Protesters Prepare to Occupy the Courts

Allison Kilkenny

Move To Amend, a coalition dedicated to ending the illegitimate legal doctrines that prevent the American people from governing [themselves],” is planning a one day occupation of federal courthouses Jan. 20 across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to mark the second anniversary of the Citizens United v. FEC decision. 

Specifically, protesters are seeking a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens, and the group claims that protesters will be making that demand outside federal courthouses in over 110 cities.

New York’s event, the Resolution to End Corporate Personhood,” approved by the NYC General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street, was scheduled to take place outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in the evening, culminating in a march and rally at Foley Square with speakers such as Russell Simmons, Reverend Billy, and Christopher Hedges.

The group hit a snag in planning almost immediately when the Government Services Administration (GSA) denied a protest permit requested by Jarret Wolfman, a member of the OWS subgroup to End Corporate Personhood. The reason given by the Acting National Relocation Counselor for the GSA, Wesley French, was a morning citizenship swearing in, and a 4:00 p.m. installment of a federal judge.”

Move To Amend countered immediately by filing a lawsuit Jan. 18 against the GSA via the National Lawyers Guild. In the meantime, organizers have temporarily changed the gathering location for the protest to Zuccotti Park.

We have asked Gideon Oliver and the National Lawyers Guild to take whatever steps are necessary to legally challenge the GSA’s transparent attempt to stop this protest from happening,” said Stephen Justino, National Action Coordinator for Move to Amend’s Occupy the Courts. And, we support the decision by Jarret Wolfman, and the organizers of OTC - NYC, to temporarily change the gathering location for their protest from the Federal Courthouse to Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park) in order to guarantee that New Yorkers have the chance to participate in this important national day of action.”

Occupy the Courts is part of a national backlash against the Citizens United decision. In Boulder, Colorado, voters approved Questoni 2H in November 2011, denying corporations personhood status, and Aurora residents also protested an effort by Gaylord Entertainment, a company seeking to build a massive new hotel complex, to gain the right to vote.

In Dec. 2011, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to support a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that would assert corporations are not people, not entitled to constitutional rights, and that money is not the same as free speech. That resolution was backed by Move To Amend.

Move to Amend’s proposed amendment would provide the basis for overturning the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” stated Mary Beth Fielder, Co-Coordinator of LA Move to Amend. The Supreme Court has no legitimate right to grant people’s rights to corporations. We must clearly establish that it is we, The People, who are meant to rule.”

City Council President Eric Garcetti agrees with that sentiment, which is why he sponsored the resolution, remarking that big special interest money” is behind much of the gridlock in Washington.

The flood of money since Citizens United is literally drowning out our voices,” said Garcetti, who is running for mayor in 2013. If we’re going to be moving forward in this country, we need less special interest money in the political process.”

Councilman Richard Alarcon, who also supported the resolution, said corporations are trying to take over every aspect of our lives.”“

Corporations are at the wheel of America,” Alarcon said. And they are driving us to destruction.”

Missoula, Montana, South Miami, Florida, and New York City have all voted to get rid of corporate personhood. 

In NYC, Resolution 1172 formally expressed disapproval of Citizens, and urges Congress to take action against the decision that allows corporations to enjoy the same protections afforded to human beings.

The bill was sponsored by councilmembers Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Steve Levin, members of the Progressive Caucus.

The group released the following statement after the vote:

As our support of this resolution demonstrates, restoring confidence in government and strengthening democratic participation is a core principle of the Progressive Caucus. We believe that corporations should not share the same rights as people, that unlimited and unreported corporate donations meant to sway the electoral process should not be considered freedom of speech, and that the government should regulate the raising and spending of money by corporations intended to influence elections. We cannot allow corporate money to manipulate our democracy.”

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Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.
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