Updated 1/23, 10:00 a.m.
The "occupy" movement took its campaign against corporate domination to the federal judiciary on Friday, storming the U.S. Supreme Court building and demonstrating at other federal courthouses nationwide to protest the high court’s 2010 "Citizens United" decision.
"Corporations are not persons, and money is not political speech!" proclaimed "Occupy the Courts" leader David Cobb in front of several hundred people at a grassy area on U.S. Capitol grounds across the street from the Supreme Court.
Demonstrators, some of them from the Occupy Wall Street encampments in Washington, later moved across the street to the Court, where they pushed through a police barricade and ran up the Court’s steps almost to the columns that guard the bronze front doors. Court police allowed the demonstrators to advance, even though federal law prohibits demonstrations on Court grounds. Finally, an hour after the protesters entered onto Court property, police began making arrests and ordering remaining demonstrators down the steps. Late Friday afternoon, a Court spokeswoman said a dozen people had been arrested.
The protests marked the two-year anniversary Saturday of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down restrictions on independent expenditures by corporation and unions in election campaigns. Critics say the ruling has injected millions of dollars into campaigns, often in the form of attack advertising funded by independent "Super-PACs" that cannot be directly traced or imputed to candidates.
Several leaders of the protest Friday said coverage of the Super-PACs and their impact on the Republican presidential primaries has helped galvanize opposition. "We are seeing how this disgusting decision is corrupting our system," said Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, a longtime D.C. activist who helped organize Friday’s protests. "And we ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait until the races get underway, and this will be influencing congressional races, everything." Asked why she was demonstrating at the Court, she said, "This is the scene of the crime."
Some of the protesters are hoping to build on Friday’s actions and push for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United by stating that money is not speech and corporations are not persons under the law. Asked if a constitutional amendment is a realistic goal, Joan Stallard, a demonstrator from D.C., said, "The constitution has been amended 27 times, and we can do it again." She said more and more of the public is beginning to understand "the power of corporations in our political system" and will be receptive to a constitutional chance.
The demonstration at the high court began with some light theater – black-robed "justices" dancing and singing.
In Boston, protests included speeches and music by a fife and drum team dressed in Revolutionary-era clothing. An "auctioneer" dressed in top hat and tails sold rights such as free speech and freedom of the press to the highest bidders, who were corporations represented by people dressed in boxes with the names of companies. About 150 people braved 29-degree weather to participate in the Boston protest behind the John J. Moakley U.S. Courthouse. One woman pushed a toddler in a stroller and a sign attached that said, "no corporation ever gave me a hug."
Roughly 100 people chanted slogans outside the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. And in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to a Palm Beach Post report, approximately 40 people protested at the federal courthouse, with one stating, "I don’t want corporations to buy the presidency." Demonstrators also gathered in Portland, Ore. and Detroit. In Chicago, 50 demonstrators came out in driving snow, with one holding a sign that said, "Citizens United against Citizens United."
In New York City, where the "Occupy" protests began, demonstrators moved the location of their anti-court protest to Foley Square, after a federal judge on Thursday nixed their preferred location outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan courthouse. Judge Lewis Kaplan said the General Services Administration had properly denied the group’s application for a permit, because the location the demonstrators sought was not a designated public forum.
Photographs above by Andrew Ramonas
Andrew Ramonas, Sheri Qualters and Amanda Bronstad contributed to this report.