.
Enter a band of outraged citizens, determined to continue the revolt and seek a government of, by and for the people. There is no better day to make this point than on Tax Day, April 15, when it’s often painfully clear to the masses that the taxes they pay are not delivering the representation they deserve. Represent.Us has called for a national day of action, which they have dubbed Representation Day, to fight corruption and remind our elected officials that they should represent us, not the fat cats and lobbyists.
Washington will be the site of one of many dispersed national actions that include light brigades, theater, faux newspapers, stamping messages on money, banner drops and three-ring anti-corruption circuses. The main goal of these unique local actions is to spread the word that an anti-corruption campaign is alive and growing across the United States.
4. Cowboys and indians
It’s not what you are thinking: Dozens of tribes, farmers and ranchers who live close to the land, and consider themselves stewards of the earth and its waters, have come together to create the Cowboy Indian Alliance. This alternative CIA has dedicated itself to fighting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline intended to transport tar sands oil from the Alberta oil fields to the Gulf of Mexico. Although tar sands are toxic to all life forms, indigenous communities — and others living on the path of the pipeline or in the shadow of the sites where it is mined and processed — are effected disproportionately. Embracing their connection to the earth has enabled this alliance to build power together.
The CIA will ride into Washington on April 22 on horseback, and then set up traditional tipis on the National Mall. American Indian tribes will conduct daily cultural and prayer ceremonies throughout the five-day encampment, with a focus on building support for the frontline communities facing the pipeline’s construction, as well as outreach and education aimed at getting the message of “reject and protect” through to President Obama. There will even be a prayer circle at Secretary of State John Kerry’s home in Georgetown. On April 26, as part of a mass march, a tipi ceremonially decorated with thumbprints of supporters of the CIA will be delivered to the White House. There is still time to make your voice heard and join the mass march calling on Obama to “reject the Keystone XL pipeline” and “protect our land, water and climate.”
5. The battle for the capitol
Also at the end of the month, Washington will be the backdrop for a joint conference by National People’s Action and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Both NPA and NDWA are fierce campaigning organizations that embrace the use of direct action tactics to advance a national economic and racial justice agenda that can reclaim our democracy and strengthen communities across the country.
When Congress returns from its recess on April 28, the Battle for the Capitol will be waged by fat cat corporate lobbyists in their most puppet-like form, a 10-foot Capitol Dome standing in for Congress, and real live people who are mad as hell for having to shoulder the burden of corporate profits. As corporate lobbyists swarm into Washington to push special interest policies at the expense of workers, they will fight back — and call on Congress to side with everyday Americans and address economic inequality.
As these five actions suggest, spring of 2014 has come in with a bold roar of creative cultural activity, serving to advance many progressive campaigns.
As activists weary from war, campus killings, a tyrant in the White House and poverty at home started dropping out, Movement for a New Society built a model of sustainability.
As Congress considers requiring women to register for the draft, it’s time we remember the movements that fought to abolish conscription and learn from their victories.
The push toward corporate profits over people’s needs is already happening, but it doesn’t have to go that way if movements start planning big.