CHICAGO – “The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling pounded the last nail in the coffin of democracy, and we’re here to get our democracy back,” declared Steve Alesch at a rally here Jan. 20. “This ruling has turned democracy on its head. The first thing we have to do is get corporations out of elections.”
Alesch was one of 100 demonstrators here who braved the bitter cold on the second anniversary of the ruling declaring “corporations are people” and allowing corporations to spend unlimited and unregulated sums of money in political campaigns.
In Oakland, Calif., early morning rain failed to dampen the spirits of dozens of demonstrators who opened their day-long protest at the Federal Building with a spirited sing-in.
Protesters in San Francisco organized by Occupy Wall St. West and Move to Amend started the day by blocking five entrances of the Wells Fargo headquarters building in the financial district. Police and firefighters soon arrived to cut bolts and chains with which nearly 70 activists had bound themselves together. At least seven were arrested. Later in the morning, a nearby intersection was reported blocked with a banner.
Other morning actions in San Francisco targeted Bank of America branches, Citicorp was “evicted” from the financial district, and in another part of downtown, a “foreclosure house party” was in progress. Meanwhile, activists stood in Bechtel Corp.’s lobby to read a list of charges against the corporation, and a “squid fry” was in progress at Goldman Sachs offices, taking off from Rolling Stone commentator Matt Taibi’s observation that the financial giant is “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.”
From Bangor, Maine, to Honolulu, more than 100 actions were held Jan. 20 at federal courthouses, banks and other financial institutions in cities throughout the country. Another wave of demonstrations is planned for Saturday. The actions are being organized by groups and coalitions including Move to Amend. (Story continues after video.)
The destructiveness of the Supreme Court ruling to the election process has been clearly demonstrated. Hundreds of millions of dollars of unregulated money was spent in the 2010 election cycle spreading lies. It helped elect extreme right-wing governors and legislatures in many states.
“It feels like we’re in a movement moment. You know you can’t look at Iowa, you can’t look at South Carolina, and not understand how much influence Citizens United has had on our elections and our democracy,” said Marge Baker of People for the American Way, one of the organizing groups, in Chicago.
Already Super PACs linked to candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have spent a total of $20 million in the three Republican presidential primaries.
American Crossroads, the far-right group run by Karl Rove, has pledged to spend at least $240 million in the 2012 elections. The extreme right-wing billionaire Koch brothers and other Wall Street corporations will spend hundreds of millions more.
Move to Amend is promoting a constitutional amendment “to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”
The call for an amendment is growing. So far city councils in New York; Los Angeles; Boulder, Colo.; Albany, N.Y.; Oakland, Calif., and Madison, Wis., have passed resolutions in support. Efforts are moving forward to get resolutions on state ballots in time for the 2012 elections.
The advocacy group Common Cause is leading a campaign targeting three states – Colorado, Massachusetts and Montana – for state ballot initiatives. It is organizing to “pass advisory initiatives or referendums condemning the decision in as many states as possible, slowly creating a groundswell for a constitutional amendment that would make it clear corporations are not people and that Congress has the authority to limit campaign spending.”
Recently, the Montana Supreme Court directly challenged the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, declaring it didn’t apply to Montana state elections.
Organizers know passing an amendment will be an epic battle and are preparing for a prolonged fight. “Voters are fed up. They need a way to make their voices heard. And we need to start right now,” says Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary in the Clinton Administration who is currently chairman of Common Cause.
Passing any amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress, plus approval of three-fourths of the states.
Opposition to the Citizens United ruling even extends into business circles, especially those who feel their voice is being crushed by the top 1 percent. Free Speech for People, which filed an amicus brief in the Montana case, is leading a coalition that includes the American Sustainable Business Council, a network of 100,000 small to medium sized businesses, and the American Independent Business Alliance.
Efforts to amend are being taken up in Congress with resolutions sponsored by Reps. Donna Edwards, D-Md.,, Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Walter Jones, R-N.C., and by Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Meanwhile a fight has also begun to force the Super PACs to reveal their sources. The Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending submitted a petition to the Securities and Exchange Commission to require corporations to come clean on their political contributions. It is supported by a wide array of political reform organizations, labor and elected officials.
Marilyn Bechtel contributed to this article. Photo: Activists with Health Care for America Now and other groups “rename” the Supreme Court the “U.S. Supreme Koch” with a giant 30-foot banner, Jan. 19 in Washington. HCAN says: “The U.S. Supreme Koch is a better name for a court that has engineered a hostile takeover of our country by the billionaire Koch brothers and other corporate special interests. Thanks to the Citizens United ruling, multinational corporations can now secretly spend unlimited amounts of money to steal our democracy.” Health Care for America Now