On Friday, activists in more than 130 cities in 46 states across the country “occupied” their federal courts on the eve of the second anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The landmark US Supreme Court case upheld the notions that a corporation is a legal person, and that money (specifically in regard to campaign finance) is an expression of free speech. This means that the government cannot restrict spending or political “speech” by corporations or other outside groups that seek to influence the outcome of elections. In this presidential election cycle alone, political action committees (PACs) and Super PACs have spent over $25 million so far.
“These laws are drowning out the people without money,” said Greg Coleridge of Move to Amend Ohio, who helped organize protests in Cleveland and Akron. “There is no democracy when money talks.”
Move to Amend worked with Occupy groups across the country to organize the day of action. Move to Amend is a national coalition of people and organizations working to amend the US Constitution to explicitly state that a corporation is not a person with Constitutional rights and money is not equal to free speech.
At the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, several hundred demonstrators, holding signs that said such things as, “Constitutional rights are for people, not corporations” and, “Money is not speech,” were initially met with no police resistance as they advanced onto the Court’s steps, even though it is against the law to protest on Court grounds.
After about an hour, however, police arrested a dozen people, including one person arrested for unlawful entry for entering the courthouse.
Academic and activist Cornel West showed his support by speaking at the Occupy the Courts event in Gainesville, Florida. “We're tired of corporate greed – that's why we're here,” West said. “We're a movement and a movement has a vision, an alternative way of looking at the world.”
Employing skits, costumes, songs and street theater, groups used the events as an opportunity to educate the public about the implications of the Citizens United ruling, as well as the notion that a corporation has the same rights as a human being.
In New York City, the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a District Judge denied a permit for an Occupy the Courts action planned to be held outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse. Citing security reasons, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled that the space was not a public forum.
“This decision will only make our movement larger, stronger and better organized,” said David Cobb, spokesperson for Move to Amend. “This is a clear violation of our First Amendment rights, which is what this entire day of action is about.”
Instead of filing an emergency appeal, the Occupy Wall Street direct action organizers decided to relocate the action to their home base of Zuccotti Park and march to Foley Square.