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Democracy Spring: why thousands of demonstrators protested in Washington, DC

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"Democracy is in crisis," Democracy Spring, a group that organized mass demonstrations in Washington, DC, over the past week, declared.

In the past week, thousands of demonstrators poured out onto Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, to make their voices heard on such hot-button issues as the influence of big money in politics, the influence of corporate lobbyists, and voting rights.

They wanted to break records. An unprecedented 900-plus peaceful protesters were arrested for unlawful demonstration in the seven-day event. At the start of the events, 3,500 people had pledged to be arrested.

"We will demand that Congress listen to the People and take immediate action to save our democracy. And we won't leave until they do — or until they send thousands of us to jail, along with the unmistakable message that our country needs a new Congress, one that that will end the legalized corruption of our democracy and ensure that every American has an equal voice in government," the Democracy Spring website said.

Among their ranks — and those arrested — were actress Rosario Dawson and ice cream entrepreneurs Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield from Ben & Jerry's. Democracy Spring is part of a larger coalition of groups including 99Rise and Democracy Matters.

Democracy Spring has four specific demands

The protests were meant to be an Occupy Wall Street 2.0, event organizer Kai Newkirk told Rolling Stone:

The demonstration is meant to highlight four bills already before Congress, Newkirk says, a departure from an Occupy culture often criticized for lack of focus and concrete goals.

Here are the four bills Democracy Spring protesters want Congress to pass:

1) They want to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision

Event organizers are calling for Congress to pass a constitutional amendment (H.J.Res.22) that would allow the legislature and states to "set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections."

The amendment would effectively overturn a 2010 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. FEC, which made it possible for large amounts of money to enter the electoral system. Vox's Andrew Prokop explains:

The results of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which made clear that outside spending on elections couldn't be capped, were predictable. Outside spending, which had already been trending upward before the decision, skyrocketed.

2) They want to restore protections against voter discrimination previously afforded under the Voting Rights Act

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — originally intended to get rid of laws, on both the state and local level, that made it difficult or impossible for African Americans to vote — making it harder for the federal government to enforce the act.

The Supreme Court gutted a section of this law in 2013, making it harder for the federal government to go after voter ID laws in the states. Jenée Desmond-Harris explained for Vox:

A 2013 Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. That made it tougher for the federal government to enforce the act, and cleared the way for another new wave of state and local voting restrictions. While none of the new laws — for example, photo identification requirements — explicitly discriminate against any group, civil rights advocates argue that they create hurdles that indirectly keep poor people, senior citizens, and people of color from voting.

However, while striking down the provision the Court called on Congress to update the bill to reflect more current forms of voter discrimination.

Democracy Spring is calling on Congress to pass a proposed update, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which is designed to reinstate protections against voter discrimination.

3) Democracy Spring wants to make the voting process more transparent overall

Voting can be confusing, so much so that it can sometimes disqualify people from participating in the democratic process. That's why Democracy Spring wants Congress to pass the Voter Empowerment Act, which would ensure voting information and registration is easily accessible.

The bill would amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 mandating states to make official public websites for online voter registration available. It would also push to promote voter registration, like same-day registration and voter registration for people under the age of 18.

4) They want to make sure anyone can run for office without the support of big money

Big money in the electoral process has been a hot-button issue in this campaign on both sides of the aisle. Democracy Spring wants Congress to pass a bill that "encourages and amplifies small-dollar contributions from everyday Americans by multiplying small-dollar donations with 6:1 or 9:1 public matching funds."

The Fair Elections Now Act would work to reduce big money's influence in political campaigns by creating a public financing system for Senate candidates that limit their fundraising to small donations.