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Occupiers occupied: The hijacking of the First Amendment

Robert Reich, professor of public policy | November 17, 2011

A funny thing happened to the First Amendment on its way to the public forum. According to the Supreme Court, money is now speech and corporations are now people. But when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with the political consequences of this, they’re treated as public nuisances and evicted.

First things first. The Supreme Court’s rulings that money is speech and corporations are people have now opened the floodgates to unlimited (and often secret) political contributions from millionaires and billionaires. Consider the Koch brothers (worth $25 billion each), who are bankrolling the Tea Party and already running millions of dollars worth of ads against Democrats.

Such millionaires and billionaires aren’t contributing their money out of sheer love of country. They have a more self-interested motive. Their political spending is analogous to their other investments. Mostly they want low tax rates and friendly regulations.

Wall Street is punishing Democrats for enacting the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation (weak as it is) by shifting its money to Republicans. The Koch brothers’ petrochemical empire has financed, among many other things, candidates who will vote against environmental protection.

This tsunami of big money into politics is the real public nuisance. It’s making it almost impossible for the voices of average Americans to be heard because most of us don’t have the dough to break through. By granting First Amendment rights to money and corporations, the First Amendment rights of the rest of us are being trampled on.

This is where the Occupiers come in. If there’s a core message to the Occupier movement it’s that the increasing concentration of income and wealth poses a grave danger to our democracy.

Yet  when Occupiers seek to make their voices heard — in one of the few ways average people can still be heard — they’re told their First Amendment rights are limited.

The New York State Court of Appeals along with many mayors and other officials say Occupiers can picket — but they can’t encamp. Yet it’s the encampments themselves that have drawn media attention (along with the police efforts to remove them).

A bunch of people carrying pickets isn’t news. When it comes to making views known, picketing is no competition for big money .

Yet if Occupiers now shift tactics from passive resistance to violence, it would spell the end of the movement. The vast American middle class that now empathizes with the Occupiers would promptly desert them.

But there’s another alternative. If Occupiers are expelled from specific geographic locations the Occupier movement can shift to broad-based organizing around the simple idea at the core of the movement: It’s time to occupy our democracy.

Cross-posted from Robert Reich’s blog.

Comments to “Occupiers occupied: The hijacking of the First Amendment

  1. obama showed the occupiers that you don’t have to achieve anything to get ahead .. you could just show up to vote present 127 times, and still get the Nobel Prize … what a great example … Now, the least productive members of our society are DEMANDING a redistribution of other people’s hard earned income.

  2. I am shocked at the brutal treatment meted out by Chancellor Birgenau and Chancellor Kitahi to the Occupy Cal students. By doing so, they have trampled on the principles of free speech and assembly in the hallowed grounds of Berkeley. Shame on them for they have violated their oath of office. It is time for them to resign and ponder over their moral and societal values.

  3. Why are corporations people? Because they clearly are not. No one can arrest a corporation. Corporations don’t really die. Corporations don’t require passports or anything. They are not bound by bodies. I am not a law professor, but if corporations are people, the words people, person, human, individual surely have lost all meaning.

    The problem I have with the arrests of the protestors is that yes they broke the law and the police are just doing their jobs. BUT! Why don’t the police do policing of the banks and corporations as well? Protestors setup a camp: arrested. Corporation (people inside the corporation) engage in fraud: too complicated to police, no arrests. Outside the cordoned-off zone: arrested. Largest oil spill ever: no arrests. Sleeping in a park overnight: arrested. Lying to investors and stealing trillions: too complicated to understand, no arrests.

    The police need to police everyone. Or they need to look the other way when protestors ransack a bank building because police officers are working stiffs too, and their pension funds are not protected from the big banks and their outright fraud.

  4. It’s time for all UC professors to join the Occupy movement and Fight Back for everything we are loosing politically, economically, socially and environmentally.

    If UC scholars don’t make yourselves heard loud and clear Fighting For Our Rights, then American Democracy is at greatest risk since WWII and the future is in grave jeopardy.

    No one knows this fact better than the preeminent scholars at Cal, so we look forward to seeing and hearing you daily on MSNBC, CNN, etc.

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