Protesters with California March for Democracy walk down Robinson Street on May 23 as part of a 37-day, 470 mile march to Sacramento. Tehachapi is one many stops for the group, which is trying to raise awareness and demand change about big money in politics. Jack Barnwell/Tehachapi News
Kai Newkirk (center) speaks about the need for reform in campaign finance law and the need to reign in big spending in politics during a demonstration outside of Tehachapi City Hall on May 23. Newkirk is one of the organizers for California March for Democracy, a group heading to Sacramento to raise awareness about big money in politics. Jack Barnwell/Tehachapi News
Tehachapi resident Christopher Zehnder speaks with Mike Bievenouer, one of the protesters with California March for Democracy during a demonstration outside of Tehachapi City Hall on May 23. California March for Democracy, organized by 99Rise, is heading to Sacramento to raise awareness about big money in politics. Jack Barnwell/Tehachapi News
A dozen protesters marched through Tehachapi on May 23, rallying against big money and corruption in government on a 37-day journey to Sacramento.
California March for Democracy, coordinated by 99rise, began its trip from Los Angeles on May 17, and stopped over at Tehachapi City Hall with the intent to engage in conversation about what is seen as systemic corruption in government.
One local supporter greeted them, other than reporters from two newspapers. Tehachapi City Hall is closed on Fridays.
Kai Newkirk, one the march's organizers, said his group's goals is to bring attention to the money in politics.
“We have to address the corruption in a democracy that is not dependent on the government but instead a tiny slice of the wealthy,” Newkirk said.
According to Newkirk, constitutional reform is needed to address the rulings of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions — Citizens United vs. FEC and McCutcheon vs. FEC.
“We're marching this distance to make a sacrifice and show the urgency of this fight,” Newkirk said.
The ruling of the Citizens United vs. FEC case ruled that big corporations could essentially fall under the same rules as individuals when it came to campaign donations.
McCutcheon vs. FEC removed a cap on how much an individual could donate in any election. While contributions to individual candidates remain capped, a wealth individual could feasibly make contributions to numerous candidates without hitting a limit.
“We're leading this California effort to demand the leaders of our state acknowledge publicly that the system is corrupt, it is a crisis and is not working as a democracy, and that they take immediate action to end it,” Newkirk said.
Newkirk said that 99rise is calling for the adoption of a resolution that would help big money get out politics for good. A second demand is the passage of Senate Bill 1272, which would require the state Secretary of State to place on the Nov. 4 election ballot a question “an advisory question asking whether the Congress of the United States should propose, and the California Legislature should ratify, an amendment or amendments,” to overturn the Citizens United ruling, according to the proposed bill's language.
Newkirk said the third demand is the passage of Senate Bill 27, which would beef up campaign finance disclosure in state elections.
He said the type of corruption the small group is trying to make people aware of is “perfectly legal corruption.”
“It is a system creating a dependency not only on the voters and the people but on a small group of funders,” Newkirk said. “You can't win and can't be elected almost universally first without them (big money) funding you and thus being dependent on them.”
Lucas Lillieholm, one of the marchers and former associate producer at Al Jazeera Media Network, echoed Newkirk's comments.
The group's path takes them through Stallion Springs on May 24, and from there on to Comanche Point Road toward Arvin and Bakersfield.
“I think at this point with the Supreme Court saying speech and money are equivalent, that basically means a lot of people have a lot more speech in the process, and I don't think that's fair,” Lillieholm said. “With the way it is structured now where politicians raise money, it's essentially a form of legalized bribery, because you know if you do favors with these businesses, you can get a cushy job as a lobbyist afterward.”
Christopher Zehnder, the lone Tehachapi resident to come out to meet the group, said he thinks that at least on the surface the cause the group is marching for makes sense.
“It certainly is true that money has influence in politics and this is something that has been going on for some time,” Zehnder said. “Citizens need to stand up and demand something be done, or otherwise nothing will be done.”