Occupy Oakland and “Citizens United”

Posted on 03 January 2012 by Cami Graves

There have been a number of proposed constitutional amendments to overturn the Supreme Court’s controversial decision on Citizens United v. FEC (for anyone who’s a little lost, Wikipedia should get you up to speed). The two most popular of these are Rep. Jim McGovern’s People’s Rights Amendment and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Saving American Democracy Amendment. A petition in support of Sanders’ amendment currently has over 100,000 signatures and counting, but in a country of 312 million people, most of whom are “legal” citizens, that’s not much.

The Citizens United decision is the most identifiable and iconic example of the trend in U.S. politics to consider corporations before citizens–and money above everything. It is the decision that took our votes and redistributed them to the highest bidders (one act in the progressive and often subtle disenfranchisement of Americans that includes vapid doublespeak, outright lies, and rampant voter suppression). With that in mind, a national Occupy the Courts movement has emerged to address the issue of campaign finance reform. This is a project that Occupy has taken on to demand practical, real-time change in Washington, and it has the potential to serve as a way of informing and galvanizing other Americans. While most Americans aren’t willing to march or camp out in parks, Citizens United affects us all, and it’s something every one of us can take action against.

Calling for constitutional reform isn’t necessarily Occupy Oakland’s style. One of the cardinal rules of Occupy Oakland is that we do not endorse parties or politicians. In my opinion—in the opinion of many—this is a wise move that keeps politicians from using our clout as an organization to advance their own agendas, making promises they will later forget when those promises become inconvenient to fulfill. Furthermore, Occupy Oakland has been committed to a more on-the-ground approach than most other Occupy locations: tree-sitting, implementing a 24/7 vigil in Oscar Grant Plaza, relentlessly searching for new lots and foreclosed homes to occupy, showing up at City Council meetings and other related forums on a regular basis, and shutting down the Port of Oakland not once but twice. Our physical presence has made us an establishment in Oakland, and it’s not just our own @hyphy_republic who calls us the vanguard of Occupy. It’s possible that engaging with political pussyfooting could make it look like we’re open to negotiations and that we’ll be sated by a simple tweak here and there rather than a complete overhaul of the system. It could make it look like we’re committed to reform rather than revolution.

Despite these arguments I’ve heard against actions like Occupy the Courts, the revolution we’re fighting is largely based on ideas. We’re fighting for a voice, for votes, for democracy, for the abolition of money in government. Our camps have communicated our ideas about community, our marches closing down Oakland streets and the port have communicated our ideas about labor and corporate oppression. We can do more. I have faith that Occupy Oakland can attack the system on multiple fronts. We can use our avant garde tactics to build our community, take back our homes, and establish our power, but we can also shake up conventional politics. We can infiltrate Washington and have our elected officials and corporate lobbyists shaking in their boots. In other words, we have both brains and brawn, and we need our brains as much as our brawn to fight in a world of ideas. We must use them both to show that we’re serious about our revolution. Overturning Citizens United could set a precedent that propels us to the next level; it could indicate that we’re too loud to be ignored, our ideas too contagious to be suppressed.

On January 20th, Occupy Oakland will be joining Occupy San Francisco in solidarity with other Occupy locations across the country to march on federal courts in the Bay Area and declare that corporations are not people and should not have a voice in determining the course of government. I encourage anyone who is interested first to sign the Saving American Democracy Amendment petition (it’ll take you 30 seconds), and I also encourage as many people as possible to take part in the January 20th Occupy the Courts action. Visit occupyoaklandcourts.org for news and updates specific to Oakland’s day of action or email [email protected] Don’t underestimate everything we can do.