L.A. and Occupy L.A. Agree: It’s time too end Corporate Personhood

“What’s the issue that unites the occupiers and the city they’re occupying? Getting corporate money out of politics.”

Brooke Jarvis
Yes! Magazine / News Analysis
Published: Wednesday 7 December 2011

On De­cem­ber 3, just two days be­fore Oc­cupy L.A. was evicted by po­lice, the Gen­eral As­sem­bly of the oc­cu­pa­tion passed a unan­i­mous res­o­lu­tion call­ing for a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to end cor­po­rate per­son­hood.

Today, the City Coun­cil of Los An­ge­les also voted, also unan­i­mously, for a res­o­lu­tion mak­ing the same ap­peal, be­com­ing the first major city in the na­tion to do so.

So what’s the issue that unites the oc­cu­piers and the city they’re oc­cu­py­ing? Cor­po­rate per­son­hood, the legal con­cept that un­der­pins rul­ings like the Supreme Court’s 2010 de­ci­sion in Cit­i­zens United v the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, means that cor­po­ra­tions are con­sid­ered peo­ple under the law, with the con­sti­tu­tional right of free speech. Since the courts have also de­fined money as speech, the up­shot is that cor­po­ra­tions are em­pow­ered to spend un­lim­ited amounts of money try­ing to in­flu­ence the po­lit­i­cal process.


It’s lit­tle sur­prise that Oc­cupy, a move­ment that wants our na­tion’s de­ci­sions to be made by the 99% in­stead of the 1%, sup­ports a con­sti­tu­tional fix for the prob­lem of cor­po­rate in­flu­ence on pol­i­tics. In its first of­fi­cial state­ment, the flag­ship oc­cu­pa­tion in New York’s Zuc­cotti Park de­clared, “no true democ­racy is at­tain­able when the process is de­ter­mined by eco­nomic power.” The as­sem­bly in­cluded in a list of griev­ances the fact that cor­po­ra­tions “have in­flu­enced the courts to achieve the same rights as peo­ple, with none of the cul­pa­bil­ity or re­spon­si­bil­ity.” Other Oc­cupy sites have also called for con­sti­tu­tional checks on cor­po­rate power, and slo­gans call­ing for the end of cor­po­rate per­son­hood and Cit­i­zens United are com­mon sights on pro­test­ers’ signs.But when L.A. and Oc­cupy L.A. are mak­ing the same unan­i­mous de­mand, it’s clear that the de­sire to take on cor­po­rate power in pol­i­tics is gain­ing trac­tion.

In­deed, though Los An­ge­les is the largest city to date to join the call for a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment tak­ing on cor­po­rate per­son­hood, it’s not the first. So far this year, vot­ers in Boul­der, Colo.; Mis­soula, Mont.; Madi­son, Wisc.; and Dane County, Wisc., have all passed bal­lot ini­tia­tives mak­ing the same ap­peal, with sup­port rang­ing from 75 % to 84%. Other cities, in­clud­ing Pitts­burgh, Penn., have gone so far as to elim­i­nate the rights of “per­son­hood” for cor­po­ra­tions seek­ing to per­form cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties (such as nat­ural gas drilling in Pitts­burgh) within their bor­ders.

“Local res­o­lu­tion cam­paigns are an op­por­tu­nity for cit­i­zens to speak up and let it be known that we won’t ac­cept the cor­po­rate takeover of our gov­ern­ment,” said Kaitlin Sopoci-Belk­nap, a spokesper­son for Move to Amend. The group was cre­ated in the wake of Cit­i­zens United to ad­vo­cate for a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that would over­rule the de­ci­sion; a local chap­ter pressed for pas­sage of the res­o­lu­tion by the L.A. City Coun­cil. Move to Amend hopes that 50 cities and towns will put the same res­o­lu­tion on bal­lots next No­vem­ber. “Our plan is build a move­ment that will drive this issue into Con­gress from the grass­roots,” said Sopoci-Belk­nap.

Ap­prox­i­mately 100 peo­ple came to the L.A. coun­cil meet­ing to sup­port the res­o­lu­tion, many of them re­port­edly mem­bers of Oc­cupy L.A.

The Los An­ge­les Times re­ported only one dis­senter: a man in a top hat, with fake money pour­ing out of the pock­ets of his suit, who said he had come to speak for the wealthy. He im­plored the coun­cil not to pass the res­o­lu­tion.

Brooke Jarvis wrote this ar­ti­cle for YES! Mag­a­zine, a na­tional, non­profit media or­ga­ni­za­tion that fuses pow­er­ful ideas with prac­ti­cal ac­tions. Brooke Jarvis is YES! Mag­a­zine’s web ed­i­tor.



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