Tuesday, July 12, 2016

First Amendment on Trial: Our Democracy Spring

Contact: For Immediate Release
Pete Perry, 202-704-3963 July 12, 2016


Democracy Spring Activists Conclude Their First Amendment
Trial, Await Judgement


Washington, DC -- Four activists who took part in Democracy Spring’s week of peaceful protests at the Capitol Building calling for corporate money to be removed from the American political process are waiting a decision in their trial before D.C. Magistrate Judge Diane Lepley.

On Monday, the government prosecutor and the defendants concluded their closing arguments. Lepley scheduled the decision in the case for 9:00 a.m. Friday, July 15, in D.C. Superior Court, Room 116. Defendants Peter Perry of Philadelphia, Manijeh Saba of New Jersey, and Helen Schietinger of Washington, D.C. are defending themselves in court. Defendant Alexander Park of Virginia is being represented by Attorney Mark Goldstone.

The four activists participated in Democracy Spring’s week-long protests on Capitol Hill, resulting in more than 1,400 arrests. This included the largest single protest arrest on the Capitol grounds since the Vietnam War.

“We came to the Capitol Grounds to peacefully petition our government to ban vast amounts of unaccountable corporate dark money flooding our political process,” said pro-se defendant Perry in the defense’s closing argument. “Our intention was never to block or impede anyone, or incommode any entranceway, and we did not. Our intention, as we all testified, was to exercise our First Amendment rights.”

The defendants are being charged with Crowding, Blocking and Incommoding on the Capitol Grounds and Failure to Obey a Lawful Order.

“Too much power is being handed over to the police, we must defend our rights. These rights are enshrined in the Constitution, which I took an oath to protect and uphold when I was granted citizenship 40 years ago,” said pro-se defendant Saba. “I already lived through two dictatorships in Iran, and would not wish that on anyone else. I am committed to defending and protecting our democracy.”

In her opening statement, Schietinger asserted that "the rule prohibiting protests in this traditional public space is an unreasonable and arbitrary violation of our Constitutional right of free speech.” She compared the Democracy Spring sit-ins at the steps of the U.S. Capitol — the People’s House — to the June sit-in by members of Congress in the House of Representatives demanding a vote on gun control. "They actually stopped the business of Congress. They were not arrested. They should not have been arrested. But neither should we.”

Democracy Spring is an organization formed this year from a coalition of citizen groups deeply concerned about the influence of big money in American politics, and committed to making voting more accessible for all citizens. It plans to participate in the protests during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25-29.

Democracy Spring’s current campaign is the Equal Voice for All Declaration, which calls on current members of Congress and candidates for public office at any level of government — from President to City Council — to commit to fight for reform to save our democracy and ensure political equality. The Declaration is a tool to establish public commitments from elected officials or candidates that can be used to demonstrate the breadth of support for reform, educate voters about what candidates to support, and hold candidates-elect accountable to honor their commitment by fighting to pass reform.

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