Over 60 people defied below zero wind chills and blowing snow in downtown Madison to protest the second anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibits limits on political spending by corporations and unions.
The rally was a part of the national Occupy the Courts movement, which called for people to gather at courthouses in over 100 cities across the country, including at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.
Organized locally by South Central Wisconsin Move to Amend (SCWMTA), the demonstration centered on speeches by Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and Matt Rothschild of The Progressive, as well as a performance by The Raging Grannies.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) and Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) also attended the rally, held outside the Robert Kastenmeier Federal Courthouse on North Henry St.
"I'm here because when corporations are granted human rights, the rights of human beings are diminished," said Mindy Preston, a member of SCWMTA. "Corporations' right to equal treatment comes at the expense of local governments' right to protect local businesses and their proprietors. A corporation's right to free speech... allows them to drown out small voices. A corporation's right to privacy comes at the expense of our right to a safe workspace and a safe environment."
The protestors' primary demand is for a constitutional amendment that would reserve constitutional rights for "natural persons" and not "artificial entities," and regulate corporate contributions to political candidates. The amendment also proposes that all contributions be publicly disclosed.
Much of the protestors' ire was directed at the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Citizens United in a 5-4 decision.
"The Supreme Court has been known to do this to America from time to time," said McCabe. "Keep in mind, the Supreme Court in Dred Scott [v. Sandford] ruled that people could be property. Well now, the Supreme Court has ruled that property can be a person, as is deserving of all the rights of living persons. This ruling will end up in the trash bin of history."
In terms of local efforts, Rep. Taylor announced she plans to propose legislation to limit the effect of the ruling in Wisconsin.
"We're working on passing a resolution to urge that Citizens United be overturned and be repealed by an act of Congress," she said. "But I'm also interested in doing a constitutional amendment right here in our state constitution, saying that corporations are not entitled to spend on politics… the people want this, they support this."
Although this is the second year Madisonians have gathered to protest the legal decision, this year's demonstration reflected the influence of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Referring to the protest's name, SCWMTA co-chair Senay Goitom, said "the language, I think, reflects how much the Occupy movement has brought forward the issues of inequality, and connected to that, the corrosive effects of money in politics. This was a way to highlight to the energy that Occupy has brought forward."