After reaching Merced on Wednesday, activists marching from Los Angeles to Sacramento to oppose “big money corruption” in political campaigns are scheduled to arrive in Turlock on Friday and then walk into Modesto on Saturday.
About two dozen marchers held signs and waved flags as part of the “480-mile March for Democracy,” a trek organized by 99Rise, a group “sick of seeing (American) democracy serve only the interests of the 1 percent,” according to its website.
Marchers oppose recent Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United v FEC that removed limits on campaign donations. “It made the problem of money in politics much, much worse,” said Kai Newkirk, co-founder of 99Rise.
Allowing corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money gives them an uneven say in politics, he said, and flies in the face of the principal “one person, one vote.”
Newkirk, a 33-year-old from Los Angeles, said marchers walked about 20 miles Wednesday after a stop in Chowchilla.
About 20 people are making the entire march, with an average of 15 on the street at any one time and the rest working the phones in the accompanying RV, said Erika Sukstorf of 99Rise. “Kai is the only one whose foot is touching every step of the march,” she said. “He doesn’t ride any stretch of the march.”
The core marchers usually are joined by local supporters as they trek north, Newkirk said. The march has also had notable participants like political activist Lawrence Lessig and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta.
Bill Rudd of Merced met the marchers in the park. He said his grandson is one of the trekkers who set off from Los Angeles, and he supports the cause. “We don’t need lobbyists controlling politicians,” the 79-year-old said.
Luis Avelar, 70, of Atwater also showed his support for the marchers. A member of the Merced Organizing Project, he said it’s important for grass-roots efforts of like-minded people to come together.
He said the money tied up in politics should concern everyone. “We depend on politicians to work together with us to better the health of the community,” he said in Spanish.
Newkirk said the marchers want to enact a three-part plan to add an amendment to the Constitution.
The March for Democracy should arrive at Turlock’s Central Park on South Golden State Boulevard at about 2 p.m. Friday, Sukstorf said. There’s no scheduled program at the park, she said, but if there’s any gathering of non-marchers there, Newkirk will speak. “It makes a big difference to us if there are greeters,” Sukstorf said. “We’re very interested in sharing the mission of the march and encouraging people to join” in any portion of it.
After spending the night with supporters in Turlock, the group with gather back at Central Park at 6:30 a.m. Saturday and “put feet to pavement at 7” to head to Modesto, Sukstorf said.
Bill Anelli, a Modesto Junior College philosophy instructor, plans to join the marchers and local supporters at about 2 p.m. Saturday for a rally in the Mancini Bowl area of Graceada Park, then have a group at his home for pizza and discussion. “My understanding is they want to start a conversation about big money and politics,” Anelli said. “They’re really trying to be inclusive of multiple perspectives. ... I know they reached out to both the Republican Club and Democratic Club at MJC.”
He said he wants the discussion at his home to reflect the same inclusiveness. “I’m open to people who are skeptical, have doubts.”
Anelli didn’t have a good feel for how many local people may be joining the core group for the walks into or out of Modesto. “There might be anywhere from 50 to 100 at Graceada, no one really knows.” Different groups with a range of political perspectives – North Valley Labor Federation and Common Cause among them – are expected to be represented, he said.
From Modesto, the march will include stops in Manteca, Stockton, Lodi, Galt and Elk Grove. The route is given at www.marchfordemocracy.org.
The marchers plan to end the walk in Sacramento on June 22. Newkirk said they hope to be met by elected officials when they reach the Capitol, and are prepared to conduct a sit-in if they are ignored.
For more on 99Rise, see www.99rise.org.