The Movement to Overturn Citizens United Takes Form

The Movement to Overturn Citizens United Takes Form

Activists rally for a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision on Friday, January 21, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Brendan Hoffman / Public Citizen)

As the 2012 elections heat up, Occupiers and activists across the country are embracing the growing public outrage over attack ads, super PACs and limitless corporate campaign spending. Now, with the help of reform groups, a national movement to challenge the corporate influence on American democracy could be coming to a courthouse, city hall or ballot box near you.

The action begins this weekend. About 150 protests and occupations are planned across the country on Friday and Saturday to mark the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission that unleashed a flood of corporate spending in recent elections.

The historic Citizens United case and subsequent lower court rulings opened the doors for corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums supporting or opposing political candidates, paving the way for nonprofit groups and so-called super PACs to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on influencing public debate.

On Friday, a national day of action dubbed Occupy the Courts will see 111 actions and occupations at courthouses from coast to coast, including the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Activists are also planning protests at corporate buildings on Saturday under the banner Occupy the Corporations.

The national days of protest are inspired by Occupy Wall Street (OWS), but spearheaded by a coalition of groups organizing a growing grassroots movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United.

Their local victories have already made headlines. City councils in Portland; New York City; Los Angeles;, Boulder, Colorado; and more than a dozen other cities have already passed resolutions opposing “corporate personhood” or calling on lawmakers to work toward overturning Citizens United. (Corporate personhood refers to corporations obtaining the same rights as individuals, such as free speech. Many say the Citizens United ruling has established corporate personhood, but click here for a new perspective from Truthout.)

Common Cause announced on Tuesday its own grassroots effort to place “voter instruction” ballot initiatives during the 2012 elections in all 50 states that would allow voters to ask their lawmakers to support a constitutional amendment.

Organizers from the amendment campaigns say they are hoping to feed off momentum the Occupy movement has already established on the ground.

“The protest momentum is part of this,” said Robert Reich, former US labor secretary and Common Cause chair. “I've personally spoken at a number of occupy rallies, and what I hear over and over again is that we've got to take back democracy and money coming from the increasingly concentrated income at the top is overwhelming our institutions.”

David Cobb, a spokesperson for Move to Amend, a coalition group organizing Occupy the Courts, said activists from local Occupies have been instrumental in organizing January 20 Occupy the Courts actions.

Occupiers are organizing their own actions as well. In San Francisco, OWS West has called for a mass occupation of the city's financial district on Friday to protest Citizens United, home foreclosures and corporate greed.

In New York, OWS suffered a setback last week when a permit to rally outside a US district court in Manhattan was denied. OWS appealed the decision, but has so far changed the location march and rally at Zuccotti Park, aka Liberty Plaza.