On December 3, just two days before Occupy L.A. was evicted by police, the General Assembly of the occupation passed a unanimous resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood.
Today, the City Council of Los Angeles also voted, also unanimously, for a resolution making the same appeal.
So what’s this issue that's uniting occupiers and the city they’re occupying? Corporate personhood is the legal concept that underpins rulings like the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v the Federal Election Commission; it means that corporations are considered people under the law, with the constitutional right of free speech. Since the courts have also defined money as constitutionally protected speech, the upshot is that corporations are empowered to spend unlimited amounts of money trying to influence the political process.
In order to reverse Citizens United—and a long line of other rulings supporting corporate rights over human ones—the resolutions passed by Los Angeles and Occupy L.A. call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly stating that corporations are not people and money is not speech.
It’s little surprise that Occupy, a movement that wants our nation’s decisions to be made by the 99% instead of the 1%, supports a constitutional fix for the problem of corporate influence on politics. In its first official statement, the flagship occupation in New York’s Zuccotti Park declared, “no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.” The assembly included in a list of grievances the fact that corporations “have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.” Other Occupy sites have also called for constitutional checks on corporate power, and slogans calling for the end of corporate personhood and the overruling of Citizens United are common sights on protesters’ signs.
But when L.A. and Occupy L.A. are making the same unanimous demand, it’s clear that the desire to take on corporate power in politics is gaining traction.
Indeed, though Los Angeles is the largest city to date to join the call for a constitutional amendment taking on corporate personhood, it’s not the first. So far this year, voters in Boulder, Colo.; Missoula, Mont.; Madison, Wisc.; and Dane County, Wisc., have all passed ballot initiatives making the same appeal, with support ranging from 75 percent to 84 percent. Other cities, including Pittsburgh, Penn., have gone so far as to eliminate the rights of “personhood” for corporations seeking to perform certain activities within their borders.
“Local resolution campaigns are an opportunity for citizens to speak up and let it be known that we won’t accept the corporate takeover of our government,” said Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, a spokesperson for Move to Amend. The group was created in the wake of Citizens United to advocate for a constitutional amendment that would overrule the decision; a local chapter pressed for passage of the resolution by the L.A. City Council. Move to Amend hopes that 50 cities and towns will put the same resolution on ballots next November. “Our plan is to build a movement that will drive this issue into Congress from the grassroots,” said Sopoci-Belknap.
Approximately 100 people came to the L.A. council meeting to support the resolution, many of them reportedly members of Occupy L.A.
The Los Angeles Times reported only one dissenter: a man in a top hat, with fake money pouring out of the pockets of his suit, who said he had come to speak for the wealthy. He implored the council not to pass the resolution.
Brooke Jarvis wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Brooke Jarvis is YES! Magazine's web editor.