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Renaldo Pearson, in baseball cap, and other Represent Us protesters at the Capitol.

Long walk, minimal footprint for one democracy reform protester

If a man walks hundreds of miles so he can stage a photogenic protest on the Capitol steps, then disappears into a crowd of other demonstrators without saying a word on camera, does he actually accomplish his goal?

Renaldo Pearson insists the answer is a qualified yes.

Supported by RepresentUs, which bills itself as the nation's biggest grassroots group pushing for fairer elections and less money in politics, Pearson really did walk almost 700 miles from Atlanta to Washington. And he did so in just 47 days, which may have done more to complicate his cause than to help it.

The 31-year-old activist decided to hustle into the capital three days faster than planned once he learned that big protests were planned last weekend against President Trump and in favor of government action to combat climate change. Since he views fixing democracy as a prerequisite to attaining other progressive goals, Pearson decided to join them.

"Where there is alignment, there should also be alliance," Pearson said. "It does not benefit the movement to work in silos."

But by arriving on Capitol Hill on a Saturday, instead of the planned-for Tuesday when Congress was in session and plenty of political reporters were on hand, Pearson missed the opportunity for a larger impact. Pearson's finale at the Capitol got almost entirely lost in the cacophony. A few people snapped photographs, he says he and eight others were arrested for protesting on the Capitol steps, but otherwise few people noticed. (This reporter was unsuccessful in looking for him for more than an hour.)

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His original plans — staging a sort-of hunger strike at the Capitol until his demands were met — never got off the ground.

Pointing to several disparate and minor bouts of attention for his cause in the following days, however, Pearson maintains he's not disappointed or deterred.

"New efforts are being powered by what just happened," he said. "Now we just take that momentum and take it home."

His demands included Senate passage of bipartisan democracy reform legislation, similar to the sweeping bill dubbed HR 1 passed by the House in March, and a promise from all presidential candidates to prioritize democracy reform at the outset of their time in the White House.

Needless to say, these lofty goals have not been met.

Instead, Pearson points to McConnell changing his position to support more spending on election security as a small victory for RepresentUs. In actuality, much more visible pressure on McConnell came from prominent conservative groups and senators in his own caucus.

Slight progress was made with the presidential candidates, though. Of the 19 Democrats running for president, nine have signed RepresentUs' pledge to put democracy reform first. No Republican or third-party candidate has done so.

Although he fell short of his goals, Pearson isn't discouraged because he always intended to be overly ambitious in this effort.

"If I had never aimed that high, we would have never made it this far," he said.

During his walk to D.C., Pearson was often stopped by friendly drivers who offered rides, which he politely declined. "When I told people why I was walking, they got it," Pearson said. "Overall, it was quite the journey."

Correction: An earlier version wrongly stated that all nine arrests were of people affiliated with RepresentUs.

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