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
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
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.