Many cities in the country, indeed in the world, are now being occupied. Occupy Wall Street is encamped in Manhattan. Occupy DC is located in two spaces in Washington, D.C. Occupy Boston continues strong.
Many in the press, particularly the more conservative press, criticize the protestors lack of focus. They are label with tags from the 1960s (e.g., dirty, unwashed) in an effort to dismiss them.
It seems to me that there is a commonality to their protests. They demand that corporations have a priority of people over profits. They demand an end to the incredible disparity between the top 1% and the rest of the nation in terms of growth in wealth and lifestyle. More than anything though, they demand a return of their government.
It is most obvious with the Republicans, but both parties are at fault. Running for office is now so expensive that politicians spend most of their time fund raising — and, as the saying goes, “If you take the king’s coin, you must do the king’s bidding.” Money speaks. With the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, the Supreme Court opened this purchase of politicians to corporations. The rich and the corporations now have more voice than do the ordinary voters — the 99%.
But, I think that people are bothered by more than this. What they are bothered by is summed up in Mitt Romney’s off-hand remark, “Corporations are people, my friend.”
We have a lot of people trying to label things as people. We, Catholics, have been saying for some time now that a fetus should be considered to be a person. Mississippi has a ballot initiative to change their state constitution to declare that a fertilized human egg is a person. (Keeping in mind that between one-third and one-half of all fertilized eggs never fully implant, that’s a lot of dead human beings.)
The history of corporate personhood is a long and interesting one. In 1819, the Supreme Court, in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, said that corporations were recognized as having the same rights as natural persons to contract and to enforce those contracts. In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886), the Supreme Court recognized corporations as persons for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.
It was the Citizens United ruling, however, which said that corporations have First Amendment rights too. I think that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Corporations, with their deep treasuries, now have the ability to influence elections in a way once reserved only to rich human beings. The value of the single voter has, once again, been diluted, and I think that this was just too much.
So, the striking inequality of wealth in this country is one cause of the Occupy movement, but I think so too is the feeling that the government has now been co-opted by the rich and the corporations.
Do we need to occupy public plazas to fight this? No. Move to Amend is a group set up to amend the U.S. Constitution to make it clear the money is not speech and that human beings, not corporations, are persons.
As one sign I saw at the protest said, “I’ll believe that corporations are persons the first time that Texas executes one.”